Covid-19:International Travel

Duncan Baker Excerpts
Monday 24th May 2021

(3 years ago)

Westminster Hall
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Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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Everyone has suffered in this pandemic, and people are still suffering. It affects people, businesses and human relationships when, as we have heard, we are cut off from seeing one another in extremely difficult circumstances, which is difficult to bear. I have become an uncle in the last year, and I have not been able to see my sister’s first child for pretty much an entire year. However, we understand why: it is our effort to suppress this disease. The whole crux of our blunt efforts is to prevent its transmission, which means limiting travel and contact with others, no matter how painful that is and continues to be.

Pretty much every decision is based on necessity and risk. Border movements alone have been one of our toughest sets of rules to get right, and the Government seemingly cannot do right for doing wrong. Should they allow more movement and travel through borders, and risk transmission points, or do we shut ourselves off from the world, perhaps like Japan, Australia or New Zealand did? It is a simplistic idea, and, in reality, it is not really possible for a globally connected international hub of commerce that is home to nearly 70 million people, so we manage the process, as we are doing through the traffic light system. That means there are some harsh decisions that mean visiting families, boyfriends and girlfriends has to be deemed prohibited for just a little while longer.

I agree with the approach that the Government are taking, as hard as that might be, because policing what we have been doing is proving difficult enough. For the moment, relaxing the restrictions even further is a risk too far. Just in the past few weeks we have seen the Indian variant spread at the rate is has done, but we are incredibly close to that point because of our vaccination programme. Quite frankly, what on earth is the point in not allowing movements if we have vaccinated over 60 million people? There are already reasonable excuses to visit family, such as supporting someone after the birth of a child, providing care and assistance, generously being able to go abroad for one’s wedding and, indeed, seeing loved ones for funeral arrangements.

I will end by saying there is a topic that is just as big as this: the international travel industry, which has been mentioned many times. It will need more support. While the restrictions are in force, it is absolutely essential to continue the life support, as we have done with many businesses. My constituent Nick Lee runs Broadland Travel Worldchoice in my North Norfolk constituency, and we understand that the traffic light system may still be in place until 2022, placing enormous restrictions on the 20,000 people working for retail travel agents. Indeed, green list countries for holidays are still very few in number.

As leisure and hospitality receive specific grants, it seems only fair that while the travel industry is still experiencing suppressed trade for at least another year on top of the 18 months that it has already had, we have to consider giving it some specific support. When furlough ends in September and many people will be getting their lives back to normal, the international travel industry, across the sector and the supply chain, will undoubtedly still be getting back on its feet. Without travel agents and all the stakeholders connected to international travel, we will undoubtedly see more bankruptcies.

We have to do something about this situation, so I hope that the Minister will be able to say a little about what we could do for those businesses that still hope to get back on their feet.