The walls are closing in for British holidaymakers. On the one hand, our list of Government-approved destinations – which we can visit without needing to self-isolate on our return home – is shrinking. Recent weeks have seen Spain, France, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Malta, Netherlands, Czech Republic and mainland Portugal, among others, removed. At 5pm tomorrow, following the weekly review of our travel corridors, the quarantine bell will likely toll for Denmark and Iceland.
On the other hand, with the seven-day case rate rising on British soil (currently 44 per 100,000), nations that remain on our green list are getting nervous about welcoming UK residents. Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Norway all recently imposed quarantine measures on British arrivals, with isolation periods ranging from 10 to 14 days. Reports suggest Denmark will do likewise when it reviews its own travel policy (also on Thursday) – if Boris doesn’t scupper your hopes of a weekend in Copenhagen, his Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen will.
So which other travel options could soon be lost?
As of September 23, our list of restriction-free holiday possibilities is as follows:
Greece (excluding several islands, while Scots must self-isolate when they visit any part of Greece)
Denmark looks certain to be ditched, while Gibraltar’s rising case rate (62.3 per 100,000) also puts it at risk. If Denmark is ditched that means Greenland is out (hardly a disaster unless you planned to spend your winter chasing polar bears and eating fermented shark).
Which leaves nine options.
Liechtenstein, to be fair, is hardly an option. It has no airport and borders Switzerland and Austria, two countries on Britain’s quarantine naughty step, so to reach it without breaking the rules you’ll need to fly to Germany and drive there, being careful not to stop in Austria and mingle with the infected (fill up the tank in Lindau, not Bregenz). Nobody will bother.
Of more concern to UK travellers is Greece – and it could be the next domino to fall. It is currently denying entry, unless you can present proof of a negative test taken no more than 72 hours before, to arrivals from a clutch of countries with high case rates, including Malta (76.7 per 100,000), Romania (48.3), Albania (35.4), Czech Republic (127.4), Belgium (77.4), Spain (166.4), Netherlands (77.1) and North Macedonia (45.8). It stands to reason that Britain (current case rate 44) will soon be added to this list.
Getting a private test for travel in under 72 hours is usually possible (expect to pay around £150 per person), but now that demand is on the rise UK labs are prioritising clinical and work-related testing over leisure. Clinics are warning that tests for travellers may not be processed in time, a scenario that would leave sunseekers well and truly in the lurch. Few will take the risk.
Slovakia could then be the next destination taken off the menu. It currently requires all arrivals from high-risk countries (including France, Spain, Belgium and Netherlands, but not – yet – the UK) to self-isolate for five days, after which they can take a free test and, if negative, be freed from their solitude). Fine if you’re staying for a few weeks, not if you’re on a mini-break.
So then there would be just six options (well it’s really five because the airport-less enclave of San Marino can’t be reached without first visiting Italy):
Italy (and San Marino)
Of most concern to UK travellers would be Italy. After a jump in cases last month its Covid ship has steadied, and you may well be tempted by a last-minute trip to the Amalfi Coast or an eerily empty Venice. I visited Lake Orta a few weeks ago and can heartily recommend it as an uplifting alternative to being lectured by Whitty and Vallance. Our contacts in Italy, however, believe Britain’s current Covid spike will soon see restrictions on UK arrivals imposed within days.
A full quarantine is possible, but more likely will be a requirement (like Greece) to present proof of a negative test taken no more than 72 hours previously. This rule currently applies to arrivals from Croatia, Greece, Malta and Spain. Given that Spain’s seven-day case rate (166.4 per 100,000) towers above ours, anything more severe would be grossly unfair.
Italy offers another option, however. Arrivals from the same four countries, so long as they arrive at one of several major airports (including Fiumicino and Ciampino airports in Rome, Malpensa and Linate airports in Milan, and Marco Polo airport in Venice), can take a rapid test right there and then. If it comes back negative, hey presto – you’re free to enjoy your holiday. Regardless of our rising case rate, holidays in Italy (and, er, San Marino) look safe.
Germany too, looks likely to be a holiday option for the foreseeable future. It is taking a fairly lenient and highly regional approach when it comes to its list of high-risk destinations – only certain parts of France, for example, are included. Furthermore, arrivals from high-risk regions, as with Italy, can skip the self-isolation if they take a test at the airport (some German states, however, require a second negative test a few days later before granting exemption from quarantine). It makes you wonder why Britain can’t offer something similar.
The other three options – Poland, Turkey and Sweden – could well be the last three countries Britons can visit without any test or any form of restriction. Poland is welcoming all UK, European Union or EFTA nationals – regardless of their nation’s infection rate. All passengers, of all nationalities, who meet Turkish immigration rules are permitted entry to Turkey (they are subject to a medical evaluation for symptoms of coronavirus, however, and may be required to take a test). And Sweden – bless them – has no restrictions on arrivals from any EU or EEA country (including the UK). Come what may, Stockholm, Krakow and Istanbul should still be autumn holiday options.
Unless, that is, the UK decides to further spoil the party by restricting all foreign travel – as it did during the spring lockdown. But Boris wouldn’t foist that on this “freedom-loving” country, surely?