Prospective holidaymakers are waking up across the UK even more confused than they were about their travel plans for the summer. Our travel correspondent has spent the night trying to make sense of it all.
What do we know today that we didn’t know yesterday?
The Foreign Office will lift its no-go warning from more than 50 holiday and business destinations on Saturday, 4 July. But the quarantine arrangements for returning travellers are in disarray, with England diverging from the other UK nations.
What’s the background?
The government currently has a “double lock” in place designed to prevent overseas tourism and business travel during the coronavirus crisis.
The FCO advice against non-essential travel anywhere overseas has prevailed since 17 March. Since 8 June, all travellers arriving in the UK, including returning holidaymakers, have had to self-isolate for two weeks; there are a few exceptions, notably from the Republic of Ireland.
And what’s changed overnight?
A late-night government statement said: “The FCO will set out exemptions for a number of destinations from its global advisory against ‘all but essential’ international travel, with changes coming into effect on 4 July.”
The change will mean that standard travel insurance policies are valid for the selected countries. And package holiday companies can start sending people abroad.
The Independent understands the list may not be exactly the same as the countries from which the quarantine rule will be eased from 10 July, but there are no clues about how it may vary.
How is the quarantine-exempt list compiled – and who is on it?
Each country is classified as red, amber or green. The “traffic-light” rating is based on the Joint Biosecurity Centre’s assessment of the level and trajectory of infection, and the reliability of data. Quarantine-free travel is allowed from nations rated amber and green.
The difference is really an element of caution: amber signifies that the country could switch to red overnight, while for green that is most unlikely. But you can go to either.
The full list will be revealed on Friday afternoon by the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, who says there are more than 50 countries on it.
Ireland is certain to be cleared. Bizarrely, Mr Shapps told the BBC's Today programme: "Greece won't be on the list." That may change from 15 July onwards when the Greek ban on flights from the UK is likely to end.
I predict that almost all other European Union nations except Sweden will make the list. There is a question mark on Portugal, but it is more likely than not to be included.
Turkey, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are also expected to make the list. But Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and the US – given its high rate of infections – will not.
Long-haul, Australia will be on the list – but as with New Zealand that is academic as Brits are not allowed to travel to either country for fun.
There could be a scattering of Caribbean islands, and no doubt there will be some surprises.
But the quarantine exemption applies only to travellers arriving in England?
Yes, because health is a devolved issue, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can make their own decisions.
These nations are obliged to respect the Foreign Office advice on which countries can be visited; but each can make its own decisions about who it lets in, based on their nationality and/or travel history.
If a country is on the list, can British travellers go there without a problem?
Not necessarily. Even if a country is included on the list, there is no guarantee that UK visitors will be welcomed.
As mentioned, Greece has banned all direct flights from the UK until 15 July.
France has a voluntary quarantine requirement for arrivals from the UK. This will end at the same time as English quarantine, on 10 July. But it has not been enforced in any way.
Spain will require contact information, and conduct a temperature check and “visual health assessment” for travellers arriving from the UK.
Italy has some restrictions apply if you travelled outside the UK in the 14 days prior to your arrival.
Malta requires British holidaymakers to self-isolate for 14 days after arrival.
Cyprus does not allow anyone who has been in the UK in the past two weeks. The British High Commission in Cyprus “expects this to be reviewed in the coming weeks”.
But you could still have to quarantine if you return to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland?
Yes, with all sorts of complications. If England says travellers arriving from Portugal need not self-isolate, but Scotland says they do, people flying to Newcastle or Manchester will be fine but those going to Glasgow or Edinburgh will not.
What about travellers who are serving quarantine when it is lifted; will they be allowed to end self-isolation?
Yes. The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said self-isolation will not be required after 10 July for people who arrive back in the UK before then.
Has the travel industry welcomed the news?
Broadly, yes – but there is fury at the remaining complications even after a U-turn from the blanket quarantine scheme.
Dale Keller, chief executive of the Board of Airline Representatives in the UK, said: “The list of exempted countries is what everyone is eagerly waiting for and what we need is clear and concise requirements following a period of short notice interventions that were often drip fed through to the industry and public.
“Every day that overseas markets are closed is costing the UK heavily in lost jobs, collapsing trade and negative social impacts, and we urge the UK government to continually review and expand the list countries as soon as the criteria is met.”
Many are asking why the UK did not simply compile a list of risky countries in the first place, rather than the government’s declaration that new arrivals from every nation would be regarded as infectious – even though there may be very few or no active cases.
The short-lived quarantine policy has caused tremendous damage to the inbound travel industry, with summer bookings largely written off by many hotels in London. One estimate is for occupancy in August as low as 14 per cent, compared with 75 per cent in a normal summer.