English hotelier Sir Rocco Forte has written a scathing piece in the Mail about the Government’s ban on foreign travel. Covid rules which come into force today mean that it is illegal to go to an airport without a “reasonable excuse”, with rule-breakers facing fines of £5,000. Sir Rocco says that “this holiday ban is yet another kick in the teeth for my industry, hospitality, and for the whole economy, which relies heavily on international trade and tourism”.
The past year has seen countless erosions of our once-cherished freedoms to deal with Covid. The latest is an incomprehensible ban on foreign travel. …
So-called “non-essential” foreign travel will be banned until at least June 30th – although, given the Government’s fondness for repeatedly extending restrictions into our freedoms, some doubt that even that date will be met. Former Government adviser Professor Neil Ferguson said last week: “I think we should be planning on summer holidays in the UK, not overseas.”
This holiday ban is yet another kick in the teeth for my industry, hospitality, and for the whole economy, which relies heavily on international trade and tourism. The UK is on course to have a tourism industry worth over £257 billion by 2025 – almost 10% of GDP and supporting almost 3.8 million jobs, about 11% of all the employment in this country.
Frankly, the Government’s approach makes no sense. In January, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told us we would be able to “cry freedom” when the most vulnerable in society had been vaccinated. In a great success story for the NHS, we have now inoculated more than 30 million people, giving protection to the groups that account for 99% of Covid deaths.
All our most vulnerable will have had the option of taking a second jab by the end of April – and we know the vaccines work.
But now the doom-mongers scare us with talks of “new variants” of the virus, even though viruses mutate all the time and most scientists say our existing vaccines could be tweaked to deal with them.
Exemptions to the Government’s travel restrictions are permitted for work, medical needs, education, weddings and funerals.
Sir Rocco points out that the cost of prioritising “beating” Covid above all else is greater than the cost of Covid itself.
The political calculation seems to be that the damage to the economy, the harm caused to mental health, a record NHS waiting list of 4.6 million (with the missed cancer diagnoses and other serious problems that brings), a huge surge in unemployment and bankruptcy can all be excused as long as ministers are seen to be doing everything they can to fight the virus. These are skewed priorities.
Instead, what we are going through now and will face in the near future is thanks entirely to Government decisions – and is an unmitigated disaster.
His concerns about the damage being done by Government regulations to the hospitality sector have been echoed by nine Conservative MPs who have written in today’s Times that “kneejerk demands to sacrifice an industry carry costs”.
Failing to reopen air travel would be devastating to exporters, as well as our tourism and hospitality sectors.
Sir Rocco’s piece is very much worth reading in full.