International travel should be protected in future pandemics, MPs urged, describing the UK government’s Covid restrictions as confusing, arbitrary and disproportionate.
The Commons Transport Select Committee has 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, he said restrictions on foreign travel during the pandemic were “disproportionate to the risks to public health”.
The cross-party committee said restrictions should be comparable to those applied domestically and international travel should not be “isolated”.
The report concludes that “the decision-making process was neither transparent nor consistent, nor based on scientific consensus”, resulting in rules that caused “a serious financial shock to the sector”.
The committee also criticized ministers for abdicating responsibility for queues, cancellations and delays seen over Easter as airlines and airports struggled to recruit staff in time for a resurgence in demand of passengers, after all Covid isolation and testing requirements were suddenly lifted.
He said the government was trying to “cast blame on an aviation sector decimated by the restrictions and lack of certainty offered by ministers”, but should review 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. This has left the industry and passengers confused and unable to plan ahead. This has resulted in a serious economic deficit for the aviation sector.
“Ministers must continue to protect the sector against future economic shocks and reassure passengers that future restrictions will only be implemented in extreme circumstances. Legislation is urgently needed 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 company insolvency. aerial.
He added: “Above all, we want ministers to be transparent with industry and passengers. Over 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 from government is essential to bring the sector back to recovery.
The report calls for action, including the release of a promised aviation stimulus package; the introduction of an airline insolvency bill to protect consumers, employees and taxpayers; and give the regulator more powers to fine airlines for not refunding customers when necessary.
The Airport Operators Association said the report was “a welcome recognition of the pandemic’s devastating impact on aviation”. Its chief executive, Karen Dee, said: “We join the committee in calling for a comprehensive recovery plan that gives our sector a sustainable recovery and prevents the UK from falling behind our international competitors.”
The latest indictment of the UK’s Covid travel policies follows a critical report from the National Audit Office last week which found central government had lost track of spending and invented clog rules – while leaving the taxpayer on the hook for around £400m for quarantine hotels which ministers believed travellers.
A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “Our priority was to protect public health, and these measures bought vital time for the roll-out of our successful recall program as we responded to new and concerning variants. But we also made sure they weren’t in place longer than absolutely necessary, and the UK was the first G7 country to remove all travel restrictions.
“Going forward, the Government’s default approach will be to use the least stringent measures, to minimize the impact on travel as much as possible, and these will only be implemented in extreme circumstances. .”