Pressure is mounting on the government to relax quarantine rules for travellers from the EU and US after a trial to check the vaccination status of passengers.
The results came amid reports that plans to significantly open up international travel are poised to be announced, with ministers set to let people who have been fully vaccinated in the US and EU avoid quarantine if arriving in England from amber list countries.
Nations beyond the EU and US could be allowed quarantine-free inbound travel at a later date.
British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Heathrow ran the test to demonstrate that vaccination status could be checked away from the border and allow safe entry to the UK from countries on the amber list.
The companies said 99% of documents were verified correctly during the 10-day trial, which involved about 250 fully-vaccinated participants from the US, the Caribbean and Europe, travelling to Heathrow.
The vast majority of countries, including the US and many European countries including Spain, Italy and Germany, are on the amber list.
Adults who have been fully vaccinated in the UK, and under-18s, no longer have to self-isolate after visiting any amber country apart from France.
But anyone who was fully vaccinated outside the UK still has to quarantine for ten days on arrival, or pay for the test-to-release scheme to shorten their quarantine.
Data from the trial has been shared with the government ahead of the next traffic light restrictions checkpoint, due by July 31.
Fully vaccinated passengers on selected flights from Los Angeles, New York, Montego Bay and Athens agreed to share their vaccination status at their departure airport in the trail, showing the industry is ready to rapidly adapt and run further vaccination checks, to support a safe reopening of the skies at scale.
The aviation partners said the trial shows industry readiness for amber rules for fully vaccinated travellers, with no reason to delay an expansion to US and EU citizens.
The exemption from self-isolation for fully jabbed arrivals from amber countries is currently limited to vaccines administered by UK authorities.
As a result, the UK is falling behind the EU and hindering its own economic recovery, with travellers from its largest trading partners unable to avoid self-isolation even if they’re fully vaccinated
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: “The vaccine has been a miracle of science, and these trials have shown that we can allow fully vaccinated passengers from the EU and US to visit the UK without quarantine. There is now no reason to delay with rolling out the solution from 31 July.”
BA chairman and chief executive Sean Doyle said: “We are confident that this proving trial provides the evidence the government needs to allow fully vaccinated customers from low-risk countries to enter the UK, knowing it’s possible to do so smoothly and safely.
“The UK needs to safely re-open its borders as soon as possible to ensure loved ones can reunite, business can thrive and Global Britain is able to take advantage of the UK’s world-leading vaccination programme.”
His Virgin Atlantic counterpart Shai Weiss said: “The UK is already falling behind the 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.
“We urge the UK government to move the US to the UK’s green list and for the exemption from self-isolation to be extended to all fully vaccinated passengers with WHO-recognised vaccines, beginning with the US and EU.
“Our proof-of-concept trial demonstrates our readiness as an industry to rapidly operationalise an expanded amber policy for fully vaccinated travellers, and work with government and authorities to ensure it is smoothly implemented at pace, supporting the reopening of the transatlantic corridor.”
Professor Denis Kinane, founding scientist at Cignpost ExpressTest, which provides testing facilities at Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham and Edinburgh airports, said: “It would be sensible at this point in the pandemic to relax quarantine rules for those travelling from amber list countries. Those vaccinated here and abroad are a lower risk to themselves and their families so allowing them to travel here without quarantining is entirely justifiable.
“However, vaccinated individuals can still catch the virus and be a transmission risk. So, as we relax this quarantine restriction, it is also important to continue testing before and after arrival.
“Because lateral flow tests are significantly less reliable than the gold standard PCR tests, we believe the government should require anyone travelling here to have a PCR test before they board a plane and then again on arrival.
“The single biggest threat to the country getting back to normal is if a new, more infectious Covid variant was to be brought into the country. The Delta variant was allowed to enter and spread, upsetting the government’s unlocking timetable. We must do all we can to avoid a repetition with a new Covid strain.”