The government confirmed the relaxation of quarantine restrictions to a “Covid travel list” of countries considered “low-risk” on Friday night but gave few details, saying a list of destinations would be published next week.
Downing Street insisted the relaxation of 14-day self-isolation requirements was “based on robust public health criteria” and said: “We will continue to keep these [quarantine] measures in place for international arrivals from countries not yet deemed safe.”
Countries will be classified as green, amber or red depending on the risk assessment and arrivals from those in the green and amber categories will be exempt from quarantine.
However, the government will still require “all passengers entering the UK to supply contact information”.
In a statement, Downing Street said: “This policy is a crucial part of our plan to prevent a second wave of coronavirus infections in the UK and will continue to be so.”
It confirmed the ‘Covid travel list’ “will make it easier for people to travel to those countries by removing the requirement to self-isolate for 14 days on their return”.
But it warned: “We will not hesitate to put on the brakes if any risks re-emerge in the UK or within those countries.”
The government said: “The full list of low-risk countries in the green and amber categories will be published next week and it is expected travel will be able to resume with countries on our Covid travel list the following week.”
The introduction of ‘travel corridors’ to EU countries had been widely expected as the government completed a review – promised by June 29 – of quarantine measures introduced on June 8.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps confirmed to MPs this week that details would be announced in Parliament on Monday.
In its statement on Friday, the government said: “This cautious change will allow those who need to travel for work to do so without the need to self-isolate on their return, as well as those who may want to holiday abroad this summer.
“It also provides a vital lifeline for UK travel operators and those whose jobs rely on the travel industry.”
The recently set-up Joint Biosecurity Centre at the Department for Health and Social Care is responsible for “the categorisation of countries deemed safe for people to enter the UK from” in consultation with Public Health England.
The government insisted the list of countries would be based on “strict public health criteria”.
It explained: “Countries have been classified as green, amber and red depending on their risk assessment, informed by factors including the prevalence of coronavirus within the country, our confidence in the reliability of their data and crucially the trajectory of the disease in the country.
“Low-risk countries in the green and amber categories will be exempt from public health measures at the border.”
However, the government said: “A strict handbrake mechanism will be in place so that if an outbreak occurs in a country – even within a particular part of the country – or if we have concerns about increasing numbers of cases in an individual country, their risk category will change and we will immediately reintroduce self-isolation requirements.”
It added: “We will be able to re-impose public health measures at borders for individual countries where the risk changes immediately.”
The statement noted all passengers at airports and ports and on aircraft, ferries and Eurotunnel will be required by law to wear face coverings.
It said the government expects to hold discussions with countries including France, Greece and Spain on the arrangements “over the coming days”.
While destinations are to be confirmed next week, reports suggest France, Greece, Spain, Italy, Germany and Croatia will be on an initial list, while Portugal – which has had a recent Covid-19 spike – will be left off.
A government spokesperson said: “Our public health measures at the border were put in place to manage the risk of imported cases and help prevent a second wave of the virus, and will continue to support our fight against coronavirus.
“Our new risk-assessment system will enable us to carefully open a number of safe travel routes around the word, giving people the opportunity for a summer holiday abroad and boosting the UK economy through tourism.
“But we will not hesitate to put on the brakes if any risks re-emerge.”
Industry bodies welcomed the announcement, but urged that Foreign Office advice against travel be changed in line with the ‘Covid travel list’.
Aviation and industry groups were left frustrated by the lack of government information in advance of the announcement.
One airline source said on Friday: “We’ve not heard anything. It’s appalling. We’re working on a Monday announcement for a July 4 implementation, but we have no confirmation.
“We will be very disappointed if the media are given a pre-briefing and the industry is not.”
The source added: “The lack of certainty has caused a lot of problems. Working to a date and to some criteria is the absolute priority.
“A lot of airlines have taken a punt and taken decisions anyway. They just could not wait. But it is no way to do things.”
Abta welcomed Friday night’s announcement, with a spokesperson saying: “It’s encouraging that passengers arriving from certain destinations will not be required to quarantine.
“Confirmation of the list of countries is eagerly anticipated by the travel industry and should encourage customers to book.”
However, Abta warned: “The blanket Foreign Office [FCO] advice against all but essential travel is still a major impediment to travel. We look forward to the government adopting a similar risk-based approach to that advice.”
Paul Charles, spokesman of the Quash Quarantine Group of travel and hospitality businesses founded by Red Savannah chief executive George Morgan-Grenville, said: “We welcome the cautious approach by the government to opening up tourism again this summer.
“We still need urgent visibility on the exact countries to be included within the traffic light system, as well as confirmation that FCO advice will be amended.
“The travel sector is flying through fog and desperately trying to plan for the summer and protect as many jobs as possible.
“A detailed road map on how corridors will open up is vital and can’t keep being kicked into the long grass.”
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of The Advantage Travel Partnership, welcomed the news – and backed calls for FCO advice to be amended to validate insurance.
She said: “The establishment of the traffic light system is an important step in helping to kick-start the travel industry which has suffered huge losses since the lock down period began.
“Destinations such as Spain, Greece, France and Italy are some of our most popular destinations and to establish these bilateral agreements now will mean travel agents can start to try and salvage the busiest time of the year. We sent our wish list to the government some weeks ago and it’s gratifying to see they are now listening to the industry.
Travel agencies are open up and down the country now and agents are ready to inform and inspire clients and ultimately send the British public on much a needed and deserved holiday this year.”
Geoffrey Kent, founder and co-chairman of tour operator Abercrombie & Kent, said: “Air bridges are the lifeline the UK economy needs right now. While not only injecting cash into a ravaged travel industry, it’s an essential step in lifting the mood of the nation.”
Which? travel editor Rory Boland said: “This is good news for many UK holidaymakers hoping to get away this summer, as long as the FCO [Foreign Office] also relaxes its advice against non-essential travel to the selected countries. Crucially this would mean that upcoming package holidays for those destinations can go ahead.
“Airlines and tour operators should offer free rebooking for people who cannot travel, whether that be due to health risks or because they are traveling to countries where the coronavirus risk is still deemed to be too high.”