Looking forward to a summer holiday in the Greek islands this summer? Or perhaps the Spanish Costas? Maybe even that Gîtes in rural France? Oh, wouldn’t it be nice. At today’s utterly pointless news briefing from Downing Street, Boris Johnson kicked the foreign holiday can down the road, again. To quote from the BBC: The government says it cannot yet confirm international travel can resume on 17 May “given the state of the pandemic abroad”, and advises people not to book summer holidays abroad “until the picture is clearer”. The only thing Johnson was clear about today was lying about Sadiq Khan’s record with Transport for London. Travel news can wait.
My loyal reader will be familiar with the Johnson strategy here. Many of us booked our summer holidays long ago. We want to know as soon as possible but Johnson and his government want to soften the blow. They won’t say today that you can forget about that summer break this year, but the same words are used. “It’s too early to book holidays just yet”. Don’t book a holiday “until the picture is clearer”. And so it goes. Then, eventually Johnson appears at another presser and says “Alas” and you know what’s going to come next. “I’m sure many of you have been expecting this but it won’t make it any easier.” Ah well. 2022 won’t be as bad, right?
The vaccines are doing their jobs. Most of us will not die now we have had the jab so that’s something. But there are variants of the virus doing the rounds that will evade the virus and, the argument from Johnson will go, we daren’t risk bringing the bugger back here. “I’m very sorry,” he will add. “But my father Stanley, who is exempt from all rules, sends his best wishes from his holiday home in Greece.”
Soon, we will have what the government will call a ‘traffic light system’, whereby countries will be assigned a colour. Red, if it’s not safe to go. Amber, if it’s dodgy. Green if it’s safe, at least for the time-being. We can travel as long as we pay £120 each for a private COVID test, plus another when we arrive abroad, another when we get ready to fly back to the UK and yet another when we get home. For a family of four, that would add something like two grand on the cost of a holiday. It doesn’t look appealing, does it, but it’s probably going to happen. And let’s not even explore the possibilities of travelling to, say, Greece under a green traffic light and coming back in a red one, with everyone having to isolate in a government approved hotel at a cost of £1750 per person. That week in Corfu suddenly isn’t quite so appealing, is it?
And all this doesn’t even take into account the mess many European countries are in with COVID-19. France, Italy and Greece are all in serious bother. Today, for example, Greece recorded 1863 new infections and 73 deaths. By contrast, the UK, whose population is over six times higher than Greece, recorded 2762 new cases and 26 deaths. Their numbers are rising rapidly, ours are falling. Johnson will argue, with some justification, that if we open up foreign tourism, we could reopen the floodgates to more COVID here.
Still, at least foreign tourists are able to come to the UK with relative ease, according to a recent report. Some 8000 tourists are arriving in the UK every day and 90% of arrivals at Gatwick are tourists. So in Johnson’s Britain, we can’t travel abroad, but 56000 tourists arrive to enjoy our so-called lockdown every single week. As we keep saying, you couldn’t make it up.
With summer still two months away, I am fast becoming resigned to the prospect of being told to stay at home again for the rest of 2021 and who knows large parts of 2022, too. We’re all going on a summer holiday all right. We just don’t know which year.