British travelmakers will be able to enjoy quarantine-free travel to many popular holiday destinations from next month as part of a “big bang” reopening thanks to the success of the vaccination programme.
Ministers will meet this week to agree a limited “green list” of about a dozen countries that people can travel to from May 17 without the need to isolate for 14 days on their return. They are expected to include Malta, Gibraltar, the Seychelles and Israel, with Portugal also likely to be among them.
The list will be reviewed after three weeks, and ministers are confident that vaccination rates at popular destinations will be high enough by then for people to be able to travel to most of Europe, the Caribbean and the US.
The European Union announced plans yesterday to allow Britons who have had both their coronavirus jabs to travel freely to Europe this summer without any testing or quarantine requirements.
The plan, to be agreed by the end of the month, is to open up tourism by allowing people from Britain, the US, Israel and other countries with high vaccination rates to travel to Europe in time for the summer season in June.
“One very important question linked with vaccination was whether or not individuals being vaccinated would actually break, or help break, transmission. And, fortunately, now, we do have enough solid, deep scientific evidence proving that this is the case,” an EU official said.
The news came as Boris Johnson said there was a “good chance” that the one-metre-plus rule for social distancing could be dropped next month. The final decision on whether the change could take effect from June 21 would depend on the data, the prime minister added on a by-election campaign visit to Hartlepool.
One government source urged people to be patient before the “big bang for summer holidays” early next month. “June will look a lot more like normal, many of the traditional holiday destinations will be on the list by then,” the source said.
The government said yesterday that Britain had reached the milestone of 50 million vaccinations. One in four people have received both doses. Official figures showed one coronavirus death across the whole of Britain in the past 24 hours, a level not seen since March last year. The number of daily cases fell to 1,649.
Ministers have agreed to create separate travel corridors for Spanish, Greek and Portuguese islands if necessary to help to speed up the reopening of the borders. It would mean that travel to the Balearic and Canary islands could take place even if Spain still had high levels of coronavirus.
“The approach will be nuanced so we can open up travel faster,” a Whitehall source said. Johnson is personally said to be determined for people to take summer holidays abroad.
Thomas Cook said that Portugal and Spain should be open for holidays by the end of June. Alan French, the company’s chief executive, told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4: “When the holidays start at the end of June, we are expecting most of the countries that the UK goes on holiday to — Europe particularly — to be open.”
The government’s new traffic-light system for resuming international travel will categorise countries into green, amber and red depending on the danger they pose. Travellers returning from “green” countries will not be required to quarantine, but those arriving from “amber” destinations will have to quarantine for at least five days at home and travellers from “red” countries will be placed in quarantine hotels for ten days.
The new system is based on the level of coronavirus in destination countries, the vaccination rates, the prevalence of mutant variants and testing capability. One official said that there was significant concern over France and Spain.
Johnson played down expectations that a large number of destinations would be placed on the green list on May 17, warning that reopening Britain’s borders too quickly could lead to “an influx of disease”.
He said: “We’ll be saying as much as we can a bit later on. The Joint Biosecurity Committee is having a look at exactly which countries they think are going to be safe. But I do think that it’s important to be cautious in this. We do want to do some opening up on May 17 but I don’t think that the people of this country want to see an influx of disease from anywhere else. I certainly don’t.”
The European Commission proposed yesterday that governments across Europe should ease travel restrictions to “take into account the progress of vaccination campaigns and developments in the epidemiological situation”.
The plans, expected to be agreed by the end of the month, would benefit Britons. Commission officials said that a key political factor would be whether the government agreed equivalent measures, allowing Europeans who had had both jabs to travel to Britain. “The figures for the UK are good. Those vaccinated in the UK will be eligible to travel,” an official said. “But the principle of reciprocity will be important.”
The European Commission said that members states should allow travellers into the EU if they had “received, at least 14 days before arrival, the last recommended dose of a vaccine” that had been authorised by the bloc.
More than one in five people in Britain have been fully vaccinated, which is twice the European average.
Commission officials suggested that Britons would only be included in the plan if the UK allowed Europeans with both jabs the equivalent rights to travel to Britain.
“The figures for the UK are good. Those vaccinated in the UK will be eligible to travel,” said an official. “But the principle of reciprocity will be important and that will be part of the consideration.”
James Cleverly, a Foreign Office minister, told Times Radio that the government would “take things cautiously”. He said: “We’ve already seen internationally that the coronavirus situation can change and can change quickly. So it’s not about it going backwards. The policy is set.
“The philosophy that underpins it has been decided and the science will be the guiding force for which countries are on the red, amber or green lists. And that is of course the right way to do this.”
The European Commission also supported countries such as Greece that want to drop current testing or quarantine rules for fully vaccinated travellers. Countries will, under the plan, be “able to accept certificates from non-EU countries based on national law, taking into account the ability to verify the authenticity, validity and integrity of the certificate and whether it contains all relevant data”.
“Member states could consider setting up a portal allowing travellers to ask for the recognition of a vaccination certificate issued by a non-EU country as reliable proof of vaccination,” the commission proposed.
It added that “children who are excluded from vaccination [will] be able to travel with their vaccinated parents if they have a negative PCR Covid-19 test taken at the earliest 72 hours before arrival area”.
The UK will in the coming days be classed as a green country for travel purposes to the EU and the commission has proposed that the threshold for infection safety is raised due to increased vaccination rates.
The change means that all Britons with a clear Covid test result and who follow various quarantine rules will be able to travel to the EU more easily.
“The proposal is to increase the threshold of 14-day cumulative Covid-19 case notification rate from 25 to 100 [per 100,000 people]. This remains considerably below the current EU average, which is over 420,” the plan says.
To guard against new variants of the virus, the commission has proposed an “emergency brake” to national governments “to act quickly and temporarily limit to a strict minimum all travel from affected countries for the time needed to put in place appropriate sanitary measures”.