UK to lift ban on non-essential travel to up to 90 countries | World news

July 2, 2020

Overseas holidays and visits to up to 90 countries will be possible for Britons from Monday without the need to quarantine for 14 days on return.

The Foreign Office is expected to lift its ban on non-essential travel to nearly all EU countries, British territories such as Bermuda and Gibraltar, and Australia and New Zealand.

Turkey, a popular holiday destination, is also expected to be included in the list.

Epidemics of infectious diseases behave in different ways but the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed more than 50 million people is regarded as a key example of a pandemic that occurred in multiple waves, with the latter more severe than the first. It has been replicated – albeit more mildly – in subsequent flu pandemics.

How and why multiple-wave outbreaks occur, and how subsequent waves of infection can be prevented, has become a staple of epidemiological modelling studies and pandemic preparation, which have looked at everything from social behaviour and health policy to vaccination and the buildup of community immunity, also known as herd immunity.

Is there evidence of coronavirus coming back in a second wave?

This is being watched very carefully. Without a vaccine, and with no widespread immunity to the new disease, one alarm is being sounded by the experience of Singapore, which has seen a sudden resurgence in infections despite being lauded for its early handling of the outbreak.

Although Singapore instituted a strong contact tracing system for its general population, the disease re-emerged in cramped dormitory accommodation used by thousands of foreign workers with inadequate hygiene facilities and shared canteens.

Singapore’s experience, although very specific, has demonstrated the ability of the disease to come back strongly in places where people are in close proximity and its ability to exploit any weakness in public health regimes set up to counter it.

In June 2020, Beijing suffered from a new cluster of coronavirus cases which caused authorities to re-implement restrictions that China had previously been able to lift. In the UK, the city of Leicester was unable to come out of lockdown because of the development of a new spike of coronavirus cases.

What are experts worried about?

Conventional wisdom among scientists suggests second waves of resistant infections occur after the capacity for treatment and isolation becomes exhausted. In this case the concern is that the social and political consensus supporting lockdowns is being overtaken by public frustration and the urgent need to reopen economies.

The threat declines when susceptibility of the population to the disease falls below a certain threshold or when widespread vaccination becomes available.

In general terms the ratio of susceptible and immune individuals in a population at the end of one wave determines the potential magnitude of a subsequent wave. The worry is that with a vaccine still many months away, and the real rate of infection only being guessed at, populations worldwide remain highly vulnerable to both resurgence and subsequent waves.

Peter Beaumont

The announcement confirmed by government officials, and due on Friday, puts an end to the air-bridge or travel corridor policy that has been pursued by the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, for several weeks.

This would have involved setting up reciprocal arrangements with a core of Mediterranean countries including France, Greece and Spain to not quarantine each other’s citizens.

Since 8 June nearly all passengers have been required to go into self-isolation for 14 days at a declared address when they arrive in the UK. People who fail to comply can be fined £1,000 in England.

All of the countries due to be included in the new travel list are likely to be on the government’s green list of low-risk nations for coronavirus, or from the amber list, which is medium risk.

The difficulty travellers may now face is the individual circumstances of countries they want to visit, such as those that have suspended flights from the UK, or closed their borders entirely.

While Britons may be free to travel to Australia and New Zealand both of those countries have currently closed their borders to almost all visitors.

Greece, with which the government had been trying to establish a well publicised air-bridge and which may have been a catalyst for the policy unravelling, has suspended all flights from the UK and Sweden until 15 July.

The air-bridges policy, which the government announced last Friday, has been beset with uncertainty, including resistance from the first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, who said the country had not been properly consulted and had to protect its low infection rate.

The chief medical officer in Wales also suggested there should be no change to the 14-day quarantine rule for travellers into the UK.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, was dispatched by government on Wednesday night to talk to his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland about ending the blanket quarantine policy. This comes after a four-nations meeting with cabinet minister Michael Gove on Monday.

The European commission has previously warned that the UK government could face a legal challenge unless it considered air-bridge arrangements to all EU countries with similar infection rates.

BA, easyJet and Ryanair are also set to bring a case in the high court seeking to overturn the government’s quarantine policy which they claim is “irrational and disproportionate”.

The ban on non-essential travel to countries on the government’s “red” list, such as the US, Russia and Brazil, will continue and anyone returning will have to continue with the 14-day quarantine measures.

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