LOTUS CORONAVIRUS UPDATE (26.06)
QUARANTINE & TRAVEL CORRIDORS
Decision delayed until 29 June says Transport Secretary, but Telegraph says initial plans to be revealed at weekend
The next update on international travel corridors will be made in Parliament on Monday 29 June – the date set for the formal review of the quarantine policy - the transport secretary Grant Shapps told a transport committee on Wednesday. The news followed comments from Matt Hancock the Health Secretary who had used the government press briefing on Monday to say that decisions would be made and announced before the quarantine deadline.
The Transport Secretary refused to say how many travel corridors there will be. However, in an exclusive by The Daily Telegraph on Thursday, sources suggested that the initial stage of the plan, set to be targeted at 'low-risk' and popular countries including Italy, Spain and France, would be unveiled at the weekend and that the Government is planning a three-stage approach to revive flying.
The current quarantine measures, introduced on 8 June, require anyone arriving in the UK to self-isolate for 14 days. The policy, twinned with Foreign & Commonwealth Office advice against all non-essential travel outside of the UK and Ireland, has halted international leisure travel to devastating effect on businesses in the sector. Air bridges between countries mean that holidaymakers would not have to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival or return and would form “part of a solution” to quarantine restrictions.
Shapps said criteria for building air bridges with other countries would include an examination of the status and trajectory of Covid-19 in those destinations as well as whether they had a similar Test and Trace system to the UK. In addition, criteria will be set against countries’ popularity and the economic case, which could mean ‘dozens of countries would be included in the first two waves’.
While Shapps said there were ‘quite a lot of complexities’, he said the issue was a ‘massive priority’ and acknowledged ‘the pain aviation has been going through’ and admitted ‘the coronavirus has been a disaster. The only thing that would be worse is if we don’t get on top of it. We think international travel corridors – because they may include rail and ferries – are part of the solution and the government will say more about this on June 29.’
Some of these complexities are likely to be legal action from countries not included in the air bridge arrangements, said Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
The European Commission told The Telegraph this week: “There can be no discrimination. This means regions in similar health situations around Europe should benefit from the same treatment.
“We would therefore expect that if the UK decides to lift its restrictions for movement to and from another member state, or a specific area through air bridges, this should apply to all parts of the [European] Union in a similar epidemiological situation.”
It is widely believed that UK outbound travel to EU holiday destinations will resume from 4 July, in line with the opening up of domestic tourism, following the official review of quarantine measures on 29 June. However the lack of clarity is harming consumer confidence according to travel agents responding to TTG’s agent tracker who said that while they were experiencing an increased number of enquiries, the quarantine policies and the lack of information about them easing, is dampening conversion rates.
The Daily Telegraph reported that ‘sources’ revealed that the first tranche of air bridges are expected to be with popular "low-risk" holiday destinations to "re-fire" the Mediterranean tourist industry from 4 July. These include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Germany:
This week the Eiffel Tower opens and is the country that Boris Johnson first suggested as being exempt to a 14-day self-isolation period (something the government has since backtracked on, after the EU Commission threatened legal action).
From Sunday 21 June, air passengers from the UK can travel to Spain without quarantine. Facemasks must be worn where social distancing cannot be guaranteed. Hotels and restaurants are open with restrictions. Various other restrictions will also be imposed with party boats in the Balearics banned and bars shutting early.
Britons can enter without quarantine. Cafés and bars are open with restrictions, as are most attractions, and masks are compulsory in enclosed spaces.
The Greek government has extended its ban on UK holidaymakers until 30 June.
Greek officials said the move was in line with the EU Commission’s advice that the EU must reopen its external borders in a “strictly coordinated” way.
A Greek tourism chief said the country's islands face economic "wipeout" unless British holidaymakers can visit this summer. Greece is a favourite holiday destination among Britons and the Minister of Tourism for Greece Hari Theoharis confirmed that Greece had been discussing air bridges with the UK. TUI has also announced that it will start holidays to Greece from 11 July.
Despite an outbreak of new cases, Germany has already lifted restrictions to Britons and there has been speculation that the UK will form air bridges with leading European business travel destinations.
While It is expected to welcome Britons from late June, there has been an outbreak of Covid-19 cases in the Algarve and Lisbon and the Daily Telegraph understands that it won’t be included in the first tranche.
Other countries that might be included are:
Turkey A Turkey tourism official told the Financial Times that 15 July could be a possible date that a UK/Turkey air bridge comes into play.
The official said: “The two sides are in close contact. The UK is a very important country for us.”
Last week, the Croatia Minister of Tourism told BBC Breakfast that British tourists will be welcome so long as they have booked accommodation, and confirmed the country is negotiating an air bridge with the UK.
Malta International Airport will open on 1 July with thermal screening on arrival and visitors asked to fill out a form on arrival. Tourists from all countries are welcome from 15 July. Masks are recommended in shops and on public transport. Restaurants, bars, hotels and beaches are reopening with social distancing measures in place.
A larger second set of countries is expected to be unveiled, including other EU nations such as Denmark, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands. Sweden, with a higher infection than the UK is unlikely to be included.
"Low-risk" Caribbean islands and La Reunion, a French department in the Indian Ocean, which Public Health England has identified as having minimal infections and will be included in the second tranche.
Ministers are also examining at least one long-haul "air bridge" to Australia, although there are difficulties over transiting in stop-over countries which could carry a risk of contagion. Any traveller will be expected to ensure that any stop-overs are in nations with low infection rates or risk having to self-isolate on their return to the UK.
Ministers are also looking to open bridges to "low-risk" British territories including Gibraltar, Bermuda, Montserrat and the Falklands Islands as soon as possible. Even though the number of flights and demand is low, they are regarded as special cases.
The third tranche is unlikely to be established before late summer and is said to include Vietnam, Singapore and Hong Kong.
USA has closed its borders, and is unlikely to be opened until after November, although that will depend on a reduction of infection rates.
New Zealand is planning to keep its borders closed with a 14-day quarantine until March because of fears of a second winter wave of coronavirus. That may change if a vaccine is developed and proves effective by then.
Below is the list of Caribbean countries and their reopening dates:
US Virgin Islands: 1 June
Antigua and Barbuda: 4 June
St. Lucia: 4 June
Turks and Caicos: 5 June
Aruba: 15 June
Jamaica: 15 June
St. Barts: 22 June
Bahamas: 1 July
Barbados: 1 July
Bermuda: 1 July
Bonaire: 1 July
Dominican Republic: 1 July
Puerto Rico: 15 July
Cuba: Late August
Cayman Islands: 1 September
STAYCATIONS TAKE OFF
This week, all four nations in the UK confirmed steps on how the domestic travel industry would re-open, although no-one can cross borders yet. On Tuesday, Boris Johnson unveiled his plans and on Wednesday Nicola Sturgeon confirmed plans.
From 4 July
- The two-metre social distancing rule will be reduced to ‘one metre plus’ – two metres are ideal, but where that is not possible, at least one metre distance is recommended.
- Pubs, restaurants, bars, cafes, hotels, campsites, museums and galleries will re-open but all reopened premises will have to introduce a range of safety measures to ensure they are "COVID secure."
- Pubs and restaurants will have to take the names and contact details of customers in case they need to be reached as part of the government's test and trace programme. Tables will need to be a metre apart to limit capacity and there will be table service only. Customers will not be able to stand at a bar and some pub chains are planning to operate a pre-booking system to control customer numbers.
- In restaurants the new “one metre plus” guidance says that where they cannot stay two metres apart, people should be seated side by side to reduce the risk of transmission.
- Hotels & B&Bs People will be allowed to stay overnight at hotels, bed and breakfasts and campsites. Deep cleaning of rooms between guests; contactless check-in; staggered breakfast times and no more buffets will all be the type of measures to be brought in
- Camping and caravan sites will have to ensure that shared facilities have round the clock cleaning.
- Tourist attractions can reopen.
- Theatres and concert halls can open but cannot put on live performances. Instead, they can start to recoup lost income by screening past performances and serving food and drink. James Graham, a leading playwright, warned that the UK’s cultural landscape is “in collapse” as the future of theatres hangs in the balance. The theatre industry has previously said that even if the social distancing requirement is reduced to one metre, venues will not be able to put on profitable productions because of reduced capacities.
- Museums and galleries can open, but there will be limits on the number of people who can visit exhibitions, with advance booking systems in place and one-way systems and cordons to maintain social distancing. It maybe August before most reopen.
- Funfairs and adventure parks alongside model villages and inside parts of zoos that had remained closed when the outside parts were allowed to reopen will all be allowed to re-open.
Not able to open yet
Nightclubs; casinos; bowling alleys and indoor skating rinks; indoor play areas, nail bars and beauty salons; spas; massage, tattoo and piercing parlours; indoor fitness and dance studios, indoor gyms and sports venues/facilities; swimming pools and water parks; exhibition or conference centres where they are to be used for exhibitions or conferences. There is no suggestion yet as to dates for these to reopen.
Nicola Sturgeon confirmed on Wednesday what the re-opening of Scotland’s domestic tourism sector would look like.
There are no plans to relax the two-metre social distancing rule in Scotland for now, but this will be reviewed and the results will be reported on by 2 July.
The Times reports that the Scottish Tourism Alliance has released a survey amongst its members that found that more than 80% of Scottish restaurants and hotels will fail in the next few months with a loss of almost 34,000 jobs unless physical distancing rules are relaxed. The report also found that many of its members would be unable to make any money with the two metre rule.
Almost one-third of Scottish hotels do not plan to open on 15 July as it would economically unsustainable for them to operate while complying with the two-metre rule. Earlier this month the Scottish Beer & Pub Association said 90per cent of its members will be unable to reopen if they have to maintain two metres between patrons.
The relaxations in Scotland are:
From 3 July
- Self-catering accommodation will be able to open
From 6 July
- Outdoor hospitality areas, including beer gardens, can open
From 15 July:
- The tourism sector and all holiday accommodation will reopen
- Pubs and restaurants will also be able to open, subject to physical distancing measures along with "a number of conditions" being followed
- Museums will re-open
The tourism sector can prepare to reopen and take bookings for stays beginning on the 13 July.
Restrictions will be loosened as follows:
Campsites and caravan parks can open.
Hotels, B&Bs, pubs and restaurants reopen.
Tourism will officially restart.
Sharp increase in bookings
The Times reports that the announcement inspired a sharp increase in bookings for hotels and other holiday accommodation, and while residents of popular tourism destinations are looking forward to the return of visitors, they are also nervous about the possible increase in cases, especially in counties such as Cornwall, which has very few hospitals, but is expecting a huge influx of visitors.
The Mail on Sunday’s investment experts identified UK-based leisure businesses as tips to invest in. JD Wetherspoons, Hollywood Bowl, Cineworld, Merlin Entertainments, Whitbread, Welcome Break, Air BnB are all set to benefit from a domestic tourism boom, they say.
New Industry Standard
A new industry standard is being introduced by VisitEngland alongside the national tourism bodies of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales for hotels, accommodation providers and visitor attractions to reassure the public that businesses are adhering to government guidance.
This will act as a marker to visitors that a venue is practising social distancing, maintaining cleaning routines and has undertaken a thorough risk assessment to protect customers when on site.
The UK-wide ‘We’re Good To Go’ industry standard and consumer mark aims to provide confidence for visitors, communities and tourism businesses alike, as the sector works towards reopening.
While the World Health Organisation congratulated the UK on their Covid-19 status, it warned that it must celebrate that by being ‘super careful.’ UK medics also warned the Government that there is a very 'real risk' of a second wave of coronavirus striking the UK and the Government must start to prepare for it now.
INCREASE IN CORONAVIRUS CASES
The World Health Organization on Sunday reported the pandemic's largest single-day increase of confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 183,000 cases reported in the last 24 hours, according to Associated Press.
Brazil is now considered to be the epicentre of the virus in the Southern Hemisphere, while the United States is reporting increased cases in more than half of its states and India is also reporting significant increases.
On Wednesday the WHO warned that Coronavirus outbreaks in the Americas haven’t yet reached their peak with many countries in the Americas, which includes North, South and Central America still suffering sustained community transmission.
Countries with increased infection rates
At least 27 states are seeing a rise in cases compared to the previous week, data from Johns Hopkins University show and seven US states have reported their highest coronavirus patient admissions in the pandemic so far. Arizona, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas – which also confirmed a record daily case increase on Tuesday – each admitted record numbers of infected people to hospital. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut issued a travel advisory Wednesday that requires people arriving from states with high coronavirus rates to quarantine for 14 days.
South Korea confirmed a second wave of the virus with the health minister warning of a 'grave situation' with new imported virus cases identified, new local transmissions and an escalated R rate.
Germany is tackling an outbreak from a meat plant in North Rhine-Westphalia. Authorities have reimposed lockdown restrictions in two districts, with more than half a million people affected. The country’s R number rose to 2.88 on Sunday.
On Wednesday the Associated Press reported that new virus cases have declined in China and its capital, Beijing, where a two-week spike appears to be waning. Flight tracking data from Cirium found that the outbreak had impacted aviation recovery with a recorded a 0.5 per cent decline in tracked scheduled passenger jet flights by Chinese operators for June 16th compared with June 9th.
A partial lockdown is to be relaxed despite a steady rise in daily infections. Beaches and parks remain closed but restaurants, coffee shops, clubs and theatres will reopen at 25% capacity and access to transport has been widened. Mosques and churches can open from Saturday but Friday prayers and Sunday masses remain prohibited. From 1 July, international tourists will be welcomed.
The country recorded its highest death toll in two months this week, and there are concerns that the official figures for cases are inaccurate.
On Thursday the country saw another record increase in infections and vowed to test all 29 million residents of Delhi, which has struggled to keep pace with the infection, and turned train carriages into Covid wards.
Travel Daily has provided a list of destinations where there are zero cases of the virus. Many seem to be island nations in the Pacific and include: Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, North Korea, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu and Vanuatu
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said the global economy will take a $12tn (£9.6tn) hit from the Covid-19 pandemic after slashing its growth projections for the UK and other developed countries in 2020. In an update to forecasts the IMF said on Thursday that it now expected the global economy to contract by 4.9pc this year, compared with a 3pc drop expected in the spring. The IMF said it would take two years for world output to return to levels at the end of 2019.
Separately, the IMF warned that Britain will have to borrow more than £400bn in two years due to the hit the pandemic will deliver to public finances. It said the UK would suffer the fifth worst downturn of advanced G7 nations, with GDP falling 10.2pc this year and growing 6.3pc in 2021.
Britain's response to the crisis has been one of the strongest, with direct fiscal support amounting to about 6pc of GDP, but the stimulus package will take a toll on the public finances with the budget deficit this year expected to be 12.7pc of GDP.
VAT slash – and PMI signalling some recovery
The Sunday Times reported that the Chancellor is planning emergency cuts to VAT to help the economy and this week reports from the Purchasing Managing Index – or PMI – indicated that the economy was no longer collapsing – with some areas returning to growth in June.
The Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey also reported that Britain’s economy is recovering quicker than anticipated but that news from the labour market is mostly negative. The Bank of England now estimated that Britain’s economy was heading for a roughly 20% contraction over the first and second quarters of 2020, compared with a fall of about 27% included in a scenario it published last month.
As the Transport Secretary acknowledged, the aviation sector is reeling from the impacts of border closures. Qantas, the Australian national carrier will be cutting 6,000 people and continue to stand down half its 30,000-strong workforce; Jet2, the UK holiday airline is looking to cut its workforce by 380 cabin crew and 102 piilots; Swissport the ground handling provider, which provides essential services for most UK airports and airlines is set to cut half of its UK workforce – and the company has started consultation with over 4.500 staff.
While some airlines are making plans to start flying some routes again as lockdowns lift, Swissport has said its revenue is forecast to be almost 50% lower than last year due to the crisis.
Brian Pearce, IATA’s chief economist, warned: “We are going to see a relatively slow and shallow return of air travel until we see either a vaccine or easily available tests. Consumers have grown more cautious in the last month. A majority say they are going to wait six months or more. He also said that airline debts have ballooned to $550 billion and the industry “could see a lot of failures” this autumn without additional government aid.
IATA estimates the value of airline refunds owed for cancelled flights in the three months to June alone at $35 billion and carriers have burnt through $60 billion in unavoidable costs in the quarter. Pearce also warned of consolidation of the sector in the fourth quarter.
This week it was reported that British Airways owner IAG may ask investors for £1.5 billion, while it continues to battle unions over job cuts; Lufthansa will continue to talk to the German Government and state-owned bank about the state-backed bailout and American Airlines has secured $3.5 billion in new financing by selling shares and entering into loan facilities. Meanwhile Norwegian Air announced that it will return to the skies as the company wrote off almost $65 million in debt in total by issuing an additional 149 million shares valued at NOK4.25 ($0.44) each.
Larry Pimental, former president and CEO of Azmara cruises, a Royal Caribbean-owned cruise line has outlined the need for the cruise sector to instil trust back to overcome its high profile PR problem. ‘The lines have to step up and be really specific about the protocols that they are going to roll out which will allow people to be safe.’
Pimentel stressed the cruise industry would get through the current crisis, but through responding to the science, and by being thorough and transparent about the new protocols it brings in.
US Cruise suspension extended to 15 September
Cruise line association CLIA confirmed that there will be an extension to the suspension of US cruise operations to from 24 July to mid-September.
Carnival Corporation speeds up ship disposalsTravel Weekly reports that Carnival Corporation is speeding up the disposal of ships after registering a $2.4 billion adjusted net loss in the three months to May 31 as the Covid-19 pandemic shut down global cruise operations.
Future capacity is expected to be “moderated” by the phased re-entry of its ships, the removal of capacity from its fleet and delays in new ship deliveries.
This will include the acceleration of plans to remove ships which were previously expected to be sold over the ensuing years.
Carnival said: “The company expects to resume guest operations, after collaboration with both government and health authorities, in a phased manner, with specific ships and brands returning to service over time to provide its guests with enjoyable vacation experiences.”
Initial sailings will be from a “select number of easily accessible homeports”.
The company is co-operating with various medical policy experts and public health authorities to develop enhanced procedures and protocols for health and safety on board its ships.
The corporation added: “Despite substantially reduced marketing and selling spend, the company is seeing growing demand from new bookings for 2021.
“For the six weeks ending May 31, 2020, approximately two-thirds of 2021 bookings were new bookings.
“The remaining 2021 booking volumes resulted from guests applying their FCCs (future cruise credits) to specific future cruises.”
The train company has cut long routes because of social distancing measures. Eurostar is cutting direct services to three French cities due to lack of demand and difficulties implementing protection measures on long journeys.
Tour operators re-open in a harsh environment
TUI has announced that it will start operating holidays to eight destinations across Spain and Greece from 11 July, from Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham - with new safety measures onboard, but it has also launched talks to halve the German airline fleet, while G-Adventures has reported that its younger customers will be the ones to travel first and Club Med has reported that they will be reopening their resorts with social distancing measures during June and July.
Wendy Wu Tours
Has reported £600,000 worth of sales during lockdown, with bookings seeing a daily increase for 2021.
Sandals reopens in the Caribbean
Sandals is reopening its Antigua resort this month, with others due to follow in July. Karl Thompson, the UK MD said that the Caribbean is seen as safe and the company will resume work with the trade in the UK.
Parent company Dnata Travel Group has announced a 45-day consultation period to merge sister trade-only tour operators Travel 2 and Gold Medal. The closure would mean an end to the Travel 2 brand and its offices in Glasgow.
Mark Warner accused over refunds
The Sunday Times reported that Mark Warner has been accused of breaking the law after “gagging” customers who demanded refunds when their holidays were cancelled.
Mark Warner, which runs resorts around Europe, has been offering people confidential refund deals after they threatened to speak out about how they were treated.
Travel Supermarket the price comparison website, said that demand for holidays to some destinations in Spain had doubled over the past week compared with seven days earlier. Online searches for holidays to Mallorca are up by 96% week-on-week, while Gran Canaria is up by 51%, Tenerife by 48% and Benidorm by 46%.
Over the past two weeks, demand for Spanish holidays is up by 42% overall compared with the first fortnight in June. The number of Britons attempting to book to Portugal over the summer is up by 35%, while numbers have increased by 31% to Greece. Conversely, there has been a drop in demand for holidays to countries such as the US, with searches down by 22%.
High street travel agents have reported a ‘positive’ bounce in sales during the first week of reopening their shops. TTG’s latest Travel Agent Tracker has recorded its largest weekly increase in respondents making sales since the survey started two months ago.
Nearly three in five (58%) of respondents made a sale or took a new booking in the week to 19 June (Week 11) – up 11% on Week 10 (47%), and up from less than a third when the survey was launched back in mid-April.
The average weekly increase in respondents’ reports of sales over the past 10 weeks has been around 3%, with the greatest spike previously coming in at +10%.
For the second week in succession, the number of respondents reporting new inquiries remained above 75%, while the tracker’s new pricing bands revealed 38% of respondents closed sales during Week 11 worth in excess of £1,000 per head.
The number one concern was of consumer confidence, with a combination of the government’s 14-day quarantine on arrival policy, the lack of an announcement on air bridges, and no certainty on when the Foreign Office will ease its travel advice, all making it difficult for the trade to convert evident holiday interest and intent into firm bookings.
Table for one?
A couple in Sweden have opened a restaurant serving one diner in an empty field with the meal bought to the table on a zip wire. Linda Karlsson who runs it says they are fully booked until 1 August.