UK Former Health Minister Calls For Closure Of International Borders

The UK has entered its third lockdown period, with schools closed and citizens instructed to stay at home. Despite this, no border closures or additional measures have been put in place. Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt believes this hasn’t gone far enough, and has demanded all travel stops until we get control of the virus.

British Airways Airbus A318-100 climbing out after take-off
Lockdown Mk 3 is upon us, but is it enough? Photo: Getty Images

Hunt calls for border closures

As the UK wakes up to day one of its third lockdown, some feel that the move hasn’t gone far enough. With the new variant spreading like wildfire, the former health minister Jeremy Hunt has called on the government to close not just the schools but also the borders to stop the spread of the virus.

In a thread posted to Twitter, the MP for South West Surrey and Chair of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee argued that the National Health Service was under severe pressure, and that this crisis was ‘off the scale’ compared to other winter capacity crunches. He demanded that schools and borders should be closed ‘RIGHT AWAY’, as well as a ban on household mixing.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivered on two of those items last night, when he announced a further lockdown of an indeterminate period. Although it will be the early hours of Wednesday morning before the lockdown rules are passed into law, the PM urged the nation to begin following the guidance with immediate effect. However, borders remain open for ‘essential’ travel.

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Can Brits still travel under lockdown?

Lockdown Mk 3 has come with an order to stay at home, with exceptions made for various reasons, including traveling to work (for those who cannot work at home), shopping and other essential trips. Despite this, airports remain open, airlines continue to fly and people are freely arriving and departing the UK with very few checks in place.

The government advice is that “You can only travel internationally – or within the UK – where you first have a legally permitted reason to leave home.” Essential journeys might include things like traveling for medical treatment, for work, for legal reasons or an urgent compassionate trip.

Nevertheless, very few flight bans are in place at the present time. There is a current ban on flights to and from South Africa, and other countries have moved to prevent UK nationals from arriving in their countries. The Guardian reported yesterday that several people had been turned away from the Netherlands and Germany on the basis of non-essential travel, and the Independent shared that some travelers had been turned away at the airport for flights to Spain.

United Kingdom, Stansted, Quarantine
Some have complained that not enough checks are being done at the borders. Photo: Heathrow Airport

The message from the government is clear – don’t travel unless you absolutely have to. For those who are already abroad and those who do travel during lockdown, the risk is that they could be stranded overseas. As demand slumps, airlines are likely to cut their schedules further, which could see flights cancelled and passengers left with no way to get home.

What does this mean for the travel sector?

It’s another blow to airlines, airports and travel-related businesses in what has been the most difficult 10 months on record. And it’s set to stay that way at least to the end of a full year.

Airlines will likely still fly, but at a severely reduced capacity. In March and April last year, the lockdown saw hundreds of aircraft grounded, with only a small proportion kept in service to provide essential connectivity. This new lockdown is likely to be similar.

While January and most of February are traditionally very weak seasons for travel, there is often a bump during the February half term. However, travel companies have largely written off all hope of any uptick much before the summer season anyway. The risk now is that travelers’ confidence will have taken a further knock, which could have an effect on the hope for a summer resurgence.

easyJet baggage
It’s likely schedules will be cut for the rest of the winter season. Photo: easyJet

Although there aren’t many people traveling in January, in normal times plenty of holidays are booked as families make plans for the rest of the year. This year, that influx of interest is likely to be curbed. Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, told the Independent that more support from the government will be needed, saying,

“It’s vital that any lockdown is accompanied by measures to support our aviation sector. If we cannot re-open travel the future of UK aviation will be bleak indeed.”

Have you had your travel plans affected by the latest lockdown? What’s your experience been like? Let us know in the comments.