DOMINIC LAWSON: We won vaccine race but Germany being us to loungers

DOMINIC LAWSON: How galling that we won the vaccine race but Germany has still beaten us to the sun loungers

The British are, as a rule, peaceful people. The past 15 months have also demonstrated that we will conscientiously abide by regulatory restrictions, however onerous.

But that forbearance would be shattered if the Government accedes to what the panjandrums of the football world are demanding and allows thousands of so-called VIPs, including countless officials of UEFA and FIFA (the European and world governing bodies for the allegedly beautiful game) to be exempt from the travel quarantine rules that are mandatory for the rest of us.

The semi-finals and final of the European Football Championship are scheduled to be held at Wembley Stadium on July 6, 7 and 11. But UEFA’s president, Aleksander Ceferin, has said that the UK’s ‘restrictions’ are too severe compared with other European countries, and has threatened to move those matches to regulation-light Budapest.

Hungary happens to have had the highest per-capita death toll from Covid of any European country. But there you go: win some, lose some.

UEFA’s president, Aleksander Ceferin (pictured), has said that the UK’s ‘restrictions’ are too severe compared with other European countries, and has threatened to move those matches to regulation-light Budapest

Backlash

So, according to The Times: ‘Ministers are discussing a proposal to exempt officials, sponsors and broadcasters from having to self-isolate on arrival, despite concerns that this could lead to an increase in coronavirus infections and provoke a backlash from the public.’

Could provoke a backlash? There’s no ‘could’ about it: I suspect riot police would be required to protect Downing Street.

Such anger would be intimately linked with the frustration felt by so many at the way their own hopes for overseas travel this summer have been repeatedly dashed by the Government. While Portugal and Spain are encouraging the British to come, Westminster has put these welcoming countries on the amber list.

This means Britons would need not just a negative Covid test three days before returning, but to submit to ten days’ ‘self-isolation’ back here — and that’s on the basis of having two further negative PCR tests.

It was reported last week that the Government might soon allow those of us who have had two jabs to visit amber-list countries without quarantining and yesterday ministers were making more encouraging noises, but I’m not holding my breath.

At the very beginning of June (hardly peak summer holiday time), the financial commentator Merryn Somerset Webb (pictured) reported, having just arrived in Cornwall: ‘Our drive here took 14 hours . . . There were 2,500 cars in the car park at Harlyn Bay. I have never seen so many Land Rover Discoverys in one place’

So for the vast majority, the whole idea of travelling abroad in the summer is completely impracticable. And it’s no consolation that the Government has put the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and St Helena on the green list.

There was a time when you at least had a chance to compete with the Germans in the race to get the best position around the swimming pool at the hotel on the Costa del Sol (you just had to bribe your most persuadable child to get up at 6am and do the necessary). Now the Germans don’t even have to worry about that.

They have been allowed by their government to travel to Majorca, without the need to self-isolate on return, since March.

The best-selling German tabloid, Bild, gleefully described the effects of the much greater UK travel restrictions as ‘a twist in the towel war’. At least in football we usually have the chance to take them on at penalties before losing out.

This is especially galling given that the UK had been trouncing most of the rest of Europe in the vaccine race, and more than 30 million of us (covering all of the most vulnerable) have had both jabs.

Wasn’t that supposed to be the moment when we could — as the Health Secretary Matt Hancock promised in January — ‘cry freedom’?

It is certainly true that for many of us —even if we were free to travel to the Mediterranean without facing the best part of a fortnight in seclusion on return — the prospect of having to wear masks throughout the journeys there and back makes the whole business unenticing. That’s before you consider the reported length of the queues at our airports, because of coronavirus-related regulations and restrictions.

Scramble

The result has been a tremendous increase in the numbers deciding to spend their summer holidays in the UK.

By the way, this is not a ‘staycation’, despite what almost everyone now seems to think. The word originated in America, of course (‘vacation’ is their word, not ours) and means to stay in your actual home during a holiday.

Wasn’t that supposed to be the moment when we could — as the Health Secretary Matt Hancock promised in January — ‘cry freedom’?

Anyway, the outcome of the Government’s travel regulations has been a ferocious scramble for hotels and other accommodation in the UK’s more attractive destinations, not least Cornwall (which is where, along with the Isles of Scilly, my wife and I have spent our holidays since our children were born).

The result of that, obviously, has been an eye-watering increase in prices — assuming you can even find something decent. At the very beginning of June (hardly peak summer holiday time), the financial commentator Merryn Somerset Webb reported, having just arrived in Cornwall: ‘Our drive here took 14 hours . . . There were 2,500 cars in the car park at Harlyn Bay. I have never seen so many Land Rover Discoverys in one place.

‘I spent an hour on the phone, before we left home, trying to book a dinner reservation. I finally scored a table at a not-quite-on-the-sea place in a south coast village. At 5pm. For an hour. Prices are following demand . . . Coffee and croissants for three? £21.’

As I say, that was during the first week of June. Can you imagine what it will be like in August?

Actually, we don’t need to imagine. When Donna Brunton, a nurse, looked for a back-up UK holiday in August, fearing her family’s £2,500 all-in trip to a four-star beach hotel in Malta wouldn’t go ahead, she searched in Cornwall.

She told the Guardian last week: ‘A holiday park in North Cornwall was quoting £3,699 for the four of us to stay seven nights, self-catering, in what looks like an upmarket caravan. The only sites available were thousands of pounds. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing — the prices were just ridiculous.’

Lucky

Another holiday-hunter hoping to stay in Cornwall reported: ‘Last week, I found a bell tent in someone’s back garden advertised on Airbnb for £1,400 a night. Welcome to summer 2021 in the UK.’

A couple of months ago, I did my own online hunting for a UK holiday in the first week of July. I thought this might be less terrifying than August, but a desultory search showed all the most attractive spots (whether hotels or rentable cottages) on my list had been grabbed. So I lost the towel race domestically, too.

‘We’ve seen it in the movies/ Now let’s see if it’s true’… Cliff Richard on the set of Summer Holiday in 1963

When I rang my elder daughter to apologise (she was to come with us and her younger sister), she was completely understanding. So, instead, we will have a genuine family staycation.

We are among the lucky ones: we have a big house and lots of outside space — certainly enough room for two family units (the maximum allowed indoors, according to the regulations). And, after all, possibly the best thing about family holidays is spending all our time with grown-up children who live apart from us, with work left behind for a week or two.

We are fortunate, too, living in a part of the UK defined as an area of outstanding natural beauty (the High Weald); and if we want to paddle on a sandy beach, Camber Sands is a 45-minute drive away.

But for the overwhelming majority of Britons, this is not the life they lead. They really do need to get away from their home, preferably, as Cliff Richard put it in his 1963 hit Summer Holiday: ‘We’re going where the sun shines brightly/ We’re going where the sea is blue/ We’ve seen it in the movies/ Now let’s see if it’s true.’

How wretched that for so many millions of Britons in 2021, it’s not true at all.

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