The government has in effect warned Britons against planning a summer holiday this year, whether in the UK or abroad, prompting an angry reaction from the travel industry, which is warning that many firms in the sector could collapse.

The response from Abta, the UK’s trade association for holiday operators and travel agents, came after Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, cast doubt on a sufficiently rapid lifting of social distancing or travel restrictions imposed due to Covid-19.

“I won’t be booking a summer holiday at this point. Let’s put it that way,” Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme when asked if people should think about booking a break in the coming months.

“Clearly people will want to see what the trajectory of this disease is in the next few weeks,” he said. “We’ve just started to see a flattening of that tragic curve which shows the deaths each day, where they’re bubbling around at the same level, and the number of people going into intensive care, and the rest of it. But we’re not seeing the declines yet.”

Income subsidies

Direct cash grants for self-employed people, worth 80% of average profits, up to £2,500 a month. There are similar wage subsidies for employees.

Loan guarantees for business

Government to back £330bn of loans to support businesses through a Bank of England scheme for big firms. There are loans of up to £5m with no interest for six months for smaller companies.

Business rates

Taxes levied on commercial premises will be abolished this year for all retailers, leisure outlets and hospitality sector firms.

Cash grants

Britain’s smallest 700,000 businesses eligible for cash grants of £10,000. Small retailers, leisure and hospitality firms can get bigger grants of £25,000.

Benefits

Government to increase value of universal credit and tax credits by £1,000 a year, as well as widening eligibility for these benefits.

Sick pay

Statutory sick pay to be made available from day one, rather than day four, of absence from work, although ministers have been criticised for not increasing the level of sick pay above £94.25 a week. Small firms can claim for state refunds on sick pay bills.

Other

Local authorities to get a £500m hardship fund to provide people with council tax payment relief.

Mortgage and rental holidays available for up to three months.

Abta, which has warned of a mass collapse of travel companies due to the coronavirus pandemic, condemned Shapps’ advice.

“It was a thoughtless comment and not based on any facts about what we know today about the future of the pandemic, but it shows complete disregard for the UK travel industry, the hundreds of thousands of people it employs and the struggle it is facing in this current crisis,” it said in a statement.

“It would be better if the government focused on taking the necessary steps to support the sector rather than undermining confidence in it.”

However, Shapps received apparent support from Downing Street, with Boris Johnson’s spokesman noting that travel within the UK for holidays was still not allowed, while the Foreign Office had warned against all but essential overseas trips.

“While we are making progress in the fight against coronavirus, we are not able to say with certainty the point at which the social distancing measures can be relaxed,” he said. “As of today it is a fact that both the guidelines and the official Foreign Office advice do not allow for people going on holidays.”

What do the restrictions involve?

People in the UK will only be allowed to leave their home for the following purposes:

  • Shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
  • One form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household
  • Any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
  • Travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home

Police will have the powers to enforce the rules, including through fines and dispersing gatherings. To ensure compliance with the instruction to stay at home, the government will:

  • Close all shops selling non-essential goods, including clothing and electronic stores and other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship
  • Stop all gatherings of more than two people in public – excluding people you live with
  • Stop all social events, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies, but excluding funerals

Parks will remain open for exercise, but gatherings will be dispersed.

Abta has urged the government to amend rules so travel firms are able to issue holidaymakers whose trips have been cancelled due to coronavirus with credit notes, at least in the short term, rather than cash refunds. Under EU rules they must offer a refund within 14 days.

It also wants a hardship fund to help pay for refunds, and a change to the 14-day limit.

“The existing financial protection structures and regulations were not designed to cope with a large-scale collapse of businesses,” Mark Tanzer, the chief executive of Abta, said last month.

The organisation has warned that without the changes many thousands of jobs could be lost as travel companies collapse.

Asked about the threat to the sector, Shapps told the BBC he could not offer travel firms further guidance as to when restrictions could change, as that was a matter for scientific advice. The impact of the pandemic would reshape many industries, including travel and tourism, he predicted.

“I can’t sugarcoat this for you,” Shapps said. “The government has gone to extraordinary lengths to come up with all manner of schemes to do what is, in terms of global responses, one of the most comprehensive [business support] packages.

“But we know that we won’t be able to save every single business in every single circumstance. It would be wrong for me to sit here and tell you that there will be no changes as a result of this.”

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