The Government’s Covid-19 travel plan will let new variants into the UK, according to experts who urge caution over plans to implement a traffic light system.
King’s College London virologists Jangu Banatvala and Deenan Pillay warn that the aviation industry’s current enthusiasm to resume international air travel and overseas holidays, and to expand airports, needs to be checked. Writing in The BMJ the pair say, “it flies in the face of the twin needs to control international virus transmission, and tackle the climate emergency and environmental degradation.”
They acknowledge the success of the UK’s Covid-19 vaccination programme which, combined with public health measures, has led to restrictions being eased and plans to reopen international travel. But they say Covid-19 “is likely to be endemic for the foreseeable future and mathematical modelling scenarios predict potential for a further UK surge of infections later this year.”
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They point out that the Lancet Covid-19 Commission Task Force identified the risk of spread through air travel as a priority and emphasised that the entire door-to-door travel process should be evaluated to minimise the risk of transmission.
The all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus has identified long queues at airports, failure to separate arrivals from red and amber countries and fake Covid-19 test certificates as significant risks to biosecurity. And despite a successful vaccination programme, the current surge in infections in Chile – due in part to the relaxation of social distancing and travel restrictions – “stands as a salutary reminder of the ease with which Covid-19 evades control measures,” they add.
Until our vaccination programme is complete and while there are significant risks of variants arising in countries with high transmission “it would be remiss to abandon all attempts to limit new variants being imported into the UK,” they argue.
Most importantly, they say, “We must consider the urgent and serious global public health threat of climate change. We should reduce the amount of air travel not only because of Covid-19 but also because of the detrimental impact that this has on our climate.”
Portugal, Iceland, Israel and Australia are among the 12 countries and territories on the Government’s green list when international travel resumes on 17 May, although some of those countries are still not allowing entry to international visitors. As the virus is still spreading in many parts of the world, people should not be travelling to amber or red countries, officials said.