Simon CalderFri, 2 April 2021, 6:22 pm
It may be a bank holiday weekend, but very few people are travelling for pleasure. Overnight stays away from home are still banned in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, while holidays abroad are illegal from anywhere in the UK.
Yet international leisure travel may be possible six weeks from now. On Easter Monday, the prime minister is due to set out a framework for resuming trips abroad. So what can travellers expect?
These are the essential questions and answers.
What do the rules currently say?
Holidays beyond the UK are currently illegal, with a £5,000 penalty for even turning up at an airport and hoping to travel abroad.
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The government’s roadmap to recovery holds out some hope that travellers from England at least could be able to leave the country on 17 May; Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland may decide differently.
But whether any of us would want to go abroad for fun depends on the rules for coming back in. And that is getting tougher, not easier: next Friday, Kenya, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Philippines will join the government’s “red list” of nations from which arrivals must go into hotel quarantine for 11 nights at a cost of £1,750.
There will then be a total of 39 countries, including all of South America, much of southern and eastern Africa, and the UAE and Gulf.
What is the prime minister likely to say?
Travel to and from the UK will be dependent on a “traffic light” system with different requirements depending on the colour. In effect we actually have one already.
The red category requires 11 nights of hotel quarantine; for amber it’s 10 days of self-isolation at home (though with the chance to release early in England if you pay for another test after five days); and the only country on green, with effectively no restrictions, is Ireland.
People desperate to see loved ones, along with holidaymakers and the travel industry, hope that more nations will be moved to the green list. There are also calls for the amber conditions to be eased, shortening or eliminating quarantine in exchange for more testing.
Which nations will make good candidates for the “green” list?
- Infection rates are very low or at least in steady and sustained decline.
- A vaccination programme is working well, with high take-up
- There are no significant “variants of concern”.
A range of nations has been mentioned, including Malta and Portugal in Europe; Israel; the Gulf countries, especially the UAE and Bahrain; the Maldives; and the US. But with six weeks before any international leisure travel will be possible, it is far too early to say.
If you go back six weeks to mid-February, in the UK there were still an average of 10,000 new cases and several hundred deaths a day.
So while I am confident I will be able to travel somewhere abroad on 17 May, it is far too early to say what the choice of destinations might be.
Will people who have had both vaccinations get special treatment?
“Vaccine passports” (or, more accurately, coronavirus status certificates) are highly controversial. It is certainly the case that some foreign countries will make it easy, or even compulsory for British holidaymakers to produce evidence of both jabs to be let in without formality.
There are also reasonable medical grounds for saying that people who have had both jabs are likely to present a lower risk to the UK population than those who have not.
But for the government to say that vaccinated travellers will get a fast track when they come back into the UK would be a politically contentious move.
One rumour doing the rounds in the travel industry says that the prime minister may announce easier travel for people who have had both jabs precisely to boost the uptake of vaccines – by incentivising particularly younger people to be vaccinated to allow them to go abroad and return without undue hassle.
Will other countries want us?
Yes, and many of our favourite destinations are settling into a pattern of “JTR”: “jab, test or recovered”? Croatia has become the latest Mediterranean country to say it has opened its borders to tourists who can produce evidence of a vaccination certificate, recovery from infection or a negative Covid test taken within 48 hours of arrival.
Thanks to the remarkable success of the UK’s vaccine roll-out, British holidaymakers have gone from the “sick men and women of Europe” to the “golden girls and boys of summer” – with UK travellers seen as presenting a reduced risk compared with other locations.
Turkey has said it will welcome people from the UK whether or not they have had the jab.