Britain is preparing to open its borders to families and businesses from the Far East, Middle East and Australia by lifting its travel ban on airport hubs.
After lifting restrictions on fully-vaccinated EU and US citizens last week, ministers are set to give the go-ahead to quarantine-free travel through vital hubs that link the UK to the rest of the world.
They are understood to be close to agreement on a plan that would allow travellers to pass through the “red list” hubs of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Istanbul, Doha and Bahrain without having to quarantine in a hotel on their arrival in the UK at a cost of up to £1,750 per person.
Business people, families and holidaymakers would be free from the quarantine requirement provided they remained airside on transit through the airports.
The United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Qatar and Bahrain have all been placed on the red list because of their positioning as some of the world’s biggest travel hubs amid fears they could act as focal points for the spread of variants from around the world.
They are unlikely to be removed from the red list but ministers are prepared to exempt those travellers who do not enter the countries but simply transit and remain airside. At present, they have to self-isolate in government-approved hotels on arrival in the UK.
The move will make it cheaper and easier for business travellers and families, particularly those seeking to reunite with relatives in Australia and New Zealand. “We are close to agreement and it will be announced in the next week or so,” said a government source.
It is also understood that Rishi Sunak has written to the PM calling for the urgent easing of travel restrictions. The chancellor warned that Britain's border policy was damaging the tourism industry and wider economy.
The Sunday Times reported that in a letter to Boris Johnson, Mr Sunak said the country's border policy was out of step with our international partners and having a damaging impact on jobs.
Paul Charles, the chief executive of the travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “The infection rates in the hubs have fallen. Opening them up is vital to the future success of aviation.
“Aviation has grown in recent years on the back of strong interconnectivity at these hubs. Without them, the airlines cannot operate at anything like the capacity they need.
“It would be major progress if they opened the hubs for transit passengers but it is only when they come off the red list that it will make a true difference to the travel sector.”
Istanbul is forecast to become the biggest airport in Europe, with a projected 200million passengers a year dwarfing Heathrow, while UAE hosts one of the world’s biggest airlines, Emirates, which operates to more than150 cities in 80 countries across six continents through a fleet of nearly 300 aircraft.
Joe Biden is also coming under increasing pressure to lift the US travel ban on the UK in order to boost transatlantic trade.
Double-vaccinated US citizens will be able to travel to the UK from Monday without having to quarantine but the US executive order 212(F) banning UK citizens from travelling to the US remains in place.
Seventy seven members of Congress have written to President Biden urging him to lift the order, citing Mayo Clinic research that shows the risk of a person infected with Covid-19 boarding a flight from the UK to the U.S. is one out of 10,000.
Henry Smith, the Tory chair of the all-party future of aviation group, said the
UK-US taskforce must work "much more in concert" rather than UK "just taking unilateral action."
"It's time that the executive order 212F (banning non essential travel from the UK) is removed in recognition of the level of the vaccination of the UK population. I would look to the US administration to take a more pragmatic stance and allow much more two way transatlantic travel," he told the Telegraph.