Popular holiday destinations could be opened up to British travellers at the end of June under Government plans to ease Covid restrictions in time for the summer season.
Ministers are expected to allow quarantine-free travel from May 17 to a small number of “green-listed” countries that have a high level of vaccinations.
Under the plans, those returning from “amber” and “red” countries will need to quarantine on their return to the UK.
The Government said it would review the plan on June 28, when the rules on testing and quarantine could be relaxed for countries placed in the amber-listed countries.
These destinations could include popular European destinations such as Greece, Spain and Italy.
Announcing the findings of the Global Travel Taskforce, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed that a traffic light system will be used to categorise countries based on risk.
He also said the Government will work with the travel industry and private testing providers to reduce the cost of foreign trips.
This could lead to free pre-departure tests and cheaper tests when holidaymakers return.
The Department for Transport said in a statement: "It is too early to predict which countries will be on which list over the summer, and the Government continues to consider a range of factors to inform the restrictions placed on them.
"We will set out by early May which countries will fall into which category, as well as confirming whether international travel can resume from 17 May."
Under the traffic light system, assessments will be based on a range of factors, including the proportion of a country's population which has been vaccinated, rates of infection, emerging new variants and the country's access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing.
These are the rules for each category:
- Green: There is no need to self-isolate. Take a pre-departure test and a PCR test on day two of your arrival in the UK.
- Amber: Self-isolate for 10 days, unless you receive a negative result from a test taken at least five days after arrival. Take a pre-departure test, and PCR tests on day two and day eight of your arrival in the UK.
- Red: Spend 11 days in a quarantine hotel. Take a pre-departure test, and PCR tests on day two and day eight of your arrival in the UK.
The categorisation of countries will be "kept under review" with a "particular focus on variants of concern", the Department for Transport said.
Restrictions will be "formally reviewed" on June 28 to take account of "the domestic and international health picture and to see whether current measures could be rolled back", the department added.
Further reviews will take place no later than July 31 and October 1.
A "Green Watchlist" will be introduced to identify countries most at risk of moving from "green" to "amber".
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, the industry body representing UK-registered carriers, said the framework "does not represent a reopening of travel as promised by ministers".
He went on: "The insistence on expensive and unnecessary PCR testing rather than rapid testing - even for low-risk countries - will pose an unsustainable burden on passengers, making travel unviable and unaffordable for many people."
Karen Dee, boss of the Airport Operators Association, claimed the announcement "offers only a glimmer of hope to an industry battered by more than a year of near-complete shutdown".
She said: "Transparent criteria for countries in each travel tier and an indicative green list along with a firm commitment to reopening on May 17 would boost consumer confidence and we urge the Government to publish these shortly."
The Government announced plans to digitise the Passenger Locator Form to enable checks to take place at e-gates by autumn 2021.
It also revealed the Civil Aviation Authority will be given additional enforcement powers to act on airlines that breach consumer rights, after many passengers struggled to obtain refunds when flights were grounded.
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: "The Government is making the right moves to help the sector restart successfully in May but we still need to see rapid lateral flow tests introduced at home for those returning from 'green' countries.
"This would bring down costs substantially and then restore confidence to book. At present, there are still too many layers of complexity to travel for those simply wanting a well-earned break in a safe country."