The easing of quarantine restrictions for fully-jabbed travellers arriving from the US and EU was confirmed on Wednesday afternoon, along with the lifting of a ban on international cruises from England.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps made the announcement on Twitter, saying: “We’re helping reunite people living in the US and European countries with their family and friends in the UK.
“From 2nd August at 4am people from these countries will be able to come to the England from an amber country without having to quarantine if they’re fully vaxxed.
“We’re also able to confirm the restart of international cruises and flexible testing programmes to help key workers and drive our economic recovery.”
The Department for Transport outlined more details about the changes, saying: “The UK government has today (28 July 2021) announced that passengers arriving from amber countries who have been fully vaccinated in Europe (EU Member States, European Free Trade Association countries and the European microstate countries of Andorra, Monaco and Vatican City) and the USA will not have to quarantine when entering England, as part of a range of new measures designed to continue to drive forward the reopening of international travel, set out as part of the second Global Travel Taskforce checkpoint review.”
While the easing of restrictions for US travellers is welcome news for the industry, the decision is unilateral as the US reaffirmed it remains closed to international visitors on Monday.
The rules for European countries also apply only to those on the government’s amber list, meaning those returning from “amber-plus” France would still be required to self-isolate at home for 10 days and take two PCR tests.
Industry leaders swiftly welcomed the news but called for further easing of restrictions and support for the sector.
An Abta spokesperson hailed the announcements about cruising and quarantine but cautioned: “The industry is not out of the woods and there is more that needs to be done to support travel businesses through to recovery.”
The association said the sector needs ongoing furlough and income support schemes, full business rates relief, and consideration of tailored grants schemes; plus cheaper Covid tests and more destinations added to the green list.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: “The government has made the right decision to safely further reopen international travel. We will now work with colleagues in the industry to boost UK trade, reunite family and friends, and generate billions in new tourist income.”
Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, said: “This is a significant and welcome step forward that will be a boost to airports, our inbound visitor economy and the many families who will be able to reunite after a long and difficult period.
“However, there remain considerable challenges for our airports and aviation sector and our road to recovery remains long. We urge the government to work with industry to continue opening up travel by putting more countries on the green list, reduce the cost of testing and provide the much-needed financial support for the difficult months ahead.
“Our airports continue to be hit by the impacts of the pandemic and held back by an overly cautious approach to international travel. Without sector specific financial support our national recovery will be stalled and thousands of jobs put at risk.”
Shai Weiss, chief executive at Virgin Atlantic, said: “We stand ready to work with government to ensure new rules are smoothly implemented at pace, supporting the reopening of the transatlantic corridor.
“Recent proof-of-concept trial between Virgin Atlantic, Heathrow and British Airways has demonstrated our readiness to rapidly operationalise an expanded Amber policy, with 99% of customers’ vaccine credentials authenticated at the point of departure.
“We now urge UK government to go further and move the US to the UK’s ‘green list’ and for the Biden administration to repeal the 212F proclamation for UK travellers.
“The UK is already falling behind US and EU and a continued overly cautious approach towards international travel will further impact economic recovery and the 500,000 UK jobs that are at stake.”
Joss Croft, chief executive of inbound tourism body UKinbound, said the move was a “fantastic step forward that will allow the £28 billion inbound tourism sector, which supports over 500,000 jobs across the UK, to finally restart”.
However he warned inbound tourism businesses still face “substantial barriers” to recovery, warning: “Even with reciprocity, the valuable 2021 summer season is all but lost for inbound tourism, meaning thousands of businesses and jobs will continue to be at risk over winter.
“There is a real fear that government will view today as job done, the industry can trade again and therefore no further support is required. There are still significant restrictions at our borders.
“This leaves our sector in desperate need of targeted support, to ensure businesses and skilled jobs survive into 2022, when this industry will be able to significantly aid the country’s economic recovery.”
Labour earlier said the plans to open up were “reckless”, but British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Heathrow put forward data from a trial which they said showed it would be safe to open further.
Sir Roger Gale, president of the all-party parliamentary group on general aviation, told the Radio 4’s The World at One that issues around verification of vaccination status were “not ideal”. But he said the move to ease restrictions was essential in order to save the travel industry.