In potentially welcome news for holidaymakers and the travel industry, the government is reportedly considering scrapping the quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated arrivals from amber list countries.
The move, confirmed by the health secretary, would mean tourists and business travellers could visit amber destinations without having to self-isolate for 10 days on their return to the UK.
Matt Hancock said he is “in favour of moving forward in this area” and replacing quarantine with daily testing.
“This hasn’t been clinically advised yet - we’re working on it,” he told SkyNews.
Boris Johnson also said there was a “real opportunity to open up travel” this summer for those who have two doses of the coronavirus jab.
Asked about Angela Merkel saying the Delta variant meant there should be more restrictions on British travellers going abroad, the Prime Minister said: “I think that the real opportunity we all have now is to open up travel through the double jab.
“If you look at it we’ve got more than 60 per cent of our population have now had two jabs, I think 83 per cent have had one jab, we’re really getting through it now.
“The crucial thing is come forward and get your second jab.”
On a visit to New Normandy Barracks in Aldershot on 24 June, he said: “I’m not going to claim that this summer, for travel purposes, is going to be like any other summer. I don’t want to cast a pall over things but, as I said the other day, it will be different.”
What could this relaxation of restrictions mean for you summer holiday? Here’s what we know so far.
What are the current rules for vaccinated travellers entering the UK?
Currently, vaccination status has no bearing on the rules for inbound travellers arriving in the UK.
The government introduced a “traffic light” system for travel in May, classifying countries as red, amber or green according to risk of coronavirus reimportation, with restrictions of varying severity to match.
The vast majority of the world’s countries have been put in the amber category, including the US and most of Europe, necessitating a total of three Covid tests for travellers entering the UK, plus a 10-day quarantine at home.
Countries classified as green have the lightest measures for inbound passengers – requiring one pre-departure and one post arrival Covid test with no quarantine – but only 11 destinations, none of which are mainstream tourism spots, are currently on the list.
Meanwhile, 50 destinations have been put on the “red list” – only British residents are allowed into the UK from these countries, and they must pre-book an 11-night hotel quarantine package prior to arrival, at a cost of £1,750 per solo traveller.
The cost includes private transfers to a government-mandated hotel, full-board accommodation and two Covid PCR tests to be taken on days two and eight of quarantine.
What might be changing?
Government ministers are said to be mulling a change in the rules for fully vaccinated travellers.
Though nothing has been said about red list requirements, holidaymakers returning to the UK from amber list countries would no longer be subject to quarantine.
If implemented, the change could help facilitate holidays to Spain, Greece, Italy and other popular tourist destinations, minus the onerous restrictions upon return to the UK.
Matt Hancock has confirmed the government are “working on” plans. Speaking on LBC radio, Mr Hancock said the government is being “cautious about international travel” in order to protect the progress made at home.
But he added: “Having said that, the whole point of the vaccine programme is to be able to remove restrictions, and for people to be able to be kept safe by the vaccine, rather than by these rules.”
Quarantine for amber list returnees would likely be swapped for daily testing.
Various countries have already scrapped quarantine, and in some cases even testing requirements, for fully vaccinated visitors.
For example, Brits travelling to Greece need not present a pre-departure test if they can show proof of full vaccination.
When could this change come into effect?
The government has been tight-lipped on the subject, with a spokesperson merely confirming that “we have commenced work to consider the role of vaccinations in shaping a different set of health and testing measures for inbound travel.”
However, a government source told The Times the move would likely come into effect in August, with many unofficial sources seeming to back up this assertion.
Confirmation is expected to be announced on Thursday 24 June as part of the latest Department for Transport review of international travel.
However, as has been noted after the previous traffic light review flew in the face of all predictions, there are no guarantees when it comes to the government’s stance on international travel.
Would vaccinated travellers still need to be tested?
Almost certainly yes, although there are no concrete details as yet. At present, all travellers departing for the UK must present a negative Covid test (PCR/rapid antigen/lateral flow) prior to departure.
Green list arrivals then need only take one PCR test within two days of arrival, while amber and red list travellers need to take a package of two PCR tests on days two and eight of self-isolation.
It could be that vaccinated arrivals from amber list countries still have to take two tests, or potentially take daily tests for a set length of time.
What does the travel industry say?
Some travel companies are already responding positively to the potential relaxation of the rules.
Steve Heapy, CEO of Jet2.com and Jet2holidays said: “This is very welcome news and should represent a meaningful restart to international travel in the very near future. The vaccination programme was designed to protect people from coronavirus so that they can enjoy their freedoms once again.
“If people have received two doses of the vaccine and are still not allowed to travel overseas to enjoy their holidays, what is the purpose of the vaccination programme? The rollout has been a huge success, so it is time for us all to enjoy the benefits of that.”
However, Andrew Flintham, managing director of Tui, claimed Whitehall “does not understand” how the travel sector works.
He told a conference organised by travel trade association Abta it is “inexplicable” that destinations such as Malta, the Greek islands and the Balearic islands are on the amber list.
Mr Flintham warned that many travel companies are “perilously close to failing”, adding that “every week that goes by just pushes those people closer to that very sad outcome”.