COVID-19 Updates

Coronavirus update 4th March 2021

Ok, so we’ve been a little quiet of late. 2020 has been and gone and we are well and truly into 2021. Coronavirus still looms and the UK population remains in lockdown, with significant limitations on working, socialising and travelling. Over the past several months we’ve been keeping busy helping our industry partners and working on exciting projects which we look forward to sharing with you soon. We are now looking ahead to a life beyond lockdown and can’t help but feel cautiously optimistic following The Prime Minister’s roadmap to recovery, which was revealed last week.

To keep you in the loop, we have collated the main news stories related to the coronavirus pandemic in the UK and across the travel industry, so together we can imagine a post-Covid-19 world and begin to strengthen our beloved travel industry.

The UK’s current status

As 2020 drew to a close and we welcomed in 2021, coronavirus cases rapidly increased across the country, thought to be driven by the new variant of the virus. At the same time, the race of administering the vaccine began. The UK’s vaccination programme has progressed at a pace and over 20 million people have received the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Since the 6th January 2021, the UK has been in its third national lockdown, with the following restrictions placed on the personal movement of the UK’s public:

  •       People must work from home where possible and should only leave the house for essentials such as food shopping, health reasons, or daily exercise.
  •       When out in public, people must always stay two metres away from each other.
  •       People should wash their hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and avoid touching their faces.
  •       Anyone with symptoms of coronavirus, or living with a person with symptoms, must self-isolate.

As of today, in the United Kingdom alone there have been 4,194,785 confirmed cases and sadly 123,783 deaths related to coronavirus. With the aid of lockdown and the fantastic efforts of the vaccination programme, the number of confirmed cases and deaths has been steadily decreasing. Research suggests that one dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine alone cuts hospitalizations and deaths by at least 75%. With these results, the Prime Minister has been able to lay out a four-step roadmap to ease restrictions in England, which is outlined below:

Step 1

8th March

  •       All children and students will be able to return to face-to-face education
  •       Two people from different households can meet outside for recreation
  •       One person can visit care home residents providing they wear PPE and take a lateral flow test

29th March

  •       Up to six people will be allowed to meet outside, including in private gardens
  •       Outdoor facilities such as golf courses, tennis and basketball courts will reopen
  •       The stay at home rule will be lifted, but people are encouraged to stick to their local area
  •       Weddings with up to six people will be permitted to take place
  •       Organised outdoor sports activities can resume
  •       Parent and children groups can return with a maximum of 15 people per group

Step 2

From the 12th April

  •       All shops are allowed to reopen
  •       Restaurants and pub gardens can serve food and alcohol to customers sitting outdoors
  •       Gyms, spas, hairdressers, beauty salons and all other close contact services can reopen
  •       Self-contained holiday lets can reopen and resume bookings for people within the same household or bubble.
  •       Weddings with up to 15 people will be permitted to take place
  •       Zoos, theme parks, and drive-in cinemas can open, along with libraries and community centres

Step 3

From the 17th May

  •       Up to 30 people will be allowed to meet outdoors
  •       Up to six people or two households will be allowed to meet inside
  •       Restaurants, bars, pubs, and all other hospitality venues can seat customers indoors
  •       Weddings and other life events, with up to 30 people will be permitted to take place
  •       Indoor entertainment such as cinemas, theatres, museums, and children’s play areas can open
  •       Adult indoor group sports and exercise classes can resume
  •       Hotels, hostels and B&Bs can reopen
  •       International travel may resume
  •       Performances and large events are permitted with a limited capacity

Stage 4

From the 21st June

  •       All legal restrictions on social contact will be removed
  •       All legal restrictions on life events such as weddings, funerals, and christenings will be removed
  •       Night clubs will be allowed to reopen

This outline is a best case scenario and will be reviewed at each of the four stages, to assess the feasibility and safety of lifting each of the restrictions in place. The easing of restrictions will be led by data and influenced by the level of infection rates, continued effectiveness of the coronavirus vaccine programme, hospital admissions, and the number of people dying as a result of coronavirus. The impact of new possible coronavirus variants will also be monitored to ensure the safety and welfare of the public is protected.

This timeline of recovery was shortly followed by the news of the Brazilian strain of coronavirus arriving in the UK. Six cases were reported in February, one of which remains untraced. A huge search by England’s health officials is now underway to find this person, causing concern across the UK and scrutiny towards the government on how this has happened.

The UK economy

The impact coronavirus has had on the UK economy has been severe. Since March the economy has shrunk by 10%, the largest fall in over three hundred years. With the UK in lockdown, many shops, bars, and restaurants remain closed, holidays banned and much of the UK workforce are either unable to work or are working remotely. Retail, hospitality, tourism, and aviation are among the hardest-hit sectors and have seen the biggest impact from covid-19 restrictions.

Thanks to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, many companies have been able to furlough staff, which has seen over eleven million jobs protected since the start of the scheme released in March 2020. At present, over four and a half million people remain on furlough. Despite this, many companies have still had to make redundancies and multiple companies across all industries have been forced to downsize resulting in the UK’s unemployment rate increasing to its highest level in almost five years.

Yesterday, the UK’s Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed a three-part plan to continue to support jobs and businesses as Covid restrictions start to ease and aid the UK’s economic recovery. This involves an extension of furlough to the end of September, the extension of business rates relief to the end of June, and an extension of reduced VAT rates for the tourism and hospitality businesses to the end of September. It is going to take a long time for many businesses to get back up and running but for many, there is a sense of relief over these extensions.

Impact on the travel industry

At present, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised against all but essential international travel, unless you have a legally permitted reason to do so. There are different rules for arrivals into England, Scotland, and Ireland. For anyone arriving in England, they must have proof of a negative coronavirus test before entering and on arrival must self-isolate at home for ten days, unless they have a valid exemption. All arrivals will be tested twice, on day two and day eight in the hope to stop new variants from being brought into the UK. If anyone is travelling from one of the 33 countries listed on the “red list” they will be refused entry to the UK unless they are UK nationals or residents. UK nationals or residents must quarantine in a government-approved hotel for ten days. These countries include all of South America, Southern Africa, Portugal, and the United Arab Emirates.

There is no doubt that following Boris Johnson’s announcement last Monday and the unveiling of Rishi Sunak’s budget plan on Wednesday, there has been a ripple of positivity and hope across the travel industry, but there is still plenty of apprehension in the air about the timescale as many firms struggle to stay afloat. If infection rates continue to decline, self-catering breaks can take place from the 12th of April, but only with your existing household. In regards to international travel, The Global Travel Taskforce will reconvene and examine how to open this sector with a report due on the 12th of April 2021. Following that, the government will determine when international travel will be able to resume, which will be no earlier than the 17th of May. However, this time frame remains flexible and will be subject to several variables which may delay these plans.  This includes an increase in infections, a slowdown in vaccine administration, or the arrival of possible new variants into the UK.

Despite the lack of certainty, the prime minister’s roadmap has seen agents and tour operators see a flurry of bookings for domestic and overseas holidays, highlighting consumer confidence and pent-up demand for booking holidays. For the first time in months, the travel industry has something to work towards. Whilst there is still a lot to figure out in terms of how things will work with vaccination certificates, travel corridors, quarantine-free travel, and the impact of new variants on the efficacy of vaccines, the travel industry can slowly begin to move forward.

Our Opinion

After nearly 11 months of uncertainty, we can begin to work towards a post-Covid-19 future. Whilst the road-map has many bumps in the road to navigate, the travel industry can begin to plan, look to rebuild, and renew. Once international travel can resume, we believe and feel cautiously optimistic that it will bounce back and the lifting of restrictions will boost consumer as well as business confidence. However we must remain mindful of the impact of coronavirus on destinations around the world – when we may be ready there will be many countries who are not, and aligning internationally may take some time especially when it comes to coordinating vaccination certificates and avoiding quarantine.

Whilst sadly we have had to see many friends lose their jobs and businesses struggle, we can’t help but be reminded of the incredible resilience of the travel industry, and how coming together has allowed us to realign the importance of travel. The road to recovery will be long and complicated, but there are signs that we can begin to emerge from this crisis. Now is the time to stick together and as industry friends, support one another in building a better and brighter future for our industry. We will be sure to keep you updated as the easing of restrictions progresses. We also have some exciting news of our own to share with you soon, so stay tuned and as always, never hesitate to reach out to us!

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