The government could, for the second summer in succession, introduce an island policy for international travel, transport secretary Grant Shapps has said.
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday (26 May), Shapps was quizzed on comments made by aviation and maritime minister Robert Courts last week, intimating the government’s Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) could consider popular island destinations such as the Canaries, Balearics and Greece’s islands independently of their respective mainlands – as it did last year.
Independent MP Margaret Ferrier asked Courts whether the Department for Transport’s traffic light system would include an island policy "to reopen routes to relatively low-risk regions of nations as was implemented in summer 2020", to which Courts responded: "The government will take an island approach for border measures where possible."
He also reiterated the traffic light system would be reviewed, and any changes implemented, every three weeks, "unless concerning evidence means we need to act faster to protect public health".
Last summer, island destinations tended to have lower rates of Covid infection than their mainlands, with some island tourism leaders, and national governments, claiming it was unfair that they were initially penalised by source markets such as the UK owing to spikes in infection hundreds of miles away.
On Wednesday, Shapps was asked about the next steps for the government’s green list, and whether ministers would look to open up island tourist destinations to British holidaymakers, to which he said it was "desirable" to have aircraft flying direct to island holiday destinations without transit via mainland hubs.
"There’s a difference between, in principle, the way we want to make this work, and the actual data and what the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) are going to come forward to us with," said Shapps. "That’s information I haven’t seen as yet."
He acknowledged that while the principle of allowing holidaymakers to travel via direct air routes to island destinations was utilised by government last year, the JBC would have to examine the risk against the same four tests it uses for all destinations to determine green list destinations. Shapps intimated the level of genomic sequencing and quality of data available in, and on, some destinations could be a stumbling block.
It all comes after Courts, last month, appeared to play down the prospect of a new island policy when appearing before the government’s transport committee.
Then, Lilian Greenwood MP put a broadly similar question to Courts to that posed by Ferrier, to which he said any such policy wouldn’t initially feature as part of the government’s proposals, but could be considered at one of three checkpoints laid out by the Global Travel Taskforce.
Abta has called for the islands policy to be reintroduced.
Both Spain and Greece are currently on the government’s amber list, meaning arrivals must quarantine for 10 days and take tests on days two and eight of their return.
However, the Foreign Office is not currently advising against all but essential travel to the Canary Islands and a handful of Greek islands, which has in recent weeks raised hopes these destinations could make the green list.
The Telegraph reports ministers have asked the government’s Joint Biosecurity Centre to assess and present data on island destinations separately to allow them to be considered for the green list in isolation.