British tourists are facing the threat of quarantine for popular European destinations, even as Boris Johnson holds out the hope of easier travel this summer for those with two jabs.
EU leaders agreed to step up coordination of travel restrictions, after German chancellor Angela Merkel warned them at a Brussels summit on Thursday that the continent was “on thin ice” in its battle to keep out the Delta variant of Covid-19.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said it was hoped to allow Britons who had received both vaccinations to skip quarantine and reduce testing on arrival from amber list countries – which includes most of Europe.
But Mr Shapps said no decision would be taken until next month and the change would be implemented “later in the summer”, in a strong indication that the relaxation will come later than the expected removal of other Covid restrictions on 19 July.
However, the CBI warned that the limited opening-up “won’t be enough to salvage the summer season for the international travel sector”.
With the EU mulling a blanket two-week quarantine for UK travellers, France and Portugal indicated that they are ready to consider tightening restrictions, declaring their support for Ms Merkel’s call for closer coordination.
President Emmanuel Macron said it was necessary for all of Europe to be “vigilant” against the mutation, which makes up the majority of cases in the UK but has so far established only a relatively limited presence on the continent.
New EU-wide rules being introduced next week will allow vaccinated people to move freely within the Schengen area, which covers most of continental Europe.
But individual countries are able to set their own tougher rules and several, including Germany, Italy and Poland, are introducing 14-day quarantine for the British.
At the summit, the 27 EU leaders committed to being “vigilant and coordinated with regard to developments, particularly the emergence and spread of variants”.
While no change in rules was agreed, the statement potentially paves the way for further countries to fall in behind Berlin’s tough line.
Ms Merkel noted that the number of Covid-19 cases in the EU continues to decline, while vaccination rates climb.
But she added: “Even though there is reason to be hopeful, the pandemic isn’t over – in particular in the world’s poor countries. But in Germany and Europe, we’re also still moving on thin ice.
“We need to remain vigilant. In particular, the newly arising variants, especially now the Delta variant, are a warning for us to continue to be careful.”
Mr Macron echoed her comments, telling reporters: “We must all be vigilant because the much-talked-about Delta variant is coming, which spreads much more rapidly than the other variants and affects people who are not vaccinated or who only have had one dose.”
He said the EU needs to “be really taking coordinated decisions in terms of opening of borders to third countries”.
Portuguese PM Antonio Costa defended his decision to open his country up to Britons a month ago, but indicated he was ready to come into line with a decision taken for the whole 27-nation bloc.
Ms Merkel was “completely right” about the need to “coordinate regarding our external borders, since we have freedom of movement within the European Union”, he said.
Portugal on Thursday announced stricter Covid-19 restrictions across the Lisbon region and Algarve resort Albufeira, with curfews for restaurants and supermarkets, after a surge in Delta cases. More than half of coronavirus cases in the Portuguese capital now involve the more infectious variant first identified in India.
The Portuguese island of Madeira is on the list of areas joining the green list at 4am on 30 June, also including Malta, Spain’s Balearic Islands, and a number of Caribbean islands, as well as British sovereign territories in the Indian Ocean and Antarctica.
Mr Shapps said that, in recognition of the successful vaccination programme, double-jabbed arrivals will in the future be allowed into the UK from amber list countries without quarantine. They will still have to take coronavirus tests before departure and on day two of their stay in Britain, but the requirement for a further test after eight days will be dropped, while the government will ditch guidance to steer clear of amber list areas.
The date for implementation of the change will be set out next month, along with the rules which will apply to children and those unable to be vaccinated. The government is considering using testing as an alternative to vaccination for under-18s travelling with double-jabbed adults.
“We’re moving forward with efforts to safely reopen international travel this summer, and thanks to the success of our vaccination programme, we’re now able to consider removing the quarantine period for fully vaccinated UK arrivals from amber countries – showing a real sign of progress,” said Mr Shapps.
“It’s right that we continue with this cautious approach, to protect public health and the vaccine rollout as our top priority, while ensuring that our route out of the international travel restrictions is sustainable.”
Mr Johnson said he had not given up hope of a foreign holiday himself, saying: “My plans at this stage are at the unformed stage, I’m afraid. I’m certainly not ruling it in or ruling it out.”
The PM added: “I think that the real opportunity we all have now is to open up travel through the double jab.
“We’ve got more than 60 per cent of our population have now had two jabs, 83 per cent have had one jab. We’re really getting through it now.”
However, he added: “I’m not going to claim that this summer, for travel purposes, is going to be like any other summer. I don’t want to cast a pall over things but, as I said the other day, it will be different.”
Virgin Atlantic welcomed the addition of Antigua, Barbados and Grenada to the green list. But CEO Shai Weiss said: “Today’s announcement fails to go far enough. The government’s own evidence shows that the US is low-risk and should be added to the green list now.”
And CBI policy director Matthew Fell said: “While welcome, these limited movements on green list countries won’t be enough to salvage the summer season for the international travel sector.
“The UK’s successful vaccine rollout means we should be in the vanguard of safely restarting international travel. Other countries are already pressing ahead with enabling travel for the fully vaccinated. The government must show more urgency to implement a truly risk-based system.”
The Conservative chair of the Commons transport committee, Huw Merriman, said it would be “madness” for the EU to impose a two-week quarantine on Britons.
“Yes, the EU are only at 28 per cent of their population being double jabbed but our citizens can provide proof of jab and test before they travel,” said Mr Merriman.
“In a good year, UK tourists spend £25bn in the EU and directly support 380,000 jobs. That’s a lot of cash and a lot of furlough for the richer EU nations to pay to the Mediterranean countries.”
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