Give us summer, not silly stories about ‘the wrong kind of jab’

Give us summer, not silly stories about ‘the wrong kind of jab’
‘If the government keeps focusing on infection rates, we’re all knackered’ – Steve Heapy, CEO, Jet2

Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.

On the scale of “where were you when …?” moments, what happened on 3 July 2020 is not on the scale of the first moon landing nor the terrible events of 11 September 2001. But as it happens, I remember clearly where I was a year ago.

That Friday was a highly significant date in reopening travel. Northern Ireland was the first of the four UK nations to open hotels to tourists. From just after midnight, the Bishop’s Gate Hotel in Derry was accepting guests. So I awoke within a beautiful walled city to find the sun streaming in and, on television, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, announcing the latest of many U-turns to the government’s quarantine policy.

Having assured us for months that quarantine was ineffective, then deciding the exact opposite – that two weeks of self-isolation was necessary for arrivals from anywhere outside the UK and Ireland – the rules were about to be changed yet again to allow international travel to all our favourite European countries (except poor Portugal).

No need to take any troublesome tests, either: as ministers maintained for many months, they were no use at identifying people unwittingly carrying coronavirus.

(Just a reminder: the government now insists on test before departure to, and after arrival in, the UK, because they are good at identifying people unwittingly carrying coronavirus.)

This week Malta, Spain’s Balearic Islands, Madeira, Bermuda and some Caribbean islands have joined the founder members of “green list”: Gibraltar and Iceland. Yet the list of destinations to which you and I can travel without quarantine is vanishingly small. In 2019, together those destinations comprised just six per cent of the number of people travelling abroad.

During the blissful two weeks in July 2020 when France, Spain, Italy and Greece were all open to Brits, the corresponding figure was around 70 per cent. But then quarantine was reintroduced for arrivals from Spain at a few hours’ notice, and barriers have multiplied ever since.

Steve Heapy, the chief executive of Jet2, is undeterred. At dawn on 2 July, he was at Bristol airport where his company has opened a new base.

“It’s reminded me why I love the industry so much,” the boss told me. “The faces on the customers are saying, ‘We’re going on holiday – isn’t this fantastic’.”

Mr Heapy is demanding that 19 July, the day set for reopening in England, should also see the easing of international travel restrictions.

“If the government keeps focusing on infection rates, we’re all knackered,” he said. “Either the vaccine works or it doesn’t. If it does, give us some freedom.”

The maiden Jet2 flight from Bristol departed to green-listed Mallorca, and touched down at Palma airport at 10.45am on Friday.

At that moment, Mr Heapy told me: “We are back, and we’re back to stay. Today has been an absolute shot in the arm.”

Talking of shots in arms: according to a headline on the front page of the Telegraph, “European holidays could be off limits to 5m Britons given Indian-made AstraZeneca jab”.

Nonsense. I happen to be the proud owner of one vaccine made in Europe and another in India, and I have no fears about their validity.

The only test that matters is: does the NHS confirm I received approved vaccines, and does the destination trust the NHS? Already many nations have confirmed they do.

Travellers have quite enough real concerns without alarmist inventions about “the wrong kind of jabs”. Give us back the summer.

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