Reaction as Summer Holidays Abroad May Be Off the Cards

Some scientists say they are unlikely to take place, politicians have not refuted the claims, the travel industry is angry and the rest of us simply wonder when and if we can go on holiday to the mountains. With predictions of variant viruses for years to come it raises the issue of skiing next winter too.

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The claims came over the weekend after Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Spi-M modelling group, said “I think that international travel this summer is, for the average holidaymaker….. extremely unlikely.”

He said the UK is ‘running a real risk’ of bringing more new variants back.

He was speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

We reported on the issue over the weekend on PlanetSKI:

After the comments from Dr Tildesley the Association of Independent Tour Operators said holiday bookings saw a ‘dramatic slowdown’.

The AITO chairman, Chris Rowles, said the comments are breeding uncertainty and that people should wait for the government report from its Global Task Force on 12th April.

AITO represents 120 independent and specialist operators, including snowsports companies.

It was founded in 1976.

“The travel industry deserves better, quite honestly.  We’ve fought now for 13 months, without respite, to keep our heads above water, refunding our clients often from our own pockets, without any sector-specific support, despite the Government’s Office of National Statistics declaring travel to be the worst-affected sector of all,” Mr Rowles added.

AITO wrote a strongly worded letter to Dr Tildesley, explaining ‘reservations fell to almost zero’ following his widely reported comments.

It asked Dr Tildesley not to make any more ‘contentious public comments’.

Summer in the mountains

Summer in the mountains. Image © PlanetSKI

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, commented on Monday on the rise in Covid-19 cases in Europe saying be “under no illusions that previous experience has taught us that when a wave hits our friends (in Europe), I’m afraid it washes up on our shores as well and I expect we will feel those effects in due course.”

That would indicate he may take a tough line and will do what he thinks is necessary to stop the virus coming back into the UK.

Health Minister, Lord Bethell, told the House of Lords that it’s possible the UK might have to put all its European neighbours on the government’s “red list” of travel ban countries.

Lord Bethell said this was due to some people “rejecting” the vaccination.

“We are watching with enormous sadness the sight of our European neighbours rejecting the vaccine policy,” he said.

“They are not embracing the opportunity that a vaccine provides for driving down infection rates… I don’t know how that will play out and it’s certainly above my pay grade to speculate, but we are all aware that the possibility lies that will have to red list all of our European neighbours – but that would be done with huge regret.”

The UK Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said it is still ‘too early to tell’ when overseas holidays would be allowed.

The words and signals from the UK government are quite clear.

Travel abroad for a holiday remains illegal until at least May 17th and it is hard to see it suddenly being lifted to all foreign countries.

Currently many countries in Europe are seeing a third wave with new lockdown measures introduced – we have details on the latest situation in Europe lower down this article.

Prof Andrew Hayward from University College London, a member of Nervtag (the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group), said some form of ‘traffic light’ system could be implemented.

It would see destinations such as South Africa and South America marked as red, while “other areas where there will be more severe restrictions, there will be some combination of vaccine certificates, testing and maybe quarantine, and maybe there will be some low-risk countries that you can go” to.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said: “We know that universal, restriction-free travel is unlikely from 17 May but under a tiered system, based on risk, international travel can meaningfully restart and build up, with minimal restrictions in time.”

The consumer group Which? advised consumers to be cautious about booking overseas trips.

“The government has made it clear it will make decisions on reopening travel based on the health situation abroad, meaning travel will continue to be restricted and rules will change in line with scientific guidance,” said Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel.

“There remains a financial risk to booking travel currently. That’s why it’s vital that plans to restart international travel take on board consumer concerns and make safety, affordable tests and vaccine passports and reassurance about refunds when travel is disrupted a top priority.”

Here at PlanetSKI, like many of our readers, we are planning and hoping to head to the mountains as soon as it is possible to do so.

The Aosta Valley, Italy

The Aosta Valley, Italy. Image © PlanetSKI

So, what is the current situation in the mountain regions of Europe?

In short it is not good, with growing Covid-19 cases and further restrictions being put in place.

Switzerland has cancelled its planned easing of restrictions this week,  Switzerland to extend Covid-19 restrictions as it faces third wave.

Parts of France, mainly in the north but including the Alpes Maritimes in the south, have gone back into lockdown, Ski resorts hit as new lockdown in parts of France.

Cases are on the rise in Italy and Austria.

In Germany the federal government plans to extend restrictions to 18th April.

Many schools reopened in late February, but they may have to shut again

The national infection rate has risen above 100 per 100,000 inhabitants.

More than 3,000 Covid patients are in intensive care – similar to the peak last year.

The situation is worse in the mountain areas of Eastern Europe.

In Poland Covid-19 cases have risen 27% since last week with most are attributed to the highly contagious British variant.

A partial three-week lockdown has been imposed, keeping schools, shops, restaurants and many other facilities closed.

The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bulgaria are seeking increases and new restrictions.

Coupled with the rise is the extremely poor roll out of vaccines across Europe with only around 12% of people vaccinated.

In the UK it is well over 50% with more than 840,000 people vaccinated on Saturday alone.

Amid the continuing rows over the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine there is widespread distrust of the vaccine in Europe which will not help take-up.

In France more than 60% of respondents in a YouGov survey considered the vaccine unsafe, as did more than half of those questioned in Germany.

Other scientists are now contributing to the debate about summer travel and holidays.

Prof Dirk Brockmann, from Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, has said UK citizens should not consider European holidays when lockdown restrictions are eased.

He maintained that “international travel would allow new variants to distribute themselves.”

“As long as there’s no massive immunity due to vaccination it is certainly not a factor that would help the situation,” he said to Times Radio.

Opening up foreign travel in the summer will increase the spread of coronavirus, warned Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London.

“We should have learned from what happened last year,” he told the BBC’s The World at One.

“There was a lot of importation of new cases from Greece, from Croatia, from Spain – those were major contributors to the cases that were seen in the UK at the end of last summer”.

“I’m afraid we’re going to see the same again, because the virus is by no means defeated… These will inevitably come back to our shores unless we can get high vaccination rates throughout Europe, and in every holiday destination”.

Which makes one wonder about next winter.

It is far too early to make any predictions but Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Office for England, has said the modelling predicts another spike in the autumn.

The scientific community says that coronavirus will be around for many years to come and we will simply have to live with it.

It is unlikely next winter will be back to ‘normal’ and how it used to be.

The question is ‘What will be the new normal and how will snowsports adapt?’

Time will tell.

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