Fully vaccinated holidaymakers will face multiple Covid tests under the Government’s plans to lift quarantine for travel to amber list countries.
Ministers are proposing that double-jabbed Britons will still have to take a pre-departure test as well as paying for a PCR test on day two after their arrival back in the UK in return for not having to quarantine ten days at home.
The tests will be required not just to travel to amber list countries but also for holidays in green list destinations as part of the Government’s efforts to prevent potential new variants from entering the UK that could undermine the current vaccines.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said: “We’re disappointed that customers will still have to pay for expensive tests when they return, which makes no sense given the effectiveness of the vaccines against all known variants, and we also wanted to see more countries moved onto the green list.”
Travel list updates
The move to allow quarantine-free travel to amber countries for fully jabbed holidaymakers “later in the Summer” was agreed on Thursday by ministers on the Cabinet’s Covid-O committee.
It came after Boris Johnson had earlier declared that double vaccinations offered a “real opportunity” to open up travel.
"The real opportunity we all have now is to open up travel through the double jab," he said. "More than 60 per cent of our adult population now have two jabs, 83 per cent or something have had one jab. The crucial thing is to come forward and get your jab."
However, he repeated his warning that travel would still be “difficult,” recognising that fully vaccinated travellers will be expected to take tests on their return to the UK.
"I’m not going to claim that this summer, for travel purposes, is going to be like any other summer. As I said I don’t want to cast a pall over things but I said the other day it will be different.”
Asked whether he planned a foreign summer holiday, Mr Johnson replied: "I’m going to see how we get on. I’m certainly not ruling it in or ruling it out…My plans at this stage are at the unformed stage.”
Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said the “intention” was to introduce the changes for vaccinated holidaymakers “later in the summer.”
But he said details of the scheme and when it would be introduced would not be announced until next month. Government sources said it was unlikely to start before early August.
“We’re moving forward with efforts to safely reopen international travel this summer, and thanks to the success of our vaccination programme, we’re now able to consider removing the quarantine period for fully vaccinated UK arrivals from amber countries – showing a real sign of progress,” said Mr Shapps.
“It’s right that we continue with this cautious approach, to protect public health and the vaccine rollout as our top priority, while ensuring that our route out of the international travel restrictions is sustainable.”
Traffic light travel restrictions
A date for quarantine free travel for fully jabbed Britons will depend on the proportion of the adult population that has been vaccinated.
“Implementation will have to align with the vaccine roll out,” said a Government source.
“At the moment it is 60 per cent double jabbed but you have to add 14 days onto that for the antibodies to take effect. It is up for discussion about what the percentage of the adult population should be for the policy to be introduced.
“Where do you want the vaccine rollout to get to before you put the policy in place? It is pointing to later in the summer. They cannot work out the exact time because there are so many operational, legal and certification issues to work out.”
As part of a “cautious” restart of foreign travel, ministers will limit quarantine-free holidays to fully vaccinated Britons and British residents.
It would mean inbound foreign tourists from amber countries would still have to self-isolate for 10 days on arrival even if fully vaccinated and would only join the scheme later. Sources said the Government wanted to avoid a “massive spike” in tourism.
It is expected unvaccinated children will be allowed to travel with their fully jabbed parents without having to quarantine although they too will be expected to take tests on their arrival back in the U
“We will also take clinical advice on whether regular testing can provide a safe alternative to quarantine for children accompanied by vaccinated adults,” said the Department for Transport (DfT).
There are also tensions over the Foreign Office’s advice on travel which currently recommends against all but essential travel to most of Europe including France, Spain, Italy and Greece. This invalidates most insurance policies even if people are vaccinated.
“The Foreign Office jealously guards its right to issue the advice and Grant Shapps [the transport secretary] has spoken of his frustration at getting them to align it with its strategy,” said a senior industry source.
Meanwhile, there is a growing threat to the UK’s foreign travel plans from Europe as France’s President Emmanuel Macron backed Angela Merkel’s demand for EU countries to impose quarantine on Britons to prevent the spread of the delta variant.
He said the 27-nation group needed to take coordinated decisions on opening borders to people from other countries: “We must all be vigilant because the much-talked-about delta variant is coming, which spreads much more rapidly than the other variants and affects people who are not vaccinated or who only have had one dose.