Public Affairs & Government Relations

COVID-19 UK Political Analysis – 26th March 2021

Grounded? Restoring international travel has become much harder.

Travel is supposed to broaden the mind. It is certainly stretching a lot of intellects inside Whitehall and elsewhere at the moment. In most respects the “roadmap” set out by the Prime Minister on February 22nd is in very reasonable condition. The vaccination drive has, despite some setbacks and a spat with the EU, met or exceeded expectations. What is more, the participation rate in the programme, the initial evidence as to the extent to which both the vaccines currently in the field in the UK prevent serious illness with the risk of hospital admission and death, and the impact on limiting the transmission of the virus to others courtesy of vaccination, are all better than was anticipated a month or so ago. There are still a stubborn number of new cases in the system (around 5-6,000 a day) but the demand on the NHS is nothing like that which existed in January. The return of schoolchildren to their classrooms will undoubtedly have put some upward pressure on the fabled R number, but for the moment this does not seem to have been seismic and in any case the imminent arrival of the Easter school holidays will provide a respite. Fingers crossed, the tentative timetable published in the roadmap looks largely likely to be hit.

International travel is, nonetheless, the conspicuous exception to this otherwise rather encouraging outlook. It was always destined to be the most challenging and complicated component with memories of the surge which occurred after the summer holidays last September a compelling argument for caution. Yet the reality is that the difficulties here have accumulated since February 22nd and are the major post-lockdown policy dilemma.

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