Fully bitten travelers returning to England and Wales from Orange List countries are now exempt from self-isolation, but on Friday the government announced the new rule would not apply to France in due to concerns over the spread of the beta variant of Covid, first identified in South Africa.
The move shattered the vacation plans of hundreds of thousands of people and left the travel industry worried that more hot spots would be added to the newly created category dubbed “amber-plus.”
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Martyn Sumners, AITO Executive Director, The Specialist Travel Association, said: “How many lights does a traffic light have? Normally three, but this government seems to think that it is possible to have one amber and one more amber. Maybe it works in political circles when you can’t make up your mind on something?
“For the travel industry, this is a total disaster. One has the impression of being political pawns in a great game of chess which destroys long-standing companies. While France has a much lower daily infection rate than the UK’s current rate – only 25% of our numbers – why the hell is it classified as Amber Plus?
“In how many countries will this happen before they destroy another summer season for tour operators and travel agents who are already hanging by a thread?” Enough is enough.
“We need to give consumers confidence, not doubt. We need to protect half a million jobs and many other related jobs, especially in retail. Many people depend on the common sense action of government and time is running out. “
Noel Josephides, chairman of Sunvil travel agency and former chairman of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) agreed, and warned that if other hotspots like Spain and Greece turn “orange-plus” , that would “stop everything”.
He said to me: “If they start targeting Greece, Portugal, Spain, then there will be nothing left. The way the government goes anywhere is in danger, but if that happens there will be no outbound tourism industry. The only ones that will survive are the very large companies.
This decision was called into question amid reports that concern about the beta variant in France was due to its prevalence in French overseas territory La Réunion in the Indian Ocean – oddly not covered by the new rules.
Mr Josephides said: “Quite honestly we had this beta variant in England a long time ago, what’s the big panic now? We spoke to friends in France and they never heard of the beta, and never knew it was a real issue.
“Everyone is starting to think that all of these things are political or private quarrels, which would be outrageous. “
Mr Josephides had seen positive signs for the decimated industry after the government announced that the double blow would not have to be quarantined upon return from the Amber Countries.
However, when Spain’s Balearic Islands were put back on the Orange List, just two weeks after turning green again, confidence sank again.
Friday night’s late-night turnaround in France aggravated the despair of many players in the sector.
The travel agent, who largely works in the Greek market, added: “It’s all about trust right now, it’s not about worrying about whether you’re going to catch it for the Most of our clients are concerned about self-isolating.
“The Greeks can’t believe it could end up being any worse than last year, and it’s a possibility. The vaccine did not improve things. They (the government) squandered it.
The government has been approached for comment.