Travel: Expert discusses vaccines and Covid tests
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And it has also emerged that the PM threatened to demote Rishi Sunak after reports the Chancellor called for travel restrictions to be eased. Currently a family of four travelling to Spain could pay more than £1,300 on PCR tests even if adults have been vaccinated – including a mandatory test before returning to the UK and then a day two PCR test once home. The Sunday Express has been told talks have taken place in Government about removing VAT, which adds 20 percent to test costs.
Industry figures had been briefed to prepare, in the coming days, for “a major Government announcement” on the issue, raising hopes the price may finally be coming down.
But a Treasury source last night sparked anger by insisting that ending the holiday tax is “definitely not something we are looking at”.
The issue of travel has caused tensions to flare at the very highest level of Government.
Last week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak wrote to the PM calling for travel restrictions to be eased because they were so damaging to the economy. However, Mr Johnson was first aware of the letter when it was published in the media.
Yesterday it was claimed he was so angered by the apparent leak he threatened to demote Mr Sunak to health secretary. But a Downing Street source said the PM “was joking” when he made the comments.
Overseas travel has been a difficult pandemic issue for the Government, with a bewildering range of oftenchanging rules.
Just last week it announced Mexico would be on the red list from early this morning.
This meant travellers, some of whom were en route when the change was announced, were facing hefty bills. They had to choose between returning to Britain ahead of this morning or paying thousands of pounds to stay in a quarantine hotel when they did come back.
The confusion is adding to anger over the Government’s handling of the crisis, with Boris Johnson’s personal poll ratings hitting a new low.
Opinium found his net approval rating has slipped to a record -16, from -13 two weeks ago. Despite this, experts said they were “cautiously optimistic” another lockdown would not be needed.
Recent surveys have shown that one in four Britons want to take a holiday abroad this summer, but 10 percent – 6.8 million people – would be more likely to travel if the cost of tests could be brought down.
ABTA, the body which represents travel agents and tour operators, is pushing the Government to eliminate VAT. A spokeswoman said: “Back in April, when the Government announced the plan for restarting international travel, it recognised that testing was expensive and pledged to look at the costs. Since then no further action has taken place, meaning travellers face larger costs for tests.
“The Government must work to bring down costs by taking simple steps such as eliminating VAT.”
A spokesman for Airlines UK added: “The current testing regime risks pricing families out of travel.
“If PCR tests are required from higher risk destinations we should be doing everything we can to drive down costs, including scrapping VAT or, better still, looking at rapid testing alternatives.”
Avi Lasarow, UK chief executive for Prenetics, which runs Covid testing for the Premier League, said: “We fully support calls to take VAT off tests, in support of British families and business, in this crucial summer period.”
Senior Conservative MPs have also weighed into the debate demanding action. Former Brexit Secretary David Davis said: “Since tests are required I can see no reason why the Government charges VAT on something already very expensive for a family travelling abroad. It is all very well for millionaires, but if you are a hard-up family trying to have your first holiday in two years it is a steep price to pay.”
Lib Dem health spokeswoman Munira Wilson said: “The Government must cap the price of PCR tests and scrap VAT to help families get away and the travel industry get back on its feet.”
Families caught up in the holiday chaos expressed their anger at having to pay up because of changing rules.
Martin Macdonald and Caroline Macintyre had to cut their trip to Mexico short after it went on the red list. The couple paid an extra £2,600 for flights to get them home to Fort William in Scotland.
Caroline, 45, said: “We were by the pool when we found out. I felt sick. It is HEARTBREAKING.
“There’s no common sense in how they decide this.”
The importance of testing has been highlighted by Team GB whose amazing Olympic success in Tokyo almost did not happen because of Japan’s complex rules to allow teams to travel.
The team was only able to go when Northern Ireland-based Randox, the UK’s largest health diagnostics company which has a capacity’ of 500,000 tests a day, stepped in two days before the contract deadline in May.
It delivered the first tests ahead of the training campaign in less than a month and their work meant that only one of the British team was unable to travel after delivering thousands of tests for 1,015 individuals linked to the British team.
There were 28,612 new Covid cases and 103 deaths reported yesterday, up from 26,144 and 71 from last Saturday. But nearly three quarters of the adult population have been doubly vaccinated and almost nine in ten have received at least one jab.
Sage member Prof John Edmunds said he was “cautiously optimistic” that another lockdown would not be needed to bring cases under control again.
He said there was a need to be “very cautious” about the situation at the moment because previous peaks had been countered by locking down.
“We’re not doing that this time,” he told Times Radio. “But I don’t think we will need to go into a lockdown. I hope not anyway. I very much hope not. I’m cautiously optimistic about that.”
Fellow Sage member Prof Neil Ferguson – dubbed Professor Lockdown for some of his pessimistic predictions – also suggested it was unlikely a lockdown will be needed again to control the virus.
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