The big reveal has come and gone: overseas holidays are back on from May 17. Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, has delivered, as promised on April 9, a ‘traffic light’ system. This is the first and most significant step towards the resumption of travel. From next Monday, we’re no longer banned from going abroad without a “valid” reason.
Yet, the small fizz of excitement has settled, leaving behind plenty of concerns. The initial ‘green list’ is very meagre, and beyond the green, amber and red ratings, there was little clarity for Britons who wish to take a foreign trip this summer.
Here, we outline some of the most pressing queries for holidaymakers, and try to answer them as best we can.
When will tests be made cheaper for all?
Everyone will need a negative Covid-19 test result to return to England, a current rule that is to remain in place after May 17. Even those coming back from green list destinations will need to take another PCR test on or before the second day of their return. Many have commented on the fact that PCR testing costs will price some out of foreign holidays, particularly those travelling with teenagers. Some testing providers have cut costs following Telegraph reporting of firms profiteering from PCR test requirements. The tour operator TUI has negotiated the best deal to date: a £20 test package for green list countries.
Yet holidaymakers who choose to travel independently, or with the smaller operators who cannot negotiate as attractive discounts as TUI, still have to pick from the Government’s approved providers. The prices are coming down, but even at £45 – the cheapest test available without booking through an operator – it still adds £180 to the cost of a holiday a family of four. The Department for Transport confirmed with Telegraph Travel that anyone over the age of five will be subject to any testing rules.
Mr Shapps is shortly expected to unveil an updated Government website making it easier for travellers to find the cheapest deals. Yet some Britons will be heading off on foreign holidays from next week and it will require some research to find a cheaper day-two test.
And that’s before you book a test in your holiday destination before returning to England. This can be a cheaper antigen test, but must still meet the UK Government’s standards. Starting at around £20 a test, this will add another £80 onto the cost of a family holiday. Thankfully, many countries now have such facilities in place in, or near, airports.
Why did Grant Shapps suggest we could use lateral flow tests?
And that brings us to Mr Shapps suggestion that holidaymakers would be able to “bring a bottle” – a lateral flow test tube that is – on overseas trips. Yet no holiday testing package was revealed in his podium appearance, nor in the accompanying Gov.uk publications. Given that Britons will have to show a negative test result before coming home, the self-administered tests don’t offer an official text or email result (or appear to meet the standards required), the use of free Government-provided tests is ruled out – for now.
A spokesperson for the DfT told Telegraph Travel: “Testing remains an essential part of protecting public health, and so it’s vital that pre-departure tests [for return to England] meet the criteria we’ve set to prevent the spread of coronavirus and its variants.”
What will Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’s approach be?
Scotland has will allow its citizens to travel to 12 destinations from May in a similar system to the English traffic light one, while Wales and Northern Ireland have yet to confirm their own 'green lists' (but they do have 'amber' lists in place, with quarantine restrictions).
When will test restrictions be waived for vaccinated travellers?
This was another question that was somewhat batted away last week, with Mr Shapps deferring to Dr Jenny Harries, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, for an answer. Dr Harries referred to positive data on the effectiveness of vaccines against variants. “We’re very confident that for most variants out there at the moment, the vaccines that we’re using will prevent [infection], protect the individual from serious disease, and from hospitalisation”. She added: “We think, also, that there is a degree of effectiveness in vaccine transmission”.
Yet there was no clear answer as to when data would be considered sufficient to waive testing, quarantine or isolation requirements for vaccinated travellers arriving in England.
Inoculated holidaymakers did receive some good news: by May 17 the NHS app should allow people to show that they’ve had both jabs. And immunised travellers without the app will be able to request an NHS letter. As long as other countries accept these as proof, this will start to cut outwards testing costs for people who’ve been vaccinated.
What does the amber category mean for consumer rights?
Again, this is unclear. More flexible operators should offer options to change or cancel breaks when a destination turns from green to amber. Mr Shapps said that Britons should not be travelling to amber list countries.
If the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advises against all but essential travel to your destination, then good operators should offer a refund. There are operators who have refused to do so, however.
On top of this, FCDO advice does not neatly match up with the green and amber lists. A handful of Greek islands were declared safe to travel to by the FCDO ahead of the May 7 announcement, for example, yet they are on the amber list with all the other islands and mainland Greece.
When will we be able to go to the US?
Excitement picked up in the run-up to Friday afternoon: the US would be “green” some industry commentators declared. They were proved wrong, despite the US and the UK having similarly speedy vaccine roll outs. Mr Shapps has said he is in discussions with Pete Buttigieg, the US Secretary for Transport. Yet the UK remains in the “do not travel” category under US restrictions.
Will islands destinations be rated separately from their mainland countries?
This policy was adopted in 2020 for Spanish and Greek Islands, for example, under the travel corridor scheme. And Mr Shapps had previously suggested that this would be picked up again for the traffic light ratings. However, he did not mention this in the announcement on May 7.
Which destinations will be added to the ‘green list’ next?
Vaccination roll outs and falling infection rates in some European holiday favourites could tip them into green ahead of the June 7 review. Yet crunching the data cannot give a definite answer – as shown by the exclusion of Malta and the US in this round. Those who have been hoping for an unseasonal Caribbean trip – after all, Caribbean countries were some of the last destinations on offer to Britons last winter – might also wonder when the islands will get a look in. Even the region’s British Overseas Territories missed out this time.
When will the UK Government end Covid-related travel restrictions?
There’s no end date, as it stands. There will be “check points” to review the travel measures, the first of which will be at the end of June. Much of the world is still far behind the UK in the vaccination race. The red list is continuing to grow. And the latest variant of concern in India is still relatively fresh. Even as restrictions ease in UK nation, and we move little closer to domestic normality, the Government’s cautious approach means it is unlikely to give an answer to this in the coming months.