Double-vaccinated Britons can swerve quarantine when they arrive from amber-listed countries from 19 July, the government has confirmed.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps announced the forthcoming rule changes on Thursday after the prime minister confirmed on Monday that the government would “work with the travel industry towards removing the need for fully vaccinated arrivals to isolate on return from an amber country”.
The announcement comes as every adult in the UK can now receive their second dose of a coronavirus vaccine eight weeks after their first jab as the government races to accelerate the vaccine rollout programme.
By halving the gap between jabs, all adults should have had the chance to receive both doses of a Covid vaccine by mid-September, health secretary Sajid Javid said earlier this week.
From 19 July – when all remaining Covid restrictions will be dropped in England – Britons who received their second dose two weeks before will no longer have to quarantine when arriving from amber countries.
Currently all arrivals from amber countries have to self-isolate for 10 days and take two post-arrival PCR tests, regardless of vaccination status. From red list countries, arrivals must go into 11 nights of hotel quarantine at their expense.
The change will allow fully vaccinated people to travel quarantine-free to most of mainland Europe, including countries such as France, Spain and Portugal. Only 27 territories are on the UK’s green list, permitting quarantine-free travel.
Having said that, some amber list countries have their own entry requirements for Britons.
Amber arrivals will still need to take a pre-departure test three days before they go and a PCR test on or before day two – but not on day eight.
The change in plans will only apply in England, as the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will continue to make their own decisions on international arrival procedures.
End of test and trace self-isolation
People who come into contact with a positive case of coronavirus will be exempt from quarantining at home for up to 10 days from 16 August.
Under the existing rules, if a person is pinged by the NHS test and trace app, or called by contact tracers after coming into contact with a positive case, they must isolate at home for a period of up to 10 days.
But under new rules, people who have been fully vaccinated will no longer have to self-isolate for the standard 10 days after coming into contact with a positive coronavirus case. They will be advised to take a Covid test, but it will not be mandatory. If they test positive they will have to isolate.
What protection does a second Covid dose offer?
Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca jabs provide strong protection against hospitalisation from the Delta variant of Covid-19, first identified in India and now the dominant strain across the UK.
One dose of the Pfizer vaccine provides 36 per cent protection against symptomatic Covid-19 from the Delta variant. This increases to 79 per cent two weeks after a second jab.
Similarly, one single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine provides limited protection against the Delta variant, but increases to 60 per cent two weeks after a second jab.
In terms of hospitalisations, the Pfizer vaccine has been shown to be 96 per cent effective against hospitalisation after 2 doses while the Oxford vaccine is 92 per cent effective against hospitalisation after 2 doses.
Why has the guidance changed?
Early JCVI guidance recommended a 12-week gap, which was introduced at the beginning of the rollout when supplies were short and the emphasis was on administering as many first jabs as possible to get vaccine coverage up quickly.
Research also later confirmed that a longer interval between the first and second dose triggers a marginally superior immune response, although the original clinical trials conducted into the UK’s approved vaccines showed that it was safe and effective to fully immunise people over a three to four-week period.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that second doses should be given no earlier than eight weeks after a first jab, citing evidence which shows that the longer interval provides higher levels of protection than the usual three-week gap.
But confronted with the highly transmissible Delta variant, the imminent lifting of most Covid restrictions and a healthy-looking stockpile of supplies, many GP-run centres and large-scale vaccination sites have defied the JCVI orders, offering early second doses to young people to ensure their stock does not go to waste.
In June, the Science Museum in London was slapped down by NHS officials after offering out second Pfizer jabs to anyone who had received their first dose more than 21 days ago. Wembley Stadium was also told to stop after announcing that it was providing a similar service.
How can I change my appointment?
All adults can now book or reschedule their vaccination appointments on the NHS website. To change your second jab slot, enter your NHS number, date of birth and booking reference number.
The system will offer to show you local appointment availability, so you are able to check what slots there are before cancelling. Select “check availability before cancelling” to see what available slots there are.
You can also book or change your appointment by ringing 119.
All adults can also get a second vaccination at walk-in centres across the country, provided they have received their first jab eight weeks before they turn up to the centre.
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