COVID-19 UK Political Analysis – 29th January 2021Download a PDF of this article
Grounded. The restoration of international travel will be complicated.
The change in policy stance on international travel announced on Wednesday in the House of Commons, while not as sweeping as some had speculated, is, nevertheless, a significant step-change in policy and it is consistent with moves being made by many other countries in Europe and elsewhere to limit the amount of cross-border mobility to a minimum. It represents at least the fifth change in official approach by the UK in this area in the past twelve months. It may not be the last act of tightening restrictions.
It also comes at a moment when the UK’s vaccination campaign is making impressive progress with the prospect of both the immediate target of offering the first injection to the top four priority groups constituting 14.7 million people by February 15 and then the objective of reaching the next five groups comprising 17.2 million people by the end of April appearing increasingly plausible to achieve in practice. Mass vaccination is a pre-condition to the restoration of international travel to anything like “normal” levels.
The process of transitioning to a post-vaccination global society is, however, far from a straightforward one. It has been made much more taxing by the emergence of a stronger strain of the virus in the UK and the discovery of different and potentially more difficult mutations in South Africa and Brazil, triggering the fear that other mutations may occur which pose a fundamental threat to the effectiveness of the current vaccination strategy.
Although a perhaps theoretical concern, this will be an argument for more caution in reintroducing international travel after this lockdown than was the case in Summer 2020. The overall task of restoring widespread international travel has become more complex.