ANDREW FLINTHAM: Tax on Covid tests is turning us into little Britain

Unfair ‘tax’ on Covid tests is turning global Britain into little Britain, writes TUI boss ANDREW FLINTHAM

We have a deeply unfair, ill thought-out, two-tier holiday regime. No, not between green and amber-list destinations but between those who can afford to pay the crippling cost of unnecessary Covid tests and those who can’t.

This nonsensical and punitive system is turning ‘global Britain’ into ‘little Britain’.

We risk becoming a nation of stay-at-homes, while our neighbours in Europe turbo-charge their economies by encouraging travel.

The Exchequer is even profiteering from this through its short-sighted and greedy policy of imposing VAT at 20 per cent on the already inflated cost of Covid tests.

At Tui we have been subsidising the price of the polymerase chain reaction test or PCR, as well as the cheaper lateral flow tests.

Purchased privately, a PCR test is likely to cost between £60 and £120. Every traveller returning from a green-list country is obliged to take one within two days of arrival or face a fine of up to £500. For a family of four, these tests potentially add £480 to the cost of a holiday.

Pictured: A testing centre at Heathrow Airport in west London 

In addition, there are the lateral flow tests that holidaymakers need to take before boarding their flights to return home – at an average price of about £15 each.

I believe that is iniquitous. It imposes a financial burden on British families at a time when more than ever we all deserve a break.

That’s why Tui are helping, offering to give holidaymakers in green-zone destinations all of their tests for £20 each, rising to £50 for amber-list travellers.

But we cannot do this indefinitely. The industry has seen almost no customers for 14 months.

Currently – two weeks after foreign travel opened up following more than four months of lockdown – we are operating out of four British airports, compared with the 22 we previously used.

We’re running fewer flights in a week than we scheduled in a single day before the pandemic. The international travel business is very far from getting back to normal.

Other European countries are watching us with bewilderment. They cannot understand why the UK Government is hampering its own economy. Every one of those airports that we used until March last year is a hub for its region, generating huge amounts of business far beyond the core travel market.

Pictured: Passengers queue at UK border control at Heathrow Airport in west London 

Until we get flying again, all that business will remain on hold. It’s no exaggeration to say the livelihoods of millions of people depend to a substantial degree on international travel.

Quick and easy lateral flow tests are getting the domestic economy going again. That and the incredible success of the vaccines will prove crucial for the home holiday market.

We should be using these same tests for green-list countries. It is excessive to insist on PCR checks, the most rigorous type available, when a lateral flow test is more than sufficient when visiting venues in Britain.

According to the latest data, considerably less than 1 per cent of incoming travellers from amber-list countries are testing positive for Covid. International travel is not a significant driver for infection rates.

And the whole point of a traffic-light system for travel is that it enables us to identify the countries where infection rates are lower than Britain’s, or at worst, on a par with ours. The omissions from the green list are already baffling. The Balearic islands, such as Majorca and Minorca, have very few Covid cases and an excellent vaccination programme.

All the evidence suggests that a holiday on these islands, which are crying out for tourists, would pose no increased risk whatever.

Yet they are currently on the amber list.

Meanwhile the Canaries, including Tenerife and Lanzarote, are also on the amber list, but the advice of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is that it’s perfectly safe to travel there.

By contrast, many European nations have supported foreign travel throughout the crisis.

The rules in individual countries are changing all of the time, but the governments in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain have all capped or subsidised the cost of testing.

The Government claims it wants to ‘move forward with an abundance of caution’. If that is so, surely the first step is to radically reduce the cost of PCR tests.

This can be done immediately, with the removal of VAT, and then with government subsidies until the price comes within everybody’s reach.

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