Covid lockdown UK: Hundreds queue before 6AM at Heathrow and Gatwick

Covid lockdown UK: Hundreds queue before 6AM at Heathrow and Gatwick

Holidays here we come! Hundreds queue before 6AM at Heathrow and Gatwick as UK airports brace for busiest day of year with 124 flights to AMBER list nations after travel ban ends TODAY

  • Airports are expecting their busiest day of the year, with the easing of global travel restrictions from today
  • Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Manchester and Luton expected to operate 124 flights to amber list countries
  • Manchester Airport alone revealed it was expecting to handle 91 flights today, up by two thirds on Monday
  • No10’s traffic light system, which rates countries as green, amber or red on covid risk, comes into force

Hundreds of passengers queued before 6am at Heathrow and Gatwick this morning as airports expect their busiest day of the year, with the easing of global travel restrictions predicted to trigger a stampede as the Government’s traffic light system comes into force today.

Britain’s five busiest airports – Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Manchester and Luton – are expecting to operate 124 flights to amber list countries today alone, including 23 to Spain. Manchester Airport alone revealed it was expecting to handle 91 flights on Monday – up by two thirds on last week. 

Holidaymakers will be able to jet overseas for the first time since the end of last year as the traffic light system – which rates countries as green, amber, or red based on the risk of importing coronavirus into Britain – springs into action amid a further easing of the third national shutdown.

So far, just 12 countries including Portugal, Gibraltar and Israel have been listed as green destinations, meaning they are free to travel without quarantining on their return to Britain. Those travelling to one of 43 red list countries including India, where the new, more infectious variant taking hold in Bolton and Blackburn was first traced, must isolate in a hotel for 10 days at a cost of £1,750 upon arriving back to the UK. 

Travellers at London Heathrow are rushing to catch the first flights to green list Portugal and Gibraltar, as airport staff were seen giving excited passengers bound for Europe gift bags as they arrived at check-in. Some people, including 21-year-old Michelle Clark, admitted she was nervous about getting through security, which has been toughened up to meet covid safety requirements. 

Care home worker Theresa Depino, who is travelling with a friend this morning, revealed that she was flying to Faro on what is her first holiday since September. ‘It has been a really long winter for me with the lockdown and trying to keep the care home going all through the last year so it will be so nice,’ she told MailOnline. ‘I am just going to sleep and get in the sun and relax for a week, I have earned it.’

Mike, Sharon, Isabella and Evan, who declined to give their surnames, said: ‘We are so excited to get away, this is our first holiday for almost two years. We are heading to Portugal for a couple of weeks and staying in an Airbnb.

‘We just want to get some sun really and to escape the rain. We have been stuck in the country for literally two years now so it is just so nice for us to get away. So far we haven’t really got any plans for when we get there. We are just going to see what it is like when we are over there but we just want to see the sun!’    

However, Matt Hancock risked jeopardising summer plans last night after discouraging holidaymakers from travelling to whole swathes of Europe despite most of the continent being on the amber list for travel.

The Health Secretary said people should not travel to amber countries except for essential reasons and ‘certainly not’ for a holiday as scientists claimed parts of Europe were ‘largely unvaccinated’ – making it vulnerable to coronavirus. Sir John Bell, a member of the Government’s vaccine taskforce, yesterday suggested that lockdown-weary Britons take holidays to Cornwall or Bournemouth instead of European countries.

But the remarks were slammed by travel bosses who accused the Government of needlessly ‘instilling fear’ by warning against holidays abroad, with one industry executive suggesting Downing Street’s real concern was the shortage of border staff to police arrivals. 

Holidaymakers at Gatwick Airport as the global travel ban is lifted and British people can go overseas for holidays

Passengers line up to check-in for early morning flights at Gatwick Airport as global travel restrictions ease today

A passenger in a hazmat suit is seen in Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 this morning as covid restrictions ease today 

The first passengers at Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 departures this morning as global travel restrictions ease today 

Small queues of holidaymakers who will be jetting off overseas for a break as travel restrictions are eased from today 

The first passengers at Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 departures taking advantage of the easing of travel restrictions

The first passengers at Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 departures as global travel restrictions are eased from today

Small queues of holidaymakers who will be jetting off overseas for a break as travel restrictions are eased

The traffic light system rates countries as green, amber or red based on the risk of importing coronavirus into Britain, with those going to green list countries such as Portugal, Gibraltar and Israel free to travel without quarantining on return

Downing Street released the full list of countries on green, amber and red lists ahead of a loosening of restrictions tomorrow

The Health Secretary’s order, made during a media round yesterday, infuriated the travel industry, which said that people are ‘voting with their feet’ and going ahead with long-awaited trips to see relatives abroad.  

Paul Charles, chief executive and founder of the respected travel firm The PC Agency, said the Government was ‘trying to play down travel’ because of concerns about border staff shortages. 

He said: ‘The Government has to change its message. It is not illegal to travel, you can travel safely and responsibly to any country if they will let you in. And many British travellers will want to see their families who they haven’t seen in over a year. Now is the time to travel safely. But they are still trying to instil fear into people at a time when the most vulnerable have been jabbed and mortalities are at a record low.’

The travel expert said that ticket sales data showed that people were ignoring the amber list advice and booking trips to coincide with the end of the official travel ban.

Booking website Skyscanner found bookings to Italy increased by 63 per cent week on week once the relaxation of travel restrictions was announced. Bookings to France rose by 41 per cent and Spain bookings went up by 39 per cent. In comparison, bookings to Portugal rose by 616 per cent.

Mr Charles added: ‘The traffic light system is in danger of being out of date before the bulk of it comes into practice because people will vote with their feet.’

Tim Alderslade, of industry body Airlines UK, said: ‘The whole point of the tiers system is that restrictions are built in to mitigate the risk. We strongly believe that the green list can be extended at the next review point to include the most popular European destinations and the United States.’ 

Almost the whole of Europe, North America and large parts of the Middle East and East Asia are on the Government’s amber list, with people returning from these countries required to quarantine. However, they can leave isolation if they have a negative PCR test taken on day five.

Tour operators including Tui, easyJet Holidays and British Airways Holidays are planning to run trips to countries including Malta, Antigua and the Canary Islands – with Tui yesterday offering up to 51 per cent off holidays to the Canaries as early as next week.   

A passenger in a hazmat suit is seen in Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 this morning as covid restrictions are eased 

The first passengers at Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 departures taking advantage of the easing of travel restrictions today 

Small queues of holidaymakers who will be jetting off overseas for a break as travel restrictions are eased from today 

The departures board at Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 this morning as global travel restrictions are eased today 

The countries on the ‘green list’ from May 17 are: Portugal including the Azores and Madeira; Australia; New Zealand; Singapore; Brunei; Iceland; the Faroe Islands; Gibraltar; the Falkland Islands; and Israel

The UK’s daily death toll has doubled on last week, from two on May 9 to four yesterday – bringing the UK total to 127,679. Daily covid cases across the country rose by eight per cent in a week, according to official figures 

The Government has said it will review the green list every three weeks, starting early next month. 

Critics have warned that tougher action should have been taken sooner against India, which was only added to the ‘red list’ on April 23, two weeks after neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh – despite reports that the virus was bringing the country’s health system to the brink of collapse. 

Yesterday Mr Hancock defended the timing of travel restrictions on India but dodged questions on whether the decision was linked to Downing Street’s planned trade mission.

The Health Secretary argued in a round of interviews that testing rates were lower in Pakistan at the time, and that the proportion of arrivals testing positive for covid was three times higher than from India.

But data from Public Health England shows that 4.8 per cent of the 3,345 people landing in Britain from India between March 25 and April 7 tested positive, compared to just 0.1 per cent of people in England.

Official figures also show Bolton and Blackburn are the most infectious parts of the country, with a doubling in cases in the past week largely as a result of the more transmissible Indian variant.

It is the latest statistic to be brandished at Mr Johnson, with pressure growing over his decision to delay banning travel from the Asian nation until late April amid allegations that he refrained from doing so for fear of offending Narendra Modi and torpedoing the chance to strike a major trade deal.

Labour chairwoman of the Home Affairs Select Committee Yvette Cooper called for a ‘slow down’ in the easing of travel restrictions alongside her colleague Steve Reed, the Shadow Communities Secretary, who accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of ‘not always following the science in the way he ought to be doing’.

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran alleged Mr Johnson ‘put the pursuit of a post-Brexit trade deal with India ahead of public health’, adding that a public inquiry must examine whether the decision was political or scientific.

Though SAGE scientist Professor John Edmunds urged the country not to panic over the new variant, which is not thought to be vaccine resistant, he admitted that the spread of the variant could have been delayed had the border to India been closed more quickly. This could prove to be critical as No10 accelerates its vaccine roll-out so that a million jabs are given out per day in a race against the variant.

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