Could Covid-19 test requirements for travel be cut down, or prices reduced? Will the amber plus category expand, or be scrapped? When will the Foreign Office lift its effective ban on international cruises?
Holidaymakers and the travel industry will be looking for answers to these questions and more in the latest “checkpoint” or “strategic review” on the requirements for international travel, due by July 31, under the Global Travel Taskforce recommendations.
We dig into some of the key points that could be up for discussion and what changes travellers and travel companies would welcome in the coming weeks and months.
Cheaper Covid tests or a cap on costs
Passengers are spending £11 million per week on mandatory tests, according to aviation analyst, Alex Macheras.
A list of approved test providers is offered by the Government. The page points out that prices shown are “a guide – the final price you pay could be different to the displayed price” and that prices shown are “for the test provider’s standard service”.
There are currently 404 listed, with the prices listed ranging from £23.99 to £575. As the Gov.uk caveats on pricing suggest, when you click through to some providers’ websites, the costs can increase. Prices for G16 Covid-19 testing, for instance, start from £24.95, according to the Government. Click through and they begin at £50.
Testing requirements may still add hundreds of pounds to the cost of a family holiday. Some 70 per cent of respondents to a survey by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said testing is a significant barrier to travel and 78 per cent thought governments should bear the cost of mandatory testing.
Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general, said: “IATA supports Covid-19 testing as a pathway to reopen borders to international travel. But our support is not unconditional. In addition to being reliable, testing needs to be easily accessible, affordable, and appropriate to the risk level. Too many governments, however, are falling short on some or all of these [...].
“The UK is the poster child for governments failing to adequately manage testing. At best it is expensive, at worst extortionate. And in either case, it is a scandal that the government is charging VAT.”
Indeed, other governments are capping the cost of tests. France has scrapped free tests for non-residents, but prices are limited to €49 (£42) for a PCR test, or €29 (£25) for the rapid-result antigen test. It offers residents tests for free, including tests for travel.
A plan for testing exemptions
Fully vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers are still subject to costly testing rules when returning to the UK from overseas. All arrivals aged 11 or over must secure a negative test result before returning to England. And all aged five or more must take a PCR test on or before day 2 after they arrive (with their arrival day being day zero).
The exemption of fully vaccinated travellers from testing requirements – as is the case in some EU countries – and a plan for ending test requirements for under-18s would be among the hoped for changes.
Clarity on the amber plus list
A new category of travel restrictions was introduced, specifically for France, on July 16. ‘Amber plus’, stuck between amber and red, meant that even fully vaccinated Britons are required to quarantine for up to 10 days and take an additional PCR test on day 8 (self-isolation rules are waived for double-jabbed Britons arriving from amber countries).
France was moved to amber plus due to concerns about the beta variant and "the fact that the vaccine might be slightly less effective against that,” according to George Eustice, the Environment Secretary.
However, it’s thought that quarantine-free travel to France could resume for the fully vaccinated since, as of July 23, the proportion of beta variant cases had fallen by two thirds since the amber plus decision.
Should it be moved back to amber, the amber plus category could be scrapped.
Recognition of jabs received overseas
UK nationals who have been vaccinated in another country will be able to visit without the need to self-isolation from the end of this month, according to Nadim Zahawi, the Vaccines Minister.
“We want to offer the same reciprocity as the 33 countries that recognise our app and that will also happen very soon,” he added.
The latest checkpoint for international travel rules could see more details issued on this point.
ABTA – The Travel Association – wrote to Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, last week. It called on the Government to take a number of actions on international travel.
The proposed actions included: “Progress mutual recognition of vaccination certification systems, especially with key markets such as the EU and US.”
Report on move towards reopening transatlantic travel
President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson last month pledged to restart air travel between the US and UK as soon as possible.
The State Department has since elevated the UK to “do not travel” status amid a surge in cases in the UK.
Following the updated advice from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Britain has been placed at the highest warning level, meaning Americans should not visit except in an emergency.
Just the week before, Mr Biden had suggested that travel between the US and the UK was close to reopening. The 700,000 Britons in the US, American citizens living in the UK and families either side of the Atlantic (not to mention holidaymakers and airlines) will be hoping for an update on how talks have progressed and when the US might drop its tightened advice against travel to the UK.
An end to the ban on international cruises
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) continues to advise against international travel via cruise ship. Domestic cruises resumed in May, yet the last update on international cruises was in April.
A number of cruise lines are resuming sailings in the Caribbean, Europe and elsewhere.
Travellers will struggle to secure insurance for an international cruise while the FCDO still advises against it.
Most cruise lines require passengers to be fully vaccinated as well as to take regular Covid-19 tests. Perhaps these regulations could help to persuade a change in FCDO advice.
Bob Sanguinetti, chief executive of the UK Chamber of Shipping, said: “The cruise industry has done everything that has been asked of it over the past 16 months. There are new protocols in place to ensure the health and wellbeing of passengers and crew [...].
“We know government ministers and officials are meeting to discuss the opening up of the international cruise sector and we are very hopeful that after doing everything the government has asked the correct decision will be taken and the sector will be allowed to start sailing again, not just around the UK, but internationally.”