Don’t book foreign summer holidays yet, warns Boris Johnson

Britons should not book summer holidays yet as the ban on foreign travel may not be lifted on May 17 because of the risk of importing Covid variants, Boris Johnson has warned.

His review of global travel, published on Monday, said it was hoped it would be possible for people to take a summer holiday overseas this year but warned that it was “still too soon to know what is possible”.

The reopening of foreign travel could be delayed beyond the middle of May.

The review confirmed that the ban, when lifted, will be replaced by a traffic light system in which quarantine at home will be scrapped for “green” countries and replaced by tests that holidaymakers will have to pay for pre-departure and on arrival back in the UK. Quarantine remains for “amber” and “red” countries.

Mr Johnson’s roadmap out of restrictions originally proposed that foreign travel could restart from May 17 “at the earliest” – but since then much of Europe has been plunged into a third wave of the Covid pandemic, accompanied by a surge in Covid variants and low vaccination rates.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, the Prime Minister said he was hopeful that “we can get going from May 17”, but he cautioned: “I don’t want to give hostages to fortune or to underestimate the difficulties that we are seeing in some of the destination countries that people might want to go to.”

His review document warned: “For the moment, the Government advises people not to book summer holidays abroad until the picture is clearer. Given the state of the pandemic abroad, and the progress of vaccination programmes in other countries, we are not yet in a position to confirm that non-essential international travel can resume from [May 17].

“Taking into account the latest situation with variants and the evidence about the efficacy of vaccines against them, we will confirm in advance whether non-essential international travel can resume on May 17, or whether we will need to wait longer before lifting the outbound travel restriction.”

The ban on non-essential foreign travel will be replaced by a risk-based traffic light system, with holidaymakers returning from “green” countries having “pre-departure and post-arrival tests” instead of quarantine.

Whether a country’s risk is rated “red”, “amber” or “green” will depend on the proportion of its population that has been vaccinated, its infection rates, the prevalence of variants of concern and its capacity to sequence their genomes.

The document said it was too early to say which countries would be on the “green list”, although ministers expect a limited number at the start.

Low vaccination rates in Europe suggest traditional holiday countries such as France, Italy, Greece, Spain and Croatia are unlikely to be on that first list, according to a new analysis by travel consultancy The PC Agency. 

Countries such as Portugal, Israel, UAE, Gibraltar, USA, Canada and Morocco could, however, be on the cards.

The global travel taskforce, chaired by Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, will publish details of the traffic light system later this week.

It is anticipated that those travelling from “green countries” will have to pay for a PCR test pre-departure, then probably a cheaper lateral flow test on or after arrival in the UK. For a family of four with children over 11, that could add at least £400 to the cost of a holiday.

Travellers from “amber” countries will be required to have a pre-departure test and then quarantine at home on arrival for up to 10 days. They will have to take a PCR test on days two and eight but could be released after the fifth day if they test negative.

Hotel quarantine of up to 11 days will continue for any arrivals from “red list” countries at a cost of £1,750 per person, with tests on days two and eight.

The review raises the prospect, however, that fully-vaccinated travellers could face fewer tests and sidestep quarantine, as revealed by The Telegraph on Friday.

“The vaccination programme could offer a more stable route out of the need for such restrictions – provided we see sufficient efficacy against any variants of concern,” said the document. 

It indicated that vaccine passports could “facilitate” foreign travel, with negotiations under way with countries to agree “mutual recognition” of such certificates.

Mr Johnson told journalists: “What is true is that the idea of vaccine status being useful for international travel is something that all countries are looking at. I do think that’s going to be part of the way that people deal with that.”

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