London, Apr 6 (PTI) UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday promised to look into 'affordable' options, such as cheaper COVID-19 tests, as he reiterated that he has not 'given up' on reopening non-essential overseas travel in the next stage of the country's lockdown easing roadmap.
In a Downing Street briefing on Monday, Johnson had confirmed that his roadmap to ease out of the coronavirus lockdown remains on track as non-essential retail, personal care premises such as hairdressers, beauty and nail salons and indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and spas can reopen from April 12.
However, international holidays are still illegal and the UK prime minister had said he was hopeful that lifting that ban from May 17 may be possible, determined by the state of the pandemic abroad and the progress of vaccination programmes in other countries.
'We have to be realistic – a lot of the destinations we want to go to at the moment are suffering a new wave of the illness, of COVID, as we know,” said Johnson, during a visit to an AstraZeneca laboratory producing COVID-19 vaccines in Macclesfield in north-west England.
'We can't do it immediately, but that doesn't mean we've given up on May 17 when we'll be saying as much as we can as soon as we can about international travel. I know how impatient people are to book their holidays if they possibly can. But we just have to be prudent at this stage,' he said.
Under plans outlined so far, destinations would be classed as green, amber or red based on their COVID infection rates and vaccination coverage. No isolation would be necessary on return to the UK from green countries, but pre-departure and post-arrival tests would be required, potentially costing up to 200 pounds each.
EasyJet boss Johan Lundgren told the BBC this would make travel too expensive, with the tests costing as much or more than a flight in some cases.
Asked about the concerns of the low-cost airline, and whether cheaper lateral flow tests could replace PCR tests in the plans, Johnson said: 'I do think we want to make things as easy as we possibly can.' 'The boss of EasyJet is right to focus on this issue, we're going to see what we can do to make things as flexible and as affordable as possible,' he said.
From next Monday, England will enter Step 2 of its unlocking roadmap after it was approved by the Cabinet.
It means additional premises can now reopen – with the rules on social contact applying. Indoor settings must only be visited alone or with household groups, with outdoor settings limited to either six people or two households.
Besides hairdressers and gyms, overnight stays away from home in England will be permitted once again within members of the same household or support bubble. Public buildings such as libraries and community centres will also reopen.
The majority of outdoor settings and attractions can also reopen, including outdoor hospitality, zoos, theme parks, drive-in cinemas and drive-in performances events.
Hospitality venues will be able to open for outdoor service, with no requirement for a substantial meal to be served alongside alcohol, and no curfew. The requirement to eat and drink while seated will remain.
The advice remains for people to continue to work from home where they can, and minimise domestic travel. The number of care home visitors will also increase to two per resident, and all children will be able to attend any indoor children’s activity, including sport, regardless of circumstance.
Funerals can continue with up to 30 attendees. Weddings, outdoor receptions, and commemorative events will be able to take place with up to 15 attendees.
It has also been confirmed that a COVID-status certification system, or so-called COVID passports, will be developed over the coming months which could allow higher-risk settings to be opened up more safely and with more participants.
The system will take into account three factors: vaccination, a recent negative test, or natural immunity (determined on the basis of a positive test taken in the previous six months). Pilot schemes on selected large events will take place from mid-April to trial the system.
Meanwhile, this system continues to face criticism, with parliamentarians and campaigners warning it could be problematic and discriminatory. PTI AK MRJ MRJ