In the blue corner – for the Tory Government – you have UK health secretary Matt Hancock who has said we can all forget our summer holidays this year. In the red corner – representing British sunburn – is Ryanair, the rest of the travel sector and our previously sworn enemies the EU and the French.
I think I know who’s going to win. With millions of us with money to spend on a well-earned break, in some cases booked and looked forward to since last year. Then there’s tens of thousands of hotels and restaurants desperate for that cash. Somehow I’m sure the free market will perform its magic.
I’ve had sympathy for Hancock in recent weeks but much of it disappeared when I heard him say: “We haven’t made a final decision … but social distancing of some kind is going to continue. The conclusion from that is it is unlikely that big, lavish international holidays are going to possible for this summer.”
I couldn’t help thinking who the hell is he to tell me I can’t go on holiday. The word “lavish” particularly grated. What I assume he means is the kind of holidays normal working Brits go on such as all-inclusive on chartered flights to Spain in the school holidays.
What I bet he doesn’t mean are the type of holidays he can afford on his salary of £140,000 plus perhaps to a quiet, secluded luxury villa in Tuscany travelling first class on a scheduled flight during one of Parliament’s many recesses.
His comments came in response to Ryanair’s announcement that they are restoring 1,000 flights a day from July 1, covering 90% of its normal routes.
Ryanair chief executive Eddie Wilson said: “After four months, it is time to get Europe flying again so we can reunite friends and families, allow people to return to work and restart Europe’s tourism industry, which provides so many millions of jobs.”
His sentiment is being backed by the European Union who are recommending members open borders to countries with similar coronavirus risk profiles under a plan to bolster the ailing tourist industry being discussed in Brussels.
The EU includes some of the countries worst hit by the pandemic – notably Spain and Italy – along with others such as Greece and the Czech Republic that have so far limited its impact. Officials are scrambling to rescue Europe’s tourism industry, which accounts for 10% of EU economic output – more in Italy, Spain, Croatia and Greece.
With around one million people – almost a quarter of its workforce – employed in the industry, Greece is keen to capitalise on its unexpectedly successful handling of the pandemic.
Separately, Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron have agreed to work on “appropriate border measures”. There is talk that the two leaders are planning a travel corridor aimed at allowing British tourists to visit France in the summer and vice versa.
I know some will think those going away this summer are taking unnecessary risks but ultimately it has to be a matter of choice. If knowing the chances of infection – and it’s certainly very difficult to avoid all the information out there about coronavirus – they still choose to go, surely that’s up to them.
After all they’ll only be amongst others making the same calculation. I’ve long been an admirer of Ryanair and there’s something about their ‘can do’ libertarian ‘it’s up to the people’ attitude that is a breath of fresh air right now.