LOTUS CORONAVIRUS UPDATE (21.08)
TESTING & QUARANTINES
Following the Government’s move to impose quarantine restrictions on British travellers to France, Malta, the Netherlands, Monaco, Turks and Caicos Islands and Aruba, last week, there has been a number of developments on testing at borders. These include the following.
On Tuesday 18 August, Heathrow announced that an airside Covid-19 testing centre in Terminal Two was ready to swab its first passengers, for £150, once the Government gives the green light to a trial. It plans a second centre in Terminal Five next month.
John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow's chief executive, said testing was the only viable alternative to quarantine, adding: "A lot of countries that are 'red-listed' [such as the USA, France, Spain and Brazil] have millions of people who don't have the disease but can't travel. That's holding back economic recovery." Holland-Kaye told prime minister Boris Johnson to “get a grip of our border policy” or risk
thousands of travel industry jobs and “holding back the recovery of the UK economy”. At least 10,000 at-risk jobs at Heathrow could be saved if the government approves a system of coronavirus tests as an alternative to quarantine, he said.
2. Government considers options
The Daily Telegraph has reported that Cabinet ministers will meet on Monday 24 August to discuss plans to replace the imposition of blanket quarantines. Options on the table are:
- Keeping the status quo
- Double testing of passengers – first at arrival and then after five or eight days
- A single test after a period of quarantine.
3. Sage advice
The government’s scientific advisers suggested testing travellers on their return to the UK two months ago, reports Travel Weekly.
Minutes from a Sage meeting held in June, but first published on Friday 15 August, show that advisors suggested that testing travellers twice – once on arrival at UK borders and once again between five and eight days later – could help to reduce the quarantine time from 14 to 10 days. The documents show that Sage asked Public Health England to consider the double testing policy.
The Sage document state: “Double testing of travellers significantly reduces the risk of false negatives and could enable quarantine duration of less than 14 days.”
Iceland has introduced a limited quarantine requirement of five days with two tests for Covid-19. All arriving passengers:
- have to get a PCR test at the airport upon arrival
- have to get a second test four to five days after arriving in Iceland
- During those four to five days, travellers will need to self-quarantine; they can only stop their self-quarantine after it is confirmed that both tests came back negative
This will apply to everyone arriving in Iceland, with the exception of young children.
The Times reported on Wednesday that fast new Covid-19 tests at Fiumicino airport in Rome have identified nine people with the virus in the first two days.
The saliva checks, which give a result within 20 minutes but are not as reliable as swabs, were offered to passengers arriving from countries such as Croatia, Greece, Malta and Spain.
The plan is to catch virus carriers at airports as they return from holiday. Those who refuse the test must get screened within two days of arrival from a country deemed at risk.
Airports, airline bosses and travel industry chiefs have warned that testing is the only way to open up travel to and from "high-risk" countries such as the US and end uncertainty for holidaymakers hit by quarantines reimposed at short notice on countries including France, Spain, Malta and the Netherlands.
The European Travel Commission (ETC) has called on EU Governments to better co-ordinate their Covid-19 recovery efforts by adopting a harmonised approach to lifting or reinstalling restrictions and safety measures.
New measures should be local and science-based, avoiding imposing blanket country bans or quarantines, and should be communicated to travellers well before their travel dates, say the ETC.
Any measures should take into account the latest epidemiological developments across Europe.
According to the tourism body, while many Europeans are keen to travel again and enjoy summer 2020, they don’t have the confidence to book a trip given the lack of clarity around border barriers, availability of transportation, along with the health and safety protocols in their chosen destination.
Airline association IATA has also urged Europe’s governments to coordinate the lifting of travel restrictions and find alternatives to quarantine.
It also joined the Airports Council International in recommending that countries accept a negative Covid-19 test within 48 hours of travel as an alternative to quarantines.
Portsmouth International Port
The director of a Channel port has called on the government to introduce Covid testing to help revive the cruise and ferry industries. Portsmouth International Port director Mike Sellers said:
“We are calling on the government to introduce fast track testing at ports and airports to avoid the uncertainty in travel conditions."
Croatia, Austria, Trinidad and Tobago
Croatia, Austria and Trinidad and Tobago have been removed from travel corridor list, transport secretary Grant Shapps confirmed on Thursday 20 August.
In a series of tweets, Shapps said data showed the countries needed to be removed from the government’s list of "coronavirus Travel Corridors to keep infection rates down".
Passengers who arrive in the UK after 4am on Saturday from these three destinations will now need to self-isolate for 14 days.
Travel insiders were concerned that the move so soon after the removal of Malta and France had the potential to cause confusion.
Darija Reic, the Director of the Croatian National Tourist Office in London, said: ‘We are confident that Croatia is still a very safe place for tourists, with the majority of the coast having low numbers of infections. Croatian authorities are continuously monitoring and adjusting Covid related safety measures to ensure we are controlling the virus at all times.’
Infection rates have improved in Portugal and separately the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed Portugal would now be added to the list of travel corridor countries.
It means those returning to the UK from Portugal will no longer have to self-isolate for 14 days.
Turismo de Portugal president Araujo said while the country "could not wait to welcome" visitors from the UK again, the UK’s decision to exclude Portugal from its safe travel list would linger long in the memory.
Jet2.com and Jet2holidays will restart its Algarve holiday programme next week.
Whilst Greece’s infection rate appears to be well below the UK Government’s threshold for imposing border restrictions, reports The Times, the country has recently experienced a surge in Covid-19 infection rates, which is thought to be due to the influx of tourists.
Tourism accounts for 30 per cent of GDP in Greece and whilst many of its islands has remained virus- free, the country as a whole experienced its highest daily rate of infections last week. As a result,
the Greek government ordered closures of bars, clubs, restaurants and entertainment venues on Corfu, Mykonos, Paros, Santorini, Rhodes, Antiparos, Zakynthos and Kos last week.
The weekend papers in the UK were full of stories of Brits making a cross-channel dash to return to the UK from France to beat the imposition of a 14-day quarantine from 4.00 am on Saturday 15 August. There were reports of:
- Extra ferry services laid on, trains packed, flights sold out in minutes – and bookings for private jets soared
- 160,000 holidaymakers saw their plans thrown into chaos as Government tries to protect public from spike in France infections
- Britons in other EU countries drove non-stop to beat rules
Cases in France reached a new post-lockdown peak on Wednesday as thousands of new cases were recorded. President Emmanuel Macron again ruled out imposing another national lockdown. The health ministry said transmission of the virus was increasing particularly among young adults, and the virus was especially active in and around Paris and Marseille.
It is expected that France will impose reciprocal measures.
Reactions to the Government move included statements from Association Airlines UK, who said the move was ‘Another devastating blow [to the travel industry which] was already reeling from the worst crisis in its history.’
WTTC said they were: ‘deeply disappointed’ by the move. The UK is lagging behind other countries in its approach to travel restrictions.’
Spain reported another spike in infections this week.
The Spanish Tourist Office says new data backs up its calls for travel restrictions for UK visitors to be imposed regionally.
Javier Piñanes, director of the Spanish Tourist Office said data from 17 August showed that about two out of three of all new Covid-19 infections in Spain over the previous 14-day period were concentrated in four Spanish regions; Catalunya, Madrid, Aragón and the Basque Country.
He also made the following points:
- Infection rates are different region to region but local and regional authorities are taking swift and forceful measures to deal with localised outbreaks.
- There is full coordination between the national and regional governments in Spain to control and monitor the pandemic.
- Nightclubs are now closed
- There are new guidelines for restaurants and bars
- Some regions have committed to extra steps e.g. paying for the visitor's prolonged stay if they are forced to undertake a quarantine in Spain (such as in the Canary Islands and the region of Valencia)
- The number of tests has increased
- Spain is a safe tourist destination
Finland has removed most EU countries from its “green travel list”, with only arrivals from Italy, Hungary, Slovakia, Estonia and Lithuania allowed to enter the country without restrictions.
The premier of New South Wales has apologised for failing to stop passengers who had the coronavirus from leaving a cruise ship in Sydney in March, an incident that caused what was at the time Australia’s worst outbreak.
Italy has shut nightclubs for three weeks and has made it compulsory to wear a mask outdoors in some areas at night after an increase in new Covid-19 cases.
The new rules mark the first reimposition of coronavirus restrictions as cases pick up across the country, especially among younger people, reported the Daily Mail.
Haven is to create 500 jobs at its holiday parks, reports The Times.
The company said yesterday that it was creating the full-time and part-time roles at its 37 parks on the back of strong demand for people to take their holiday in Britain amid Covid-19 travel restrictions.
The holiday park company also said it was extending the season to the end of November for the first time in its 56-year history.
Britain sold out
The Times has reported that cottages, cabins and campsites are fully booked for the summer after an “unprecedented surge in demand.” From the Lizard to the lakes and the highlands, finding a holiday home with availability this month is a herculean task, says Ben Clatworthy.
The Landmark Trust’s portfolio of castles and cottages are 94% full. Hotels outside London are also cashing in on the boom with occupancy rates above 90%. “UK summer is sold out,” said James Lohan, founder of Mr & Mrs Smith.
Last-minute hotel booking portal LateRooms has launched the site LateCottages in response to demand for self-catering properties in the UK, reports the i-newspaper.
A ten-year strategy for the National Trust has said that it will focus on the outdoors and dial down its role as a big cultural institution and hold fewer cultural exhibitions.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has met with tourism businesses during a visit to Butlin’s to discuss how the government can best support the sector’s recovery.
Blazer-ing a trail on the seafront
Government ministers Richard Drax, MP for Dorset and Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons promoted an ‘enjoy summer safely’ campaign in blazers on the seafront at Weymouth, while eating ice-cream.
The Times reports that Angela Merkel has raised the prospect of restrictions on private parties and tighter controls on travel to coronavirus “risk zones” such as the US and Spain after Germany recorded its highest number of cases in a day since April.
Europe’s largest travel trade association dedicated to Latin America – LATA - has announced that LATA Expo 2020 will be held virtually from 12-16 October 2020 with a focus on pre-scheduled one-to- one meetings between exhibitors and suppliers, as well as key note seminars and insight into important travel and consumer trends impacting the region.
LATA has created a Covid-19 resource centre to help members understand how the pandemic is impacting the region as well as providing information on safety protocols in place. Colin Stewart, the LATA Chairman said that the situation was very fluid with each country having different experiences.
Bill de Blasio, the city’s mayor, launched a programme which saw the government pay 139 empty hotels to house some 13,000 homeless for $175 (£132) per person per night, to avoid Covid-19 outbreaks in overcrowded homeless shelters.
However, local residents of Manhattan's Chelsea and the Upper West Side neighbourhoods say the decision has made streets more dangerous. The mayor said that the process of pulling out of hotels would begin now, though he did not provide details.
The United States will extend to a ban on non-essential travel at land borders with Canada and Mexico for another 30 days as several states struggle to contain a coronavirus outbreak. A US official said the measures could last several more months depending on the progression of the coronavirus.
The Caribbean island has created a new campaign to enjoy the island and visit its iconic spots.
The digital content series ‘Chill Like a Jamaican’ is the island’s invitation to the world to slow down and enjoy island time, first digitally and then by visiting Jamaica.
Jamaican celebrities and local tourism leaders have come together to show fans how to ‘chill’ with a Jamaican twist on food, fitness, cocktails and more.
The series follows Olympic gold medallist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price; master blender Joy Spence of Appleton Estate; Pepa of the Grammy award-winning duo Salt-n-Pepa; Miss Jamaica World and Miss Jamaica Universe Yendi Phillips; and dancehall artist, BayC as they ‘chill’.
US Virgin Islands
In an effort to contain the spread of Covid-19, the United States Virgin Islands is closing its doors once to leisure visitors. From Wednesday, arrivals will be suspended for at least one month.
This week Anguillan officials have said they will begin accepting applications for entry. Visitors will be able to travel to the Caribbean island from 21 August.
The announcement was made by Quincia Gumbs-Marie, parliamentary secretary for tourism, at a press conference hosted by the prime minister, Ellis Webster.
Pictures went ‘viral’ this week of a music festival at the Wuhan Maya Beach Water Park, in the city where the Covid-19 infection first emerged.
According to the BBC commenters on Chinese social media expressed surprise that such a large- scale event was allowed to take place in Wuhan. There was also alarm on Twitter and Facebook.
The global economic recovery ‘remains highly uncertain’, the World Trade Organisation said. It raised the prospect of an ‘L-shaped, rather than V-shaped trajectory’ after global trade levels dropped to a record low.
Realtime data suggests that Britain’s economy is recovering strongly and is close to pre-Covid-19 levels in some areas. Jefferies bank said that energy consumption had risen by 5000 basis points in the past week and was at 97 per cent of normal levels, while traffic congestion is up from 87 per cent to 90 per cent.
Small business recovering
The Daily Telegraph reports that businesses are regaining confidence to hire and invest, raising hopes that the worst of the crisis is past, according to recruiters.
IT staff are in high demand, as are healthcare and education workers, with temporary staff marginally more popular than permanent hires due to the uncertain economic outlook.
Demand for both temp and permanent employees is back in positive territory, on the Recruitment and Employment Confederation’s index, indicating they are more likely to take on more workers than to cut back in the coming months.
Testing improves share prices
London Stock Exchange listed airline and travel company share prices rose yesterday on the first official public admission that two-week quarantines on returning travellers could be replaced by airport Covid-19 testing.
On the back of Health Secretary confirming that a testing system was being discussed, shares for IAG, owner of Heathrow-based British Airways, gained 7.6%; Easyjet climbed 3.3; Wizz Air gained 3.2% and Jet2 parent Dart Group improved by 5%.
Wizz moves to Gatwick
1. Wizz Air, the eastern European low-cost carrier, is setting up a base at Gatwick.
The airline will initially base just one aircraft at Gatwick flying four routes to Lanzarote, Malta, Naples and Athens.
2. The airline has revealed it will be opening a second UK base later this year, at Doncaster Sheffield Airport.The budget airline has been flying from the airport for 14 years across 10 routes, but will now be setting up on a permanent basis.
To mark its new base, the airline is allocating one Airbus A320 aircraft to Doncaster Sheffield, which will serve seven new routes.
This includes Alicante and Malaga in Spain, Larnaca in Cyprus, Faro in Portugal, Lublin in Poland, Kosice in Slovakia and Suceava in Romania.
3. Travel Weekly reports that Wizz Air has resumed flights from Luton airport to St Petersburg and added two routes from the UK to Lithuanian capital Vilnius.
The budget airline is the only UK carrier with a direct connection to the Russian second city. It is running flights twice a week on Wednesdays and Fridays with one-way fares starting at £19.99. The return follows the airline restarting a service from Luton to Moscow Vnukovo airport on 15 August, with flights on Saturdays and Tuesdays.
The resumption of the two routes follows the lifting of travel restrictions in Russia.
Ryanair has cut flight numbers by a fifth for the coming two months after bookings plummeted when quarantine measures were imposed on France and Spain. The biggest cuts affect routes to and from France, Spain and Sweden.
The Telegraph reports that airport operator Stobart Group is to cut more than 100 jobs at its aviation arm after easyJet closed its bases at Stansted and Southend airports.
Easyjet has announced it is cutting up to 670 jobs as it plans to close bases at Stansted, Southend and Newcastle.
Airline Jet2 is to cut 102 pilot jobs. A Jet2 spokesperson told The Mirror: 'We are greatly distressed and deeply regret these redundancies that are entirely caused by the current situation.'
European airport trade body ACI Europe has released its air traffic report for June which shows passenger traffic down by 64.2 per cent in the first half of the year, and 96.4 per cent down in the second quarter, reports Business Traveller. The body has said that traffic recovery across European airports has been slower than expected, with traffic down 78 per cent in July compared to 2019.
Brittany Ferries is to cut sailings because of coronavirus restrictions - affecting the journeys of 50,000 passengers. 35,000 passengers have either cancelled or delayed their travel plans after the UK Government suddenly took France off the quarantine exemption list. Brittany Ferries has now dropped sailings from Portsmouth to both St-Malo in France and Bilbao in Spain. Two vessels will also be withdrawn from its fleet of 12.
Ferry operator DFDS will continue to operate passenger routes between the UK, France and Netherlands, despite the government decision to add the countries to the quarantine list.
The company runs 57 sailings a day on routes from Dover to Calais and Dunkirk; three per day between Newhaven and Dieppe; and daily crossings between Newcastle and Amsterdam.
TUI will launch a River Cruise brand in November reports Breaking Travel News.
Initially planned for March, the ships will now set sail from November, with Christmas and New Year itineraries planned, and a full programme on offer from April.
The river cruise line with three ships offers 32 itineraries along the Danube, Rhine, Moselle, Main and Dutch and Belgian waterways with the added flexibility of three to 14-night sailings for those wanting a short break or those opting for a longer getaway.
Breaking Travel News has reported that MSC Grandiosa has become the first large cruise ship to return to operation in the Mediterranean. The first guests began embarking MSC Cruises’ flagship in the port of Genoa, Italy ahead of departure this week.
Marella Cruises has a new five-point for safe cruising. Sailings on Marella Cruises are currently suspended until 30 September 2020, and the Marella Explorer will sail from Corfu on 2 October 2020.
Fred.Olsen has announced that it will have a new homeport in Cuba. The Bremar will sail from Havana for the 2021/22 Caribbean winter season giving passengers an opportunity to visit Mexico, Belize, Colombia, Jamaica and Costa Rica.
Cruise operator Seabourn has entered the MICE sector with the line making it easier for prospective charter, incentive, meeting and group travel clients to understand why a ship may be the perfect choice for their next gathering.
The brand recently added a substantial amount of information to its website dedicated to this niche segment of the travel industry.
- P&O Cruises have cancelled all cruises until 12 November 2020.
- Viking Cruises have cancelled cruises until 2021.
Rail Fare Rises to be delayed
The Times reports that rail fare rises in the new year could be delayed until March to allow commuters to buy cheaper season tickets under plans considered by ministers. The proposal by the Department of Transport is part of a package of ticketing reforms designed to get passengers back on trains.
Peak and off-peak ticket restrictions will be lifted from 6 September 2020 meaning customers with single tickets, including those bought before 6 September 2020, can travel at any time of day.
The £22 Express Class single ticket will become an online exclusive rewarding customers who choose to make use of the multilingual Heathrow Express website and app.
The non-stop service also moved to digital only sales during the Coronavirus pandemic and is now making this permanent.
- The world’s biggest hotel company, Marriott International, is facing a class action lawsuit that could cost it £1,75 billion after a data breach affecting millions of guests.
- Fairfield by Marriott is now present in Peru with the opening of the new Fairfield by Marriott Lima Miraflores, located in main tourist district of Lima.
Travel Weekly has reported that Disneyland Paris is to keep selected hotels shut over the winter.
The French theme park outlined the closures while confirming temporary adjustments to booking and cancellation policies following the UK imposing quarantine restrictions on travellers returning from the country.
Flexible booking is being offered, with the option of moving arrival dates if people can no longer travel due to the 14-day self-isolation requirement imposed at the weekend.
Breaking Travel News has reported that Accor has signed 14 new properties in Europe during the last six months. These include four in the UK and Ireland, six in Belgium and four in the Netherlands.
The new signings will collectively add well over 2,000 rooms to the company’s portfolio in the region. The four signings in the UK and Ireland include the first Fairmont in Ireland, one Tribe, one Mercure and an ibis Budget. In the luxury division, the historic Carton House is the newly signed Fairmont Hotel situated just outside Dublin
- Travel Weekly reported that EasyJet Holidays is to delay its expansion into ski and new European source markets due to current poor trading conditions.
The tour operator, which has just started selling its packages through independent travel agents, said it would continue to focus on its beach and city packages and on its UK customers in the short term.
- EasyJet Holidays has cancelled all its package holidays to France, Malta and the Netherlands after the nations were reintroduced to the government’s quarantine list.
Great Rail Journeys
Travel Weekly reports that the imposition of quarantine restrictions on France and Holland has forced Great Rail Journeys to cancel Eurostar trips to the Continent until at least the first week in September.
The operator resumed escorted tours last week from London St Pancras via the Channel Tunnel passenger rail service through France and Belgium to Switzerland and Germany.
TUI Group reported its third quarter results on Thursday 13 August. TUI bookings for this summer are down by 81% and capacity for future seasons has been adjusted to reflect the impact of gradual recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
This equates to its programme being 16% sold, reflecting the impact of cancellations from mid-March, versus 88% sold at the same point last year.
“Rebased on our adjusted capacity plans, we are currently 57% sold to date,” TUI’s Chief Executive Fritz Joussen said.
The first operator to partially restart holidays in June is cutting winter capacity by 40% in line with overall bookings – with numbers from the UK down by 5%.
TTG reported that the group has also secured an additional €1.2 billion German government aid package. TUI said even with changes to destination advice and quarantine measures the business would succeed, although warned lockdowns would be more problematic.
“The integrated model is better than independent,” he said. “You can quickly contact the customer and change them even for the next day – re-bookings from A to B is much easier.”
TUI added demand for holidays remains "very high": since the resumption of travel activities, 1.7 million new bookings have been received group-wide, with bookings for summer 2021 “also very promising”: currently 145% higher than last year’s bookings for this summer.
Asked what assumptions had been made for a normalised level of demand for 2022, Joussen said: “Yes we need a vaccine and the assumption is that we will see a vaccine from next year.
Flights and holidays to Cyprus resumed on 17 August, due to passenger demand, despite requirements from the island that all visitors need a negative Covid-19 test result in order to gain entry.
Travelmole reports that Switzerland-based STA Travel Holdings has filed for insolvency. An external administrator will 'determine the next steps’. It is unclear what that means for STA's 200 shops - of which 52 are in the UK - although the statement said local operations around the world 'may continue'.
STA Travel has an ATOL licence to carry just over 34,000 passengers.
STA parent, Diethelm Keller Group, said the company has not been immune from the 'global magnitude of the pandemic'.
Allstar Business Solutions
Customer data analysis by credit card provider Allstar Business Solutions reported that UK business travel continued to grow in July, albeit at a slower pace than seen in June, with 1.56 billion extra miles travelled – a 14.4 per cent month-on-month increase compared to 30.2 per cent the previous month.
Travel Weekly reports that the UK’s leading online travel agent On the Beach has responded robustly to questioning of its policy on refunds for cancelled package holidays to Spain.
On the Beach has pledged to refund customers who don’t wish to travel to Spain against Foreign Office (FCO) advice for their accommodation but will refund flight costs only where airlines cancel flights and pay out refunds.
#SAVETRAVEL WEEK CAMPAIGN
Travel Trade Magazine TTG is calling on everyone in the travel industry to get involved with Save Travel Week between 17-21 August, to raise awareness of the campaign to protect our industry from the threat of collapse.
The #SaveTravel campaign comprises a series of demands to government, including sector-specific support for businesses of all sizes in travel, as the industry continues to battle with issuing refunds while making little revenue and dents to consumer confidence due to ever-changing government travel advice.
A major part of the campaign is a letter addressed to chancellor Rishi Sunak and transport secretary Grant Shapps, outlining the support required to prevent further catastrophic job losses.