International travel should be protected in future pandemics, MPs have called for, and describe the Covid restrictions imposed by the UK government as confusing, arbitrary and disproportionate.
The Commons Transport Committee said the government should learn from the coronavirus pandemic to create a predictable and transparent system for future public health crises, to support travelers and the aviation industry.
In a critical report, it said that the limits of foreign travel during the pandemic were “disproportionate to the risks to public health”.
The cross-party committee said restrictions should be comparable to those used domestically and that international travel should not be “separated”.
The report concludes that “the decision-making process was not transparent or consistent, nor based on scientific consensus”, resulting in rules that caused “a severe economic shock to the sector”.
The committee also criticized the ministers for abdicating all responsibility for the queues, cancellations and delays at Easter, as airlines and airports struggled to recruit staff in time for a resurgence of passenger demand following the sudden abolition of all Covid isolation and test requirements.
It said the government was trying to “lay the blame on an aviation sector decimated by restrictions and lack of security offered by ministers”, but should revise its own recruitment and training processes. Airlines and airports have complained about delays in government security checks for job applicants.
Committee chairman Huw Merriman said: “The government’s action was inconsistent. It left the industry and passengers confused and unable to plan ahead. This resulted in a severe economic deficit for the aviation sector.
“Ministers must continue to protect the sector from future economic shocks and reassure passengers that future restrictions will only be implemented in extreme circumstances. There is an urgent need for legislation to give the industry more flexibility to recruit new staff for the summer, to give the regulator more teeth to intervene on behalf of consumers and to provide protection against airline insolvency. “
He added: “Above all, we want ministers to be transparent to industry and passengers. During Easter, we witnessed a sector in the early stages of recovery and vulnerable to disruption. The increase in demand is encouraging, but a sustained and supportive approach by the government is essential to nurture the sector back to recovery. “
The report calls for action, including the publication of a promised aviation recovery plan; the introduction of an airline’s insolvency bill to protect consumers, employees and taxpayers; and give the regulator more powers to fine airlines for not refunding customers when required.
The Airport Operators Association said the report was “welcome recognition of the devastating impact the pandemic had on aviation”. Its CEO, Karen Dee, said: “We join the committee and call for a comprehensive recovery package that enables our sector to recover sustainably and prevents the UK from falling behind our international competitors.”
The latest indictment against the UK’s Covid travel policies follows a critical report from the National Audit Office last week, which found that the central government lost track of spending and set rules about the hoof – as well as leaving taxpayers on the hook for around £ 400 million to quarantine hotels that ministers thought would be paid for by travelers.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Transport said: “Our priority was to protect public health and these measures bought important time for the rollout of our successful booster program as we responded to new and worrying variants. But we also ensured that they were not on space for longer than absolutely necessary, and the UK was the first country in the G7 to remove all travel restrictions.
“In the future, the government’s standard approach will be to use the least stringent measures to minimize the impact on travel as far as possible, and these will only be implemented in extreme circumstances.”