Individual air bridges will be effectively abandoned by the Government, as it emerged that as many as 75 countries will be on the first quarantine exemption list for British holidaymakers.
The list, to be published on Thursday or Friday, will lift the Foreign Office ban on non-essential travel to nearly all EU destinations, the British territories including Bermuda and Gibraltar, and Turkey, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand.
All 75 have been judged sufficiently low risk destinations for holidaymakers based on the prevalence of Covid-19, that their infection rate is in decline and that their data on the state of the disease can be trusted.
It means that from Monday travellers to the 75 countries will no longer have to quarantine for 14 days on their return to the UK although some like Australia and New Zealand are expected to retain border controls and quarantine for as long as the rest of 2020.
Greece, which is expected to be a “green” rated low-risk country under the Government's traffic light system, has suspended flights from the UK until July 15 due to the UK’s higher coronavirus rate.
The USA, Russia and Brazil will be among countries on the “red” list where the ban on non-essential travel will continue.
The move will be welcomed by the travel and aviation industry and holidaymakers but was seen on Wednesday night as tacit acceptance that bilateral “air bridges” or “travel corridors” were unworkable.
Paul Charles, a spokesman for the Quash Quarantine campaign group of 500 travel and hospitality businesses, said: “We have said all along that air bridges were unsustainable in Europe because you can’t restrict people travelling in the EU or Schengen.
“It’s sensible and logical and I wish we could have had it earlier. It begs the question as to why have we gone round in circles.”
The announcement was expected mid-week but is thought to have been delayed due to objections to “air bridges” by Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, and the growing size of the list.
Ms Sturgeon, who this week reserved the right to quarantine English visitors, said on Wednesday that if she chose not to allow air bridges then "I will set out why that is the case and the practical problems, challenges and implications that flow from that and how we will try to deal with them.”
Sweden, which tops the table in the EU with a rate of 60 cases of coronavirus per 100,000 of the population, is expected to be classed as “red” while Portugal with a rate of 20 per 100,000 is also thought to be at risk of being excluded after an outbreak in and around Lisbon.
The UK’s rate of 8.5 per 100,000 places it ninth behind Luxembourg, Serbia, Ukraine, Romania, the Czech Republic and Croatia, according to a Daily Telegraph analysis of official coronavirus data.
Sources however, confirmed Croatia, a popular tourist destination for Britons, would be on the list of 75 as would Turkey, which has a higher rate of 9.7.
Countries with lower rates than the UK include France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Greece, Switzerland, Belgium, Ireland, Iceland, Poland, Malta, Cyprus, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Slovenia, Slovakia and Germany, all of which it is expected will be on the list.
However, Ireland, which is expected to publish its “green” list of countries from which visitors will be exempt from quarantining on arrival from July 9, has already indicated Britons could be forced to self-isolate for 14 days due to the UK’s higher rate.
Finland is also expected to require a country to have a rate of under eight per 100,000 before it allows in its tourists from July 13, which would appear to exclude the UK.
Whilst Grant Shapps has for weeks pushed within Cabinet for a series of airbridge deals, senior officials in the Foreign Office were from mid-June already casting doubt on the plausibility of the plan.
A senior Government source told The Telegraph that creating a specific list of countries exempt from quarantine posed a diplomatic nightmare and could be open to legal challenge.
They suggested that to avoid such a fall-out, officials were instead pushing for a more informal system which would merely see the FCO's travel advice section amended to include a list of high-risk countries where Britons should refrain from travelling to.
Henry Smith, chair of the cross party Future of Aviation group, said: “This has been done in a very piecemeal way and with a degree of uncertainty. I still think the introduction of quarantine was not the right decision but we are where we are.
“We need to get a set of criteria and subsequent list of countries published. Every day of uncertainty translates into more jobs lost.”