16 reasons why the travel ban makes no sense

The Government is about to make non-essential travel illegal, perhaps until July. Here are 16 reasons why the ban makes no sense. It could have been more. 

1. We’ve vaccinated almost half the population

Back in January, Matt Hancock told us to “cry freedom” when the most vulnerable had been vaccinated. Well, now they have. We’ve jabbed more than 30 million arms, giving protection to a cohort that accounts for 99 per cent of Covid deaths. It puts the efforts of the rest of Europe in the shade. However, instead of unlocking our economy and returning to the people their stolen freedoms, the Government is using the success of our vaccination drive against us. If the vaccine isn’t enough to set us free, what is?

2. Other countries with speedy vaccine rollouts are welcoming back tourists

To find a sane use of vaccines to reestablish normality, one need only look to the Seychelles. It has nearly vaccinated its entire population, and will reopen its borders to all tourists on March 25, even those who haven’t had a jab, with no requirement to quarantine. The UK, meanwhile, almost perversely, still has the Seychelles on its travel “red list”, meaning direct flights and visitors are banned, while returning Britons must pay £1,750 to spend 10 nights in a quarantine hotel. The UAE and Chile, two more vaccine winners, are also on the red list. It defies logic. 

3. It’s not even a proper travel ban 

Not everyone will be banned from leaving the UK under the new rules. There are exceptions for workers, wedding and funeral guests, volunteers, elite sportsmen (and their entourage), anyone seeking to buy or rent a property, students… the list goes on. Every day, thousands of people, from businessmen to Premier League footballers, will still be able to come and go as they please – offering plenty of opportunities for Brazilian, South African, or even Outer Mongolian mutants to “wash up on our shores”, in the parlance of our Dear Leader. It’s hardly a watertight barrier.

I do not support this GDR-style violation of our basic freedom of movement, but these rules will neither stop imported cases, nor return to ordinary people the right to see loved ones who live overseas, or enjoy a much-needed holiday. They are the worst of both worlds. 

4. We cannot close our borders – we’re not NZ

“So let’s copy New Zealand and Australia and put all arrivals in a hotel quarantine,” cry the Zero Covid fanatics. It really shouldn’t be necessary to point out that New Zealand is the most isolated major country on Earth, lying more than 1,000 miles from its nearest neighbour: isolated Australia. It has a population under 5m, where ours is 66m (Australia’s is 25m). Both countries closed their borders before Covid was widespread; even if we shut ours back in March 2020, it would probably have been far too late (this was the perfectly valid reason given by Chris Whitty). And our economies are very different. 

“We might be an island, but we also have one of the most globalised economies in the world,” explains Matthew Lynn. “Australia’s biggest export is iron ore. New Zealand’s biggest is concentrated milk. The UK, however, is very different. We have the City, which depends on deal-makers flying into and out of the country every day. We are home to some of the world’s most global, connected companies, from Unilever, to Shell to GlaxoSmithKline and HSBC. We have 10,000 trucks a day moving through the ports, delivering goods around the country. We are the home of the Premier League, the world’s most popular, and lucrative, sporting tournament, with its galaxy of international stars. We are a hub for global film-making, with Netflix and Disney + opening up expensive studios in the Home Counties. From professional services, to tech start-ups, to banking, engineering and finance, the British economy depends uniquely on the free flow of ideas and people. Some of that can be done on Zoom, but not much.” 

5. The variants are already here, and doubtlessly under-reported

The UK has found 260 cases of the South African variant inside its own borders, and it is inevitably under-detected. They arrived despite the strict controls already in place (a ban on holidays, “stay at home” orders, etc). So why does the Government think extending these travel restrictions will make a difference?

6. And the virus will mutate here anyway

Professor David Livermore, a microbiologist at the University of East Anglia, explains: “The B.1.1.7 UK variant, which gained traction during Lockdown 2, has multiple mutations, one of which gives an N501Y substitution in the spike protein targeted by vaccines. This increases transmissibility but doesn’t undermine antibody binding and vaccine efficacy. Two further variants – the South African and the Brazilian – have additional mutations, giving a more concerning E484K (glutamate to lysine) replacement in the spike protein.

“This flips a negative charge to positive and reduces binding of the antibodies raised by the various vaccines. Clinically, it was associated with failure of the AstraZeneca vaccine in a small (2,000-patient) trial in South Africa and reduced efficacy of the yet-to-be-licensed NovaVax product from 89 per cent to 60 per cent.

“But E484K mutations have emerged independently here, notably around Bristol, and will continue to do so. Currently the Zoe app suggests 74,000 people are infected with Covid-19 in the UK. Each of these will be carrying and producing billions of virus particles. With these numbers, domestic generation of mutants will outweigh imports.”

7. The virus will not stop mutating

For how long can one retain border controls if the goal is to protect against mutant variants? Given that the virus isn’t going anywhere, and that viruses will always mutate, the only logical answer to that is “forever”. Granted, more vaccinated people means fewer chances for the virus to mutate – but this doesn’t seem to be a factor in the Government’s thinking. If it was, then why are the Seychelles and the UAE still on the red list?

8. The vaccines probably prevent death with all known variants

Politicians’ wide-eyed fears over new variants are not replicated within the scientific community. That’s because, while they render the vaccines less effective, all the available evidence suggests that both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs will still prevent serious illness and death. Which, after all, is what matters. We’re not going to ban travel to stop cold symptoms, are we?

9. And we can tweak them

Professor Livermore explains: “Vaccines will improve matters but won’t bring us to the unreachable mirage of Zero Covid. We have only ever eradicated one virus, smallpox, and it was far less clever and adaptable than Sars-Cov-2. 

“As Matt Hancock said recently, our expectation should be to live with Covid-19, as with influenza, which causes 10,000-30,000 UK deaths annually. We will likely need to tweak vaccines to address circulating variants, perhaps annually.

“This will be easier than for influenza because coronaviruses are not so prone to sudden massive recombination events and because mRNA vaccines – a real breakthrough – can be chemically manufactured and adapted, whereas flu vaccines begin with the tedious task of growing the virus in eggs.” 

10. 3.8 million people in Britain could lose their jobs

Too much of the debate surrounding restrictions over the last year (be they on travel or otherwise) has focused solely on the impact they will have on Covid case rates. But there is far more to life than reducing the risk of dying; there’s something precious known as “quality of life”. 

Ban travel and the quality of life for millions will plummet. According to VisitBritain, the UK “will have a tourism industry worth over £257 billion by 2025 – just under 10 per cent of GDP and supporting almost 3.8 million jobs, which is around 11 per cent of the total number.” Not if we persist with travel restrictions we won’t. Millions will be put out of work, and the blow to our GDP will bring down the standard of living for everyone. 

11. Friendships will be sacrificed, and families kept apart

Estimates vary, but as many as half of Britons have family or close friends living overseas. Yet the travel ban offers no opportunity to see them. Are we supposed to simply abandon these relationships indefinitely?

The leading human rights barrister Adam Wagner says: “These new rules suggest a strange disregard for people who do not live with their partners, or adults who have not seen their families for a year. 

“The courts have, to date, been keen not to undermine difficult policy decisions made by the Government. It is unlikely that they would conclude the Government has no power to impose these regulations, even by secondary legislation which only needs a rubber stamp by parliament. 

“But it will be interesting to see how the Government argues that it is proportionate to ban spouses reuniting whilst their friends can lawfully travel to visit an estate agent in Florida.”

12. It will ruin our mental health

A holiday is certain to sooth your frazzled state of mind after the best part of a year under house arrest – boosting your immune system in the process. Yet the mental health benefits of travel are strangely ignored, even ridiculed. Express such feelings on Twitter and you may well be told to stop moaning, or even “man up”. Yet the evidence is mounting that we’re facing a mental health crisis in Britain – how can people be so oblivious?

Dr Charles Levinson, writing for Telegraph Travel, said: “What I find so frustrating is the lack of any awareness at what these policies have done and what suggestions of further closures do to people’s mental health.

“Industries have been decimated, businesses destroyed and countless livelihoods lost – that matters. Despite the financial help on offer, I know London hoteliers whose lives have been torn apart. Bills still need to be paid and hearing that international travel has no future for the foreseeable future will fill them with dread. 

“We should embrace the opportunities that our vaccine programme has given us and start to tentatively reopen our borders. Let’s reunite families, kick-start our domestic tourism sector and give millions of people something to look forward to.”

13. It’s against the European Convention on Human Rights

The world has ridden roughshod over the European Convention on Human Rights for more than a year, and complaints have been few and far between. Perhaps it’s time to wake up and smell the vile stench of authoritarianism. 

Article 13 states:

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Given that people who have tested negative for Covid are still being forced to spend time in quarantine hotels (and pay handsomely for the privilege), one might also cite Article 9: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”  

14. It’s against all pre-Covid pandemic plans 

The WHO’s established pandemic preparedness plan, published as recently as October 2019, makes for quite the eye-opener. Under “not recommended in any circumstances” you’ll find “border closures” and “entry and exit screening”, as well as “quarantine of exposed individuals” (let alone healthy and unexposed ones), and “contact tracing”. Sadly, such level-headed advice, the result of centuries of scientific study, was abandoned in 2020, when the world (with a couple of notable exceptions) decided to follow the lead of the Chinese Communist Party. 

15. The rest of Europe is waiting to reopen, and we’ll look pretty ridiculous

I take some solace from the fact that European countries such as Greece, Spain and Turkey are chomping at the bit to get tourism restarted. Turkey has even said Britons will be welcome this summer without needing a Covid test (let alone a vaccine). We’re going to look rather silly when the rest of the world is enjoying their summer holidays and we’re still hiding under the bed because of new variant fears. 

16. It’s not proportionate to the threat of Covid

Much of what we’re doing would make sense if we were dealing with a global pandemic of, say, Ebola. But a disease with an infection fatality rate in the region of 0.5 per cent, for which we have an effective vaccine? We ridiculed the EU for using the dreaded precautionary principle to halt AstraZeneca jabs over blood clot fears, but we’re doing the same. We’re threatening to abolish travel indefinitely, a move that will cause mental anguish and economic devastation, “just in case”. It’s insane.

It’s time to draw a line under our Covid errors and seize the benefits from the one thing we did well: our vaccine rollout. By all means jab a few more arms, if you really want to exercise caution, but then return to us our freedom, and the old normal. 

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