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Spain, the United States and Singapore are among the destinations with which Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is in talks over international travel agreements.
The Transport Secretary was asked by ITV's Robert Peston how far along the Government was in its discussions with other countries about vaccine passports, which are being considered as way to open up foreign travel.
Mr Shapps said: “The Prime Minister only announced the task force on Monday but I can tell you that in the last few days I’ve spoken to my Singaporean opposite number today, actually, my American opposite number today, actually, my Spanish opposite number … So we’re speaking to a lot of other governments.”
His comments come as the EU meets to discuss vaccine passes and as individual countries, including Spain, have said that they will form part of their plan for reopening tourism.
However, Greek tourism minister Harry Theoharis has said that British visitors could be welcomed back this summer with or without having received the vaccine; under the UK's roadmap out of lockdown, international travel could resume from May 17.
Scroll down for the latest travel updates.
What happened today?
The main headlines:
US and Spanish holidays could be unlocked by vaccine passport talks
Vaccine passports should not be used for foreign travel, says WHO
Vaccine passports to get extra push by EU tourist destinations
Australia could open up foreign travel in October, Qantas boss suggests
Camp Bestival to go ahead this year
'Pull out all the stops' to save Eurostar, union urges Government
Catch-up with the rest below.
Train services should fall drop 10pc post-lockdown, says rail boss
Around 10 per cent fewer train services should run once the country opens up again, compared with the pre-pandemic timetable, the chair of Network Rail says.
The old pattern of five days of peak commuter travel may not return, Sir Peter Hendy has warned the National Rail Recovery conference.
He said commuter traffic could return to 80 per cent of pre-Covid levels and might stay there for the next one to three years.
Cottage holiday provider suggests UK swaps for overseas destinations
Sykes Holiday Cottages saw bookings up 150 per cent year-on-year and a booking was taken every eight seconds following the release of the government's roadmap out of lockdown this week.
With self-catering holidays set to return from April 12, many Britons will be making the most of a UK holiday.
However, some might be craving the escapism of an overseas break. The company has some suggestions, including this spot that is suggests is reminiscent of the Amalfi Coast:
Bayview Tower in Devon has breath-taking panoramic views.
The grade II listed building was once occupied by CS Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, who wrote in his journal, “The view from the balcony was beyond everything I have ever seen”.
A short walk will take guests to the centre of Lynton which offers shops and art galleries, and there’s also the option of a scenic walk along the South West Coastal Path.
London to get its own Manhattan-style ‘Highline’
A slice of Manhattan could soon be coming to London, as the team behind New York’s High Line has been appointed to design London’s very own park in the sky, reports Greg Dickinson.
The Camden Highline initiative plans to morph a three-quarter-mile stretch of disused railway into a pedestrianised route between Camden and Kings Cross.
The idea came from an academic at University College London named Oliver O’Brien, who posted a blog in 2012 listing the stretches of disused railway in London where a highline could possibly work. The section that was deemed easiest and most obvious was this stretch of rail between Camden and Kings Cross.
Nine years later, the project is underway and this month it has entered its next stage. It was announced last week that the Camden Highline will be designed by James Corner of Field Operations, the firm behind the New York High Line and London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
'Thailand needs vaccine passport plan by June'
Thailand should have a clear strategy on vaccine passports by June 2021 if the plan to reopen to international visitors by the fourth quarter is to go ahead, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).
Siripakorn Cheawsamoot, TAT deputy governor for Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the America's said the government policy would have a huge effect on opening up to the international travel market.
Dutch sex workers and cafe owners challenge Covid restrictions
Dutch sex workers have said today they would demonstrate next week against the continued closure of brothels under government Covid curbs while scores of restaurants and cafes vowed to reopen in defiance of a ban.
The challenges follow Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte's announcement Tuesday to relax some measures but to extend the country's controversial nightly curfew and maintain bans on sex work and on the hospitality industry.
Rutte said his government would allow hair salons, massage spas and some secondary schools to reopen next Wednesday.
Norwegian Cruise Line reports strong bookings for 2022
Bookings are positive for 2022, driven by pent-up demand, the cruise line said.
The company has suspended sailings worldwide until May 31, but is seeing bookings for 2022 ahead of 2019.
Royal Caribbean has also reported an uptick in bookings and said this week that bookings for the first half of 2022 suggest strong demand.
Finland to go into three-week lockdown
Finland is set to enter a three-week lockdown in an effort to curb the spread of Covid.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced the restrictions, which are to start on March 8, during a press conference on Thursday.
Bars and restaurants will close and students over 13 will switch to remote learning.
Finland has seen a rise in cases after the Christmas period with around 75 per cent confirmed cases now thought to be the Kent strain.
No outbreaks in rural Scotland linked to holidays, claims scientist
Britons travelling from other parts of the UK who took a holiday in rural Scotland in 2020 did not cause any coronavirus outbreak, a Government scientist has claimed today.
"Not a single cluster" of any significance was linked to those on holiday in the Scottish highlands and Islands last summer, said Professor Mark Woolhouse, an infectious disease expert at Edinburgh University has said.
He said it was despite these areas of the country having become very busy over the summer. Professor Woodhouse is also a member of the SAGE subgroup SPI-M and an advisor to the Scottish Government.
Read our guide on when you can visit Scotland.
Weekend rail closures could be scrapped post-lockdown
The closure of rail lines over weekends could come to an end if leisure travel soars after lockdown restrictions lift.
Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy said there is "no point" in carrying out engineering work on dates when trains would be packed. His organisation normally carries out much of its maintenance and upgrade work requiring line closures over weekends and public holidays, to minimise the number of passengers affected.
Sir Peter believes the lifting of coronavirus restrictions could result in weekends being busier than weekdays this summer, leading to a new strategy.
Speaking at the National Rail Recovery Conference, he said: "If Saturday and Sunday get really busy in the summer, well we should do engineering work some other time, shouldn't we, if that's going to be how people want to use the railway."
Pubs able to serve takeaway drinks when beer gardens reopen
Pubs will be able to serve takeaway drinks from April 12, Downing Street has confirmed.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesman has said once beer gardens reopen during step two of the road map out of lockdown, Britons will be able to get a takeaway pint, reports PA.
The serving of alcohol to take away has not been permitted since the last national lockdown began. Under previous restrictions, people could continue to buy drinks from pubs even while they were closed.
Speaking on Thursday, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Outdoor hospitality is permitted so I believe it would be the case that takeaway alcohol will be permitted."
Drinkers will have to order their alcohol by table service because queueing at the bar would be banned.
View from around the world: Dublin
The city was once a hotspot for visiting tourists, but Dublin is set to remain in Level 5 lockdown until April 5, at least – during which time non-essential retail is closed and there is a 5km limit on travel.
The view on the ground in the Irish capital is a far cry from the usual stag parties, couples of city breaks and visitors to the home of Guinness.
Onboard the Mediterranean's newest 'megaship'
Calling all cruise fans! Kaye Holland shares a first look at MSC Seashore latest vessel, which includes infinity pools, a 'yacht club' and plenty of restaurants across 16 decks. Below’s a sneak peek, take a full tour here.
Welsh holiday spots are running out of money and hope
Tourism businesses in England and Scotland have begun, tentatively, planning for their reopening this week. However, their counterparts in Wales are still in the dark about when and how they will be able to welcome back visitors.
The Welsh Government is yet to outline a roadmap for the easing of lockdown restrictions and the Welsh Association of Visitor Attractions (WAVA) is calling for urgent action. Members of WAVA have reported losses totalling £44million over the past year and welcomed 2.9 million fewer visitors in 2020. Bosses are concerned further losses are inevitable if staycationers book trips to other British destinations, whilst the future in Wales remains uncertain.
Ashford Price, chairman of Dan Yr Ogof Showcaves and member of WAVA, said:
This situation is untenable and cannot continue. Welsh Government must now listen to the calls from WAVA and other tourism industry bodies and set out a clear roadmap for reopening. While we all understand that no dates can by fully guaranteed and will be subject to virus levels continuing to fall, it is now time for a commitment from Welsh Government to the hundreds of businesses that make up the Welsh tourism industry which employes some 12 per cent of the Welsh workforce
Not being allowed to reopen for Easter, one of the busiest periods of the tourism year is going to be a financial disaster for many attractions. Some attractions are already in ‘survival mode’ having traded for just 10 weeks since March 2020.
The hills are alive with the sound of… drums
The French Alps have been much quieter than usual with the absence of skiers and snowboarders, while ski lifts in the country remain closed, this season.
But the resort of Les Arcs recently brought the mountains back to life with the sound of drums. Manu Katché, a drummer who has performed with the likes of Peter Gabriel, Sting and Tracy Chapman, took his kit to the top of the resort’s lift system, set up and blasted out an epic solo, all while surrounded by the serene views of the empty ski area. Watch it below.
Is Cornwall Britain's most overrated holiday destination?
Four million people visit Cornwall every year, seduced by wild coasts, gorgeous beaches and the chic seaside lifestyle – or so they think.
Chris Moss thinks it’s time someone spoke the truth about the Cornwall Conspiracy. Find out the truth (in his opinion) here.
Australia could restart international travel in October
Australia could open up to travellers by October, according to Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce.
“We are now planning for international travel to restart at the end of October this year in line with the day for Australia’s vaccine rollout to be effectively complete,” Mr Joyce said.
Australia has pursued a tough border policy over the past year with citizens banned from leaving the country under most circumstances, a hotel quarantine policy in place and caps on arrivals.
This week marked the start of the country’s coronavirus immunisation programme, with the Australian Government expecting to make the vaccine available to anyone that wants it by October.
Travellers keen to visit Australia and those with family in the country will derive hope from this potential date as the country has previously suggested it would not reopen until at least 2022.
Camp Bestival to go ahead this summer
The Camp Bestival music festival is expected to go ahead this summer as planned, reports Benjamin Parker.
The four-day event is due to take place at Lulworth Castle in Dorset from July 29 July until August 1 – more than a month after the Government hopes to lift the limits on social restrictions in England. It has been held annual since 2008 but was cancelled last year due to coronavirus.
Fatboy Slim and Groove Armada are among the acts lined up to appear at the family-friendly festival.
Rob da Bank, Camp Bestival curator, said: "There is literally nothing [my wife] Josie and I like more in life than standing in a field surrounded by family and friends, dressed in daft outfits dancing to amazing bands and DJs and Mr Tumble. That's exactly what we plan to be doing at Camp Bestival."
'Nowhere is safer than a cruise ship right now'
The Government's last 'travel taskforce' was useless for cruise. Jane Archer says there are no excuses this time.
Retail, hospitality, tourism, aviation. They all got a mention in Boris’ long awaited roadmap. But where was the C word
As the UK starts to open up, there’s nothing to give cruise ships waiting patiently off our shores hope they might be able finally to weigh anchor and get going again.
Instead, a useless taskforce created last year is to be resurrected so it can spout more nonsense on when travel might restart. What was it last time in relation to cruise? Ah yes, along the lines of ‘cruise lines can restart when things are safe but we don’t know when that will be’. Helpful or what?
If anyone expects something more informative from them this time – and on time (it’s due to report on April 12 but last time was weeks late) – I applaud their optimism, especially as Shapps will again be in charge.
... and how easy is it to return?
Robert Jackman says:
There was a cursory check as you got onto the plane that you'd filled out your landing form and you had your PCR test certificate. They didn't scrutinise them or anything, so it was very quick.
Immigration at Heathrow took significantly longer; probably two hours in total. Annoyingly the first bit is a pre-queue, before you even go into the main immigration area, so you don't know how long it will take. Heathrow staff were friendly and handed out water. Anyone with children can skip the queue.
There was lots of confusion in the queue about the extra requirement to book two PCR tests. A Heathrow staff member asked people to put their hands up if they *hadn't* done this. Quite a few people were then taken aside presumably to complete the admin (and paid £210 a head).
My border control guy was very grouchy. That may have even been intentional. He checked the form and asked me to confirm basic details and whether I'd been to any red list countries. We got off on the wrong foot when we asked where I lived in London. I said Old Street – meaning the general area – and he answered "Well you've put here Sycamore Street", as if he'd somehow exposed a potential fraud.
Border control wanted to see the receipt that I'd booked the two Covid tests. They asked about the purpose of my trip but didn't ask for evidence or anything like that. All in all, it could have been much worse.
How easy is it to leave the country right now?
Robert Jackman shares his thoughts after a business trip to Egypt.
It's very easy to get on a plane. I had evidence to show it was a work trip, but this wasn't asked for. Makes sense really – why would an airline try to do itself out of business? I didn't see anyone being stopped in the airport.
I did have a big scare at check-in when one of the stewards said my negative PCR test result might not be accepted as there was a problem with 'Doctap' tests. She called her manager over, who checked it. Apparently there's a problem with fraudulent PCR certificates with the Doctap brand. I'm not sure if this is people knowingly buying counterfeit certificates, or – worse – unknowingly paying for fake tests...
Once you were through security, EgyptAir checked you had a PCR test twice before boarding. Not a huge imposition but the number of large families boarding slowed it down quite a bit.
No shouting or cheering allowed at Tokyo Games torch relay
The Tokyo Games torch relay is to go ahead next month as planned, organisers have confirmed.
But strict Covid rules will be in place, including a requirement to wear a mask.
"They must support with applause or by using distributed goods rather than by shouting or cheering," guidelines say, adding social distance must be maintained.
The event will be broadcast live to encourage people to watch at home, but the organising committee has warned it could be suspended if crowds become too large.
The relay is due to start in Fukushima and is set to visit each of Japan's 47 prefectures over four months.
Croatia to allow outdoor bars and restaurants to open next week
A reopening of outdoor dining in Croatia follows a recent protest of thousands in the capital of Zagreb.
Thousands of people, including owners of restaurants and bars, jammed into Zagreb's main square a few weeks ago.
The reopening will follow more than three months of closures due to Covid restrictions.
Indoor areas will remain closed.
Shapps: Restart of travel depends on factors 'not in our control'
There is a change foreign travel could go ahead from May 17, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said today, but there are potential stumbling blocks beyond the Government's control.
Speaking on ITV's Peston, Mr Shapps said yes foreign travel may be able to resume in mid-May, but that "it depends on lots of factors, many of which are not in our control".
He added: "One of which is the vaccine rollout, which is going great [...] unfortunately that is not the same everywhere else, we're way ahead, and one of the things we need to look at is if other places aren't as vaccinated
"Also, lots of people aren't able to get vaccinations, who make up 21 per cent of our population."
He said this was among the issues that the new Global Travel Taskforce would report on on April 12.
Rise of the digital holiday as locked down jetsetters turn to virtual reality
Hundreds of people are going on 'virtual tours' around some of the world's most popular destinations, writes Hannah Boland.
As travel restrictions remain in place for some of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, adventure-hungry travellers have had to content themselves with logging into live-streamed or “virtual” trips. It is a market which has surged in popularity over the past year.
Virtualtrips, one site which launched last June, now has more than 130 people tuning into its virtual tours on average. Its guides are operating in more than 100 locations around the world, with around 40 different free tours happening every day, available for people to tune in over their desktop to a live-stream where they can ask questions as their guide takes them around various cities.
Dos and don'ts for 'culturally diverse' visitors to the UK seaside
The owners of Durdle Door have written to the Government to demand an education campaign for the “culturally diverse” visitors they blame for last summer’s overcrowding, littering and worse, writes Ed Grenby.
He's suggested some tongue-in-cheek do's and dont's for next time you visit the Great British Seaside.
DON’T try to cut corners on containers either. It’s only a ‘hamper’ if it’s made of wicker. If it’s made of cardboard, it’s a Family Bucket.
Take a look at the full list.
EU must follow UK's 'progressive and coordinated' restart of travel
Airport traffic across much of Europe was down 89 per cent in the first two weeks of February compared with this time last year, according to the Airport's International Council (ACI).
The decrease was for EU/EEA/Swiss/UK airports, with the UK on its own seeing a 92 per cent drop in traffic.
These figures were revealed as more than 60 travel and tourism bodies issued a plea to EU tourism ministers for a coordinated route out of industry paralysis.
Olivier Jankovec, director general of ACI EUROPE, said:
The figures we are making public today lay bare the continued collapse in air traffic and air connectivity, they also point to a travel and tourism sector in agony. As the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines is set to accelerate in the coming months, the EU and Governments across Europe must start planning for a progressive and coordinated restart of international travel in time for the Summer season.
The UK is now working on this through its Global Travel Task Force with a target date set for 17 May. We are anxious to see the EU follow suit, starting with the set-up of a dedicated Task Force for the Restoration of Free Movement of People, as just suggested by the travel and tourism sectors.
The best self-catering holiday lets for families in summer 2021
If the roadmap out of lockdown goes to plan, large family reunions with both the kids and grandparents are back on the cards from June 21, writes Lizzie Frainier.
The UK has lots of amazing self-catering holiday lets that are perfectly suited to large group gatherings. Think private pools, games rooms and alluring outdoor dining spaces in which to perfect the art of the great British barbecue. Among them is:
Lower Farm Great Wolford, the Cotswolds
A five-bedroom village farmhouse that is the very picture of Cotswold living with a honey-hued stone exterior, neatly manicured lawns and trimmed hedges. Children (both in age and in spirit) will love the outdoor heated swimming pool, trampoline and tennis court. A help-yourself vegetable garden is a sweet addition, and four mornings of housekeeping are included (subject to Covid-19 regulations).
New Covid variant spreading in New York
A new variant of the virus, containing a mutation that may help it get past the immune system is spreading in New York, according to a report in the New York Times.
The B.1.526 variant was first found in samples collected in November, according to the report, which cited researchers from Caltech and Columbia University.
The inclusion of the United States on the UK's travel red list has been under discussion, but that was due to the country's proximity to South America.
Britons will be able to visit Greece without a vaccination, says tourism minister
British holidaymakers should be able to travel to Greece whether or not they've had a Covid-19 vaccine, the country's tourism minister Haris Theoharis told ITV news.
We feel that the vaccination programmes is a game-changer, together with rapid tests and alongside PCR tests.
We feel that vaccination means someone with the required certificates which will be issued by the government will mean you don’t need to have a negative test before the flight.
But it doesn’t mean that only vaccinated people can travel. We still have the option of a negative test for those who haven’t had a vaccine.
EU tourism alliance unveils recommendations for travel restart
More than 60 public and private travel and tourism organisations today revealed a series of recommendations for EU member states on how to relaunch travel in Europe in time for summer 2021.
An EU roadmap for restoring travel is at the centre of the alliance's recommendations, which were shared ahead of a meeting between EU leaders.
“Our goal is for Europe to return to its place as the leading tourist destination in the world – and a safe one. As EU vaccination programmes progress and protect the most vulnerable citizens, we must jointly prepare for the restart of travel. There is simply no time to lose – preparations on a common approach should begin now, in order to restore public confidence by the summer", said the authors of the paper.
Their recommendations include:
Creation of an EU taskforce to restore freedom of movement
Coordination of travel restrictions
An EU framework for travel-related Covid testing
EU health certificates
Coordinated reopening of tourism activities
Al fresco dining to return to the streets of Soho
Restaurants in 60 streets of central London will be given a boost this summer when diners are allowed to spill onto 60 streets in Soho.
Westminster council has said it will resume last year's scheme, allowing hundreds of venues in the hard-hit hospitality industry to expand their outdoor seating.
Among the borough's 3,700 restaurants and bars, some 500 took advantage of the scheme in 2020, which coincided with some of the Eat Out to Help Out period.
Rachael Robathan, leader of Westminster City Council, said: "We know how had this has been, which is why we are relaunching our al fresco scheme as soon as the eeasing of restrictions allows to help struggling businesses as much as we can."
Almost 30,000 sign petition for additional one-off bank holiday
Thousands of people have signed a petition urging the Government to introduce a new, one-off bank holiday for 2021.
The proposed date is Monday June 21, the so-called freedom day when the Government's roadmap suggests most restrictions could have lifted.
Once such a petition passes 10,000 signatures it requires a response from Government.
This one-off bank holiday, which would fall on the longest day of the year, could be granted by Royal proclamation.
'No-one wants to see vaccine passports,' says travel boss
Covid vaccinations should not be used to determine whether people can enter a country, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
However, its warning comes as EU leaders are due to meet to discuss vaccination passports. There are mixed reactions within the travel industry towards the UK's plans for immunisation certificates.
Responding to the WHO's take, Paul Charles, chief executive of travel PR consultancy The PC Agency and co-founder the Save Our Summer campaign, says:
It’s becoming clear that only widespread testing is the answer to getting travel going again. Rather than tracking high-risk countries, we should be tracking high-risk individuals. That can only be done via rapid, accurate testing on departure from a destination.
The technology is getting so much better now, and can provide highly-accurate test results in minutes, not hours and at cheaper cost than in the past - £40 not £140. This summer should be about more testing.
No-one wants to see travel corridors again, which cause distress and uncertainty to consumers and ruin local economies, or vaccine passports which raise privacy issues about your personal medical data. The WHO is right in that other travel risk-reduction measures, such as testing, are the only answer.
'Pull out all the stops' to save Eurostar, union urges Government
Eurostar services have been decimated during the pandemic with just two services now running each day.
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA union said the Government must "pull out all the stops" to save Eurostar following a meeting with treasury officials that aimed to prevent the collapse of the channel tunnel train operator.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps recently told the transport select committee the government had no plans to bail out Eurostar because the company is majority owned by the French state.
Mr Cortes said: "The focus now must be on recovery and we will do everything we can to ensure that Eurostar has a bright future. Ministers must pull out all the stops and work with us in this urgent task to safeguard Britain’s green gateway to Europe.
"Eurostar remains in a perilous situation but is far too important to fail. I know the company, and all our brilliant members, are ready to get back to a normal service as soon as it is safe to do so. The Treasury should make every effort to ensure that happens. No ifs, no buts."
Vaccine passports to get extra push by EU tourist destinations
EU leaders want to save the summer holiday season, paving the way for British holidays in Europe, a senior EU diplomat said as the bloc's leaders meet for a video summit.
But officials warned there would be no breakthrough on vaccination passports at the meeting becuase of divides between member states on how they would work.
Tourism dependent countries such as Greece, Spain and Croatia want the passports as soon as possible but other member states want more information on whether vaccinated people can still transmit the virus.
The senior EU diplomat said it would be preferable to agree an international rather than just EU system.
Vaccine passports should not be used for foreign travel, says WHO
Summer holidays face a new threat after the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that Covid vaccinations should not be used to determine whether people can enter a country, reports Charles Hymas.
The WHO said there were still "critical unknowns" about the efficacy of vaccinations in reducing transmission and preventing the virus even as governments work on vaccine certificates as a way to kickstart travel.
It said that, as a result, national authorities, airlines and travel operators "should not introduce requirements of proof of Covid-19 vaccination for international travel as a condition for departure or entry".
Vaccination should not exempt travellers from having to undergo other "travel risk-reduction measures", such as testing or quarantine, it added.
What happened yesterday?
The main headlines from Wednesday:
Greece plans to welcome vaccinated Britons by May
Heathrow sinks to £2bn loss during pandemic
Singapore considers vaccine certificates to restart international travel
Jet2 reports '1000%' increase in bookings
Border Force: 99 per cent of arrivals avoiding hotel quarantine
Greece welcomes unvaccinated arrivals, too – Santorini mayor
'Vaccine passports' should be on phone app, says Heathrow boss
Now onto today's news.