When the UK Prime Minister addressed the nation on December 20, the news was bad enough: Christmas was canceled.
Boris Johnson plunged the country into harsh new restrictions, blaming a new variant of the disease that had been spreading in London and the southeast of England since September.
But suddenly, things got even worse. Country after country closed their borders to flights from the UK, in a bid to keep the new variant confined to “plague island,” as the New York Times dubbed it.
With ferry routes across the Channel blocked, lorries carrying goods to the continent backed up for miles along the motorways. Eventually, a local airport in Kent was turned into a parking lot for 4,000 lorries. Nothing could get into the UK, either. It was, said the wags, a taster of what a no-deal Brexit would be like.
That no-deal was averted — the government signed an agreement with the EU on December 24. But the crisis is far from over.
UK travelers are still banned from much of the world — including EU countries — because of the homegrown variant.
And although the UK was the first country in the world to start a vaccine rollout, its good news was marred by the report on January 13 that the death tally from Covid-19 had passed 100,000. Two days later, the government announced that it was axing their last remaining “travel corridors.”
Inbound travel is a lucrative business for the UK — pre-Covid, Visit Britain forecast that 2020 would see 32.3 million visitors pumping £24.7 billion ($33.6 billion) into the economy.
In the end, 2020 saw a 76% decline in visitors and an 80% drop. The tourist board is forecasting 16.9 million visits and £9 billion ($12.2 billion) spending for 2021: a mere 41% and 32% of the 2019 figures respectively. But that is, of course, if people come. After all, who’d want to vacation on “plague island”?
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