JANET STREET-PORTER: Are the disgraceful immigration queues at Heathrow down to rank incompetence or part of Boris’s secret plan to stop us going abroad by making it utter misery?
If you lock people up for over a year one result is guaranteed.
They will be desperate to go on holiday.
Where? By now, anywhere that’s not their postcode. But preferably somewhere with sun, decent food, a beach, and a free lounger. Somewhere they can enjoy themselves without wearing a face mask.
Travelling for pleasure should not be regarded as a luxury, as a middle-class obsession or as a ‘treat’.
Holidays are a basic human right after what we’ve been through – lousy weather, incomprehensible rules and tiers, restrictions which changed without warning, all accompanied by patronising slogans which talked down to an increasingly fed-up population.
Not to mention the absence of friends and loved ones, the weddings which couldn’t happen and the funerals we couldn’t attend. What do we need right now?
A holiday. France, Italy, Greece, Portugal…wherever. Somewhere we can have fun in the sun.
But now Boris seems to be punishing us further by denying us the right to travel without a complicated and confusing system of tests and documentation.
Footage posted online on Monday afternoon shows a woman lying on the floor of Heathrow Airport being tended to by staff – as many more passengers wait to be cleared through the border
Holidays are a basic human right after what we’ve been through, argues JANET STREET-PORTER
When we signed up to Brexit we didn’t realise it mean our passports would only be accepted in Littlehampton or Woking.
Once again, the British are being treated like schoolkids, forced to wait until Boris deigns to reveal his thoughts about leisure travel on May 17th.
Trying to get a bargain by booking in advance could be an expensive waste of money- on the other hand, those pesky Germans and French will have bagged on the best deals.
We don’t know what countries will be categorised as red, amber, or green (and what tests are involved) until early May- and these confusing categories could change without warning, just as they did last year.
Even if you plan to visit a green country, you’ll have to take a test before departure and another on day two after arrival- and these tests will add at least £120 to the cost of your trip.
Why is Boris dragging his feet over foreign holidays? The death rates from Covid in England and Wales have fallen to the lowest level for six months, 44% down over the past two weeks. More than 32 million people have had their first jab.
Surely we should be rewarded for our co-operation with something more than the prospect of a draughty drink in a freezing pub garden? It seems not. Boris says there’s ‘no reason’ to speed up the relaxation of restrictions.
I have a theory. Has the PM (advised by his scientific chums) secretly decided we will not be able to holiday abroad this summer- but he hasn’t got the bottle to tell us?
Instead, he’s making travel as difficult as possible – hoping that we abandon our trip to Costa Del Sangria, stick to destinations closer to home and save the ailing UK economy. Pitching our tents – like he did last summer – on a windy Scottish hillside, or book a hotel or B-and-B at rates which are almost exactly double what they were last year?
If my guess is correct, a ‘stay-at-home is best for the NHS’ strategy discriminates against ordinary working families.
Foreign holidays are cheaper than staying in the UK, as hoteliers and guest house owners try to make up for the huge losses of the last year by pushing up their prices, knowing there’s every chance we’ll have no option but to pay up.
Eating out in the UK is expensive and the cost of visitor attractions for families considerable. All-inclusive holidays abroad represent far better value for money for many.
But unless they sort out the disgraceful scenes of six-hour queues in arrivals at Heathrow this week, it’s all academic.
They’ve been brushed off by Boris and Co as nothing serious but throughout the pandemic airport bosses have been crying out for clarity, for more warning of changes to the entry rules and for a simple testing system for all.
Passengers have expressed their anger over the long delays in the arrivals hall of Heathrow. Some passengers have had to wait for up to six hours to clear the border due to a shortage of Border Force staff
As busy Terminal 2 this week where people approaching the UK border at Heathrow Airport are facing waits of up to six hours for Border Force officials to check their documentation about their Covid-19 status
Instead, the government has chopped and changed the rules, making special concessions for business travellers and introducing passenger locator forms which must be filled in before flying into the UK.
These forms are online but for some reasons they can’t be linked up to the e-gates to speed up the arrival process so everyone has to be checked by hand.
And even while holiday travel is still officially banned visitors entering the UK are enduring waits of up to six hours to have all their paperwork checked. Tempers have frayed, resulting in fights and scuffles, with the police trying to calm things down.
Covid security has resulted in a huge increase in bureaucracy at our airports. Every passenger must be thoroughly processed by a Border Force official – checking their contact details, that they have filled in their passenger locator form correctly and are carrying proof of a Covid test which was negative within 72 hours of travel. They must also carry proof that they are going to quarantine in a hotel or have paid for further Covid tests within the required time.
That’s a lot of information, so it’s not surprising it might take a bit longer to process – but matters have been made far worse because for some reason the Border Force staff at Heathrow who used to process around 125,000 arrivals a day can’t cope with the current 10,000 and 15,000.
Officials say that each passenger can take up to 40 minutes to process, instead of the usual four. Only half of the desks at passport control are being used because they lack sufficient screening. Unions claim every desk could be used if screens were installed surrounding each booth, rather than just front facing.
So why don’t they?
If my local Turkish-owned corner shop in London could install excellent covid safety screening at the start of lockdown a year ago – not to mention every major supermarket in the UK – I can’t see why customs officers can’t do the same.
The Chief Solutions Officer at Heathrow (whose title should tell you he hasn’t got any) has told MPs that the current situation is untenable – as one woman was photographed apparently unconscious on the floor of UK arrivals.
The government responded by claiming that there were enough officers to cope and that too many people were travelling, despite guidelines requesting the public only take ‘essential’ journeys.
Government Ministers and the travel industry are now at loggerheads. If airports can’t process a tenth of their usual passengers, what will happen when the schools break up for the summer and we finally get some green-lit countries?
In my opinion Boris and Dishi Rishi have cooked this up together. They are determined we shall holiday in the UK, to boost our hospitality industry, save jobs and keep our hard-earned cash here in the UK and not sloshing around in Europe.
Some countries, like Greece, are desperate for our business. From next week, British travellers will not have to quarantine on arrival if they been vaccinated or had a negative test within 72 hours of travel. It’s very tempting.
And they won’t be the only countries welcoming us with open arms.
Leaving the UK might be simple – but returning could be the journey from hell.
Is there anything the Nanny state won’t do to control our lives?
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