Holidays in limbo: When will we get the green light for travel to Greece, Spain and Portugal?

·7-min read
beach, corfu, greece - Getty
beach, corfu, greece - Getty

The Government has completed the second review of its traffic light system as promised, but not with the news most British holidaymakers were waiting for.

Malta is the only country to go green from the amber list, meaning UK travellers can now visit without the need to quarantine on return. Holiday searches have, accordingly, shot up, says Travel Supermarket.

Another 13 destinations – including the islands Majorca, Ibiza and Madeira – will be opened up, allowing holidaymakers to travel to them from 4am on Wednesday without having to quarantine on their return.

But they have each been added to a newly-created 'green watchlist', meaning they are "most at risk" of suddenly turning amber.

While this was cause for mild optimism (many commentators expected no new green additions), it still leaves much of Europe off the travel map, including British favourites such as Greece, mainland Spain and Italy.

So where does that leave your summer holiday plans? Below we attempted to answer the key questions surrounding the key destinations.

What does yesterday’s announcement mean for our holidays to top destinations?

It means they are still off the cards until at least the next review. It is highly unlikely Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will add any destinations, such as the Spanish mainland or France, to the green list in between reviews.

Shapps’ rhetoric around the green watchlist suggests one-way movement to amber is the most likely outcome, rather than turning green proper.

So Spain, the most popular holiday destination for Britons before the pandemic, Portugal, France, Italy, Greece and other countries around the world, including the US, will likely not move onto the green list until July, by which point the UK and EU might have agreed an easing of restrictions for the double-vaccinated (more on that later).

Frustratingly, despite having one of the most advanced vaccine drives in the world, the UK now also has one of the highest infection rates in Europe, thanks to the Government’s delay on stopping flights from India, thus allowing the spread of the Delta variant and prompting Europe to consider additional measures on British holidaymakers.

To give you a bearing on where our neighbours are at with case rates and vaccination progress, the UK’s seven-day rolling average infection rate is 125 per 100,000 and it has vaccinated 83 per cent of the population with a first dose: Spain is 52 and 59 per cent, respectively, Italy is 9.8 and 62 per cent, and France is 22.7 and 59 per cent.

Should I book now, or wait?

In terms of your holiday, what does this mean? Well, you are free to book trips to any destination on the green list and its watchlist cousin, and will not have to quarantine on return. However, there is a greater chance that you will be given little notice of any changes should you be visiting a watchlist destination, such as Majorca. If it crosses over to amber while you are still abroad then you will be required to quarantine for up to 10 days on return.

Malta’s place on the green list proper means the Government should keep travellers more notice before it turns amber. For Portugal, however, when it moved from green to amber, this was only several days.

Speaking to Sky News on Friday morning Mr Shapps explained the “watchlist” definition: “You can go and it is treated like a green list country, but we are just being completely open with the data.” He warned the Government might “respond quickly” to make changes to the list.

Can I still visit amber list countries?

Yes, if the Foreign Office (FCDO) does not advise against travel there. And you must be prepared to quarantine for up to 10 days on return and pay for your set of amber tests.

The Government has repeated warnings that the amber list is not for holidays, but tour operators have chosen to follow the guidance of the FCDO instead and are still running holidays to places, such as Corfu, Rhodes and Anguilla, on the basis that customers are aware of the quarantine rules.

I have a holiday booked at the beginning of July, what should I do?

If your holiday is booked to a green list destination it has every chance of staying green until then. If your holiday is booked to an amber destination it is unlikely to turn green before then. You should talk to your airline or tour operator about your options, with most allowing amendments free of charge.

An amber list holiday with a tour operator will only go ahead if the Foreign Office does not advise against travel to the destination. If the FCDO does advise against travel then the trip will be cancelled and you will be due a refund by law.

Given the uncertainty it is worth contacting your tour operator, airline, accommodation and insurer to ensure all is going ahead as expected.

When is the next green list update?'

The Government is updating the lists every three weeks, with the next due July 15.

When will we hear more about the double-vax quarantine waiver?

Those who have received both doses of their Covid vaccine will supposedly be able to travel back from amber destinations without the need to self-isolate, but this will be “later in the summer,” apparently.

Boris Johnson on Thursday said: “I think that the real opportunity we all have now is to open up travel through the double jab.”

But neither he nor Shapps could back it up with any firm dates.

algarve, portugal - Getty
algarve, portugal - Getty

Ministers are proposing that double-jabbed Britons will still have to take a pre-departure test as well as paying for a PCR test on day two after their arrival back in the UK in return for not having to quarantine ten days at home.

The tests will be required not just to travel from amber list countries, but also for holidays in green list destinations as part of the Government’s efforts to prevent potential new variants from entering the UK that could undermine the current vaccine drive.

Speaking on Friday morning Shapps said the scrapping of quarantine rules for amber destinations for double-jabbed Britons would be a “phased approach”.

He said: “There are quite a lot of things we need to sort out before we can do that.

“What would happen with children, for example? The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has yet to opine on whether children should be able to get vaccines or not.

“What happens because not everyone can get a vaccine? How do you treat people who didn't get their vaccine in the UK and therefore don't have evidence of it?

“So there are a lot of things we are working through still and so I'll come back next month and say more.”

Mr Shapps added that he will not be making any further announcement before July 19.

As has been the case with most of the Government’s travel policy, we will likely hear a lot about the double-vaccination easing before there is any sort of solid confirmation. It has been suggested the change will be in place by the beginning of August.

What if I haven’t been double-vaxxed by August?

Well, you would likely not be eligible for quarantine-free travel to amber list countries. As it stands 31.5 million people have had two doses. By August we will be closer to immunising the entire adult population, though not all will have received their full course.

And as Shapps says, it is not clear whether the under-18s will be required to have had two jabs to fit the criteria.

Once the Government confirms its plans for vaccinated travel, tour operators such as Tui will seek to clarify quickly any requirements for children or families travelling, but it is not expected to be a hurdle.

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