Coronavirus update 18th May 2020
Two months ago, the UK population was advised to start social distancing, which soon turned into a nationwide lockdown. The situation is continually changing, so we’ve rounded up the main news stories from the UK and across the travel industry to keep you in the loop.
The UK’s current status
Since 23rd March 2020, restrictions on personal movement have been placed on the UK’s public. As of 13th May 2020, these restrictions have been eased slightly and can be summarised as follows:
- People must work from home where possible. Those who cannot work from home are being encouraged to return to work if social distancing and hygiene measures are in place.
- People can now meet one other person from another household as long as they stay outdoors and two metres apart at all times.
- When out in public, people must always stay two metres away from each other.
- People must wash their hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and avoid touching their face.
- Anyone with symptoms of coronavirus, or living with a person with symptoms, must self-isolate.
- Those deemed as high risk (e.g. they have an underlying health condition) have been asked to self-isolate for at least 12 weeks.
As of 18th May 2020, there have been 243,695 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK and, sadly, 34,636 people have died as a result.
The UK has now passed the peak of the virus and has released a plan for allowing the UK to slowly return to work and normality. There have been mixed reactions to the government’s plan, with many seeing it as a positive step towards re-starting the economy, but others saying that it’s too soon to ease the lockdown measures as thousands are still dying.
The UK is also joining in the international effort to produce a vaccine, and the University of Oxford has already started human trials. In the meantime, the numbers of daily tests carried out has continued to increase, and the government has purchased antibody tests which will show who has already had the virus and may have immunity.
The UK economy
As more of the population returns to work, the UK is seeing the economy slowly pick up again. However, the crisis has put a significant strain on many individuals and businesses so the government has introduced a number of measures to help financially. A popular initiative has been the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, allowing companies to furlough staff (stopping them from working temporarily) while the government pays 80% of their salary, up to £2,500 a month. An estimated 6.3 million Britons have been furloughed, which is around a quarter of the workforce. This week, the chancellor announced that this scheme would be extended to October, providing reassurance for many companies.
The UK’s economy shrank by 2% in the first quarter of 2020 and the chancellor has warned that the country can expect to experience a significant recession. The impact of the coronavirus crisis is far from over, but with a plan in place for the population to return to work, the country is taking steps towards recovery.
Impact on the travel industry
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised against all but essential international travel indefinitely with no indication of when this advice will be relaxed. This is proving to be an exceptionally difficult time for the travel industry, with uncertainty making it impossible to accurately plan for the future.
Tour operators and airlines
Following announcements from British Airways and Virgin that a large percentage of their workforces would be laid off, TUI has also announced that up to 8,000 jobs could be lost internationally. It is clear that the coronavirus crisis is having a devastating impact on many airlines and tour operators.
However, many workers who were at risk of redundancy will keep their jobs due to the UK government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. This scheme has been particularly welcomed in the travel industry as it has allowed companies to continue trading without the concern of paying salaries. Many UK tour operators are still receiving enquiries from potential clients so, amongst the uncertainty, it is clear that there is still a desire to travel and these companies will have business again when international travel is possible.
When will travel return?
The UK public currently has no indication of when travel will be available to them again. Two of the UK’s cabinet ministers have recently warned that a summer holiday in 2020 is unlikely and that booking a holiday is a risk. Similarly, the FCO advice not to travel shows no sign of changing. This is forcing many holidaymakers to postpone or cancel plans, with no idea of when they will be able to travel again.
This week, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced that soon anyone arriving into the UK would be asked to self-isolate for two weeks. However, no specific dates have been given for when this will be implemented or, more importantly, when this restriction will be lifted. While this measure is in place, it is likely to bring a complete halt to both inbound and outbound tourism, with very few people willing to go through two weeks of isolation to either visit the UK or to return to the UK after a foreign holiday. With no end in sight, it is also likely to prevent people from making future travel plans. Iata has publicly asked governments not to include quarantining in their post-lockdown measures, advising that it will significantly slow down the recovery of the travel and tourism industry.
The situation is different in Europe as countries are beginning to open their borders. For example, Iceland has announced that tourists will be welcome again in June, subject to testing negative for coronavirus. The EU has offered reassurance that there will be a summer tourist season this year, albeit one with more restrictions and hygiene measures. Right now, it seems that the UK is approaching the subject of international travel very differently to the rest of Europe. However, if mainland Europe shows that travel can be done safely over the coming months, then hopefully the UK will start to open its borders too.
What will the future of travel look like?
When international travel returns, it is likely that extra safety precautions will be in place. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) is currently reviewing the best measures and publishing guides to how different sectors can open up and stay safe. These Global Protocols will help tourism and hospitality businesses worldwide to implement the most effective measures, but also to remain consistent. If consistent safety measures are in place globally, it’s likely that consumers will have more confidence when travelling. Measures suggested by the WTTC include frequent disinfection, implementing social distancing measures and using clear signage to reassure guests and inform them of protocol.
It’s likely that everyday life and travel will be different for quite some time as the world moves towards ‘a new normal’. However, this doesn’t mean that people can’t travel, socialise or enjoy leisure activities eventually.
In the past week, the lockdown in the UK has started to ease, resulting in mixed opinions. Unfortunately, we are a nation coming to terms with the fact that we have suffered badly from this international crisis and, like the rest of the world, it will be a long time before we recover completely. However, it is clearer than ever that the public and businesses want to return to some sort of normality; people miss socialising, seeing family, engaging in leisure activities and, after spending so long in their homes, they certainly miss travel and holidays.
There have been some unhelpful comments from the UK government this past week about international travel, leaving the industry frustrated and unable to properly plan for the future. The introduction of a 14-day quarantine for those entering the country has been discussed which is, arguably, a policy introduced too late. Perhaps this would have been helpful in preventing the spread of the virus several months ago but, at this stage, it will simply damage the economy and the travel industry further.
The beauty of the travel industry is that we are an international community, and I am delighted to see that borders are slowly re-opening elsewhere. Italy has reopened their borders, and both Italy and Spain have seen some restaurants and bars reopening. Many elements of this pandemic have been politicised and turned into a high-stakes competition, with emphasis on who has the highest death count or who has bounced back quickest. But, when it comes to travel, it is in everyone’s interest to work together and learn from each other’s experiences. I hope that the re-opening of mainland Europe’s borders is a great success and something that the UK government can learn from so our travel industry can recover. I’m aware that many countries in Latin America and Africa are suffering too, and I hope reassurance can be found as we see other nations recover, allowing more freedom for their populations.
As always, I have no doubt that travel will recover, but also that we will return to a ‘new normal’ way of life. Recovery will be down to confidence. Governments will need confidence that if they open borders and skies, they will not be importing the virus. Consumers will need confidence that they will stay safe on their travels without undue hassle. We may see instant testing and immunity passports in the short-term to kick start travel until a vaccine is found and rolled out. We will need to be strong and patient, but we are seeing the green shoots of a ‘confidence recovery’. I believe we will soon see a resumption of travel, albeit in a new and reshaped form, which may not be such a bad thing after all.
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