It remains disheartening to see ‘It is illegal to travel abroad for holidays’ in bold type on the gov.uk website, but things are looking more hopeful for holiday hungry Brits.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps last week confirmed that domestic Covid numbers “look good” enough to resume holidays on May 17, although he emphasised this would be the earliest possible date.
Spain and France have announced they will be opening their borders to British and non-EU holiday-ers from June, but Shapps told Good Morning Britain that Covid-19 and vaccinations figures across the world will need to be monitored before final decisions can be made because “it’s easy to forget about the pandemic when things are getting under control here”.
Shapps also announced he would be meeting with the G7 countries to ensure they have a unanimous approach to proving travellers’ Covid status and revealed that the NHS app is being prepped for use as a travel passport.
International travel will be organised by a risk-based “traffic light” system, with red, amber and green ratings for countries around the world. An announcement on which countries will be listed is expected to be made on Friday.
Most of Europe is expected to be placed on the amber list, meaning travellers arriving back in the UK would have to self-quarantine for up to ten days. However officials are looking at whether the rules surrounding this could be relaxed for people who have had two vaccinations.
Speaking on Monday, Boris Johnson said there will be "some opening up" on May 17, but that things must be done in a way "to make sure that we don't see the virus coming back in" to the UK. Further details are expected to be announced on Friday.
In other good news, commercial PCR tests to be taken on return from travelling abroad are getting much cheaper, making travel more affordable. On Thursday, the UK’s largest holiday company, Tui, announced it is to offer coronavirus tests for a fraction of standard prices to “make travel a possibility”, with its cheapest package available for just £20.
Here we take you through everything we know about the traffic light system, so you can start planning those long-awaited summer getaways. Note that each country has its own border policies, so be sure to check Foreign Office advice before travelling, and that international travel from the UK will only be permitted at the earliest from May 17.
What is the traffic light country list system?
The Government’s Global Travel Taskforce has laid out its initial findings on how foreign travel could be resumed in time for our summer vacations.
It’s proposed that every country will be rated green, amber or red depending on vaccination rollout, infection rates, and concerns about coronavirus variants.
Another vital factor that will be taken into consideration is a country’s access to genomic sequencing, which detects and tracks Covid-19 variants.
The traffic light system will mean the end of the current permission to travel form, which requires travellers to seek approval for a specific reason to travel.
Here’s what we know so far:
Travellers jetting off to low-risk green countries will not need to self-isolate when they return to the UK. They will need to take a pre-departure test and a PCR test on or before day two of their arrival in the UK.
Anyone returning from an amber country will have to take a pre-departure test and PCR tests on day two and day eight of their arrival in the UK. They will also be required to self-isolate for 10 days, unless they receive a negative result from an optional private test on day five of their arrival (the Test to Release Scheme).
Holidaymakers returning from a red list country will have to isolate in a quarantine hotel for 11 days at a cost of around £1,750 and will need to take COVID tests before and after they arrive.
A full charter laying out travel permissions and what is required of passengers will be released on May 17, with further review at the end of June.
Which countries will be on the green list?
The Government is expected to release a list of ‘green countries’ later this week. Decisions will be driven by data and evidence nearer the time, which is difficult to predict at the moment.
A “Green Watchlist” will also be introduced to identify countries most at risk of moving from “green” to “amber”.
Here are the countries most likely to appear on the green list…
Portugal’s ambassador to the UK has raised hopes that holidays to the country could begin as early as mid-May. Noting his confidence that Portugal will be placed on the green list, Manuel Lubo Antunes told Sky News: “We are hopeful, as we have been saying for these last months, that middle of May for regular mobility between the UK and Portugal and vice versa can be established. That is our hope.”
Asked if holidaymakers might still be allowed in if they are yet to be fully vaccinated, he added: “Yes that is the idea, it’s what we wanted as much possible to go back to the regime that existed before the pandemic.”
Known for its stunningly clear azure waters and white sand, around 500,000 Britons head to Malta every year. And, this year the country is primed to be on the UK’s green list. The country has announced that UK vacationers who have had both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine are welcome to enjoy the Mediterranean Sea from June 1.
Travellers will need to show their vaccination card before boarding flights, according to the Malta Tourism Authority. Currently, the UK is on Malta’s red list, which means non-vaccinated travellers are banned from entering.
Another country primed to be on the green list is Iceland. The island has recently opened its borders to vaccinated Brits, EU-members and Americans, who don’t need to quarantine or be tested on arrival. Current data suggests the country is averaging around 10 cases a week and has a total death toll of 29.
Finland, too, is another European country thought to be eligible for the green list by travel experts, although the Finnish government has decided to extend restrictions on arrivals into the country until May 25.
Gibraltar has become the first country in the world to vaccinate its entire population for coronavirus, and now it looks likely to be one of the few European countries on the green list. With active cases as low as seven in Gibraltar, the country is preparing to welcome more Britons than ever before.
The success of Israel’s vaccine rollout is no secret, so the country has already set about creating a “vaccine bubble” with Greece, allowing visitors to travel between the two countries without quarantining. Israel has also been in talks with the UK about a potential travel corridor, with the Tourism Ministry claiming that they expect to open borders to international travellers “in the middle of 2021.”
After seeing a sharp decrease in Covid cases since November, Morocco has an impressive record of low cases numbers. The North African country is now being scouted out as a green list member, although its government has currently suspended all flights to and from a whole host of countries, including the UK.
With over 70 miles of stunning beaches, Barbados is a popular destination for water sports and deep-sea diving. It also looks likely to be on the green list with daily Covid cases at single figures. In the last 14 days, there’s been 120 cases on the island. At the moment, Barbados designates the UK as a high-risk country and the current guidelines state that travellers from the UK must arrive with a negative PCR test taken by a certified or accredited laboratory within three days of arrival.
With Joe Biden’s promise to offer vaccines to all US adults by end of May, it looks like America may begin on the amber list before moving to the green list. However, the USA currently has a ban on UK citizens - or anyone who has travelled through the UK - entering the country.
The CEO of travel consultancy the PC Agency, Paul Charles, also tweeted a list of Caribbean islands he expects to make it on to the green list, including Grenada, Jamaica, Anguilla, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Saint Lucia, and Antigua among others.
What about other countries?
Although nothing is confirmed yet, travel to some of our favourite destinations may be banned.
Current data suggests that three popular destinations, Spain, Greece and Turkey, will likely be on the amber list, which means travellers will need to self-isolate at home for at least five days. Although, in Charles’s twitter thread he suggests Spain and Greece might be moved to green by June. There are reports that ministers have agreed to introduce separate travel corridors for Spanish, Greek and Portuguese islands.
Spain has indicated that a digital certificate scheme is currently being trialled with a view to a wider rollout in June, and have said that the country is “desperate” to welcome back tourists.
Tourism minister Fernando Valdes Verelst said of the system: “Spain is going to be ready in June to use this digital certificate. We are doing a pilot programme in May, in all our 46 airports.
“We are going to give all these travellers that certainty. Spain is going to be ready in June to tell all travellers worldwide that you can visit us.”
There is a chance that Greece might start on the amber list and be moved to the green list at a later date. Greece said its tourism services will open on May 15 when a ban on travel between different regions of the country will also be lifted.
Britons who have been fully vaccinated will be allowed to enter Greece using their paper handwritten NHS card, ministers have said.
Cyprus and Croatia also look like they’ll be on the amber list, and Seychelles, although currently on the red list, may be on it too.
France is currently in its third national lockdown, which means it is very likely that the country will be off-limits and sit on the red list. Though the country hopes to welcome foreign tourists with a “health pass” from June 9.
Likewise, Italy is easing out of another lockdown and looks like it will be initially on the red list. That being said, Italy has recently updated its travel advice to allow tourists (visits were previously restricted to Italian nationals and those travelling for essential reasons). Visitors are required to spend just five days in quarantine, but will need a negative test 48 hours before arrival.