At present arrivals to the UK from all overseas countries except Ireland must take a pre-departure test and self-isolate for 10 days with two post-arrival PCR tests.
But the government says that from 17 May at the earliest it will given destinations green, amber or red status depending on the perceived risk of importation of coronavirus.
A green rating means arrivals will need to take only one pre-departure and post-arrival test, and will not need to quarantine.
Until now ministers have talked only of whole countries and refused to say whether islands could be in a different category to the mainland.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has now said that he wants to continue the “islands approach” that was eventually adopted by the UK in September 2020.
Until mandatory quarantine for all arrivals was brought back, it meant visitors to some Spanish, Portuguese and Greek islands did not need to self-isolate on return to the UK.
“I want to do that again,” Mr Shapps told an online ConservativeHome event. “I don’t want to go backwards, I want to go forwards.”
Paul Charles, chief executive of the travel consultancy The PC Agency, and a campaigner for opening up international travel, said: “This is precisely the level of detail we need to see from government within the new traffic lights system.
“It is a welcome step forward and will be music to the ears of airlines flying direct to the likes of the Balearics, Canaries and Greek islands.”
Germany’s Robert Koch Institute, which advises the government in Berlin on risk areas, has adopted a granular approach throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Its latest advice excludes the Balearic islands – principally Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza – from the “risk area” status applied to most of Spain.
In addition the communities of Valencia and Murcia on the Mediterranean coast, and the Atlantic community of Galicia, are regarded as sufficiently safe by the German organisation.
Case numbers in the Canary Islands, especially Tenerife and Gran Canaria, are higher than in the Balearics but falling – with Lanzarote and Fuerteventura significantly lower.
The outlying island of El Hierro, visited by very few tourists, has seen a surge in cases over the past month.
The Portugal directorate-general of health indicates that parts of Madeira and the main Azores island, Sao Miguel, currently have high levels of coronavirus. The eight other Azores islands are regarded as low risk.
The latest Covid map produced by the Greek government rates several islands as very high risk, including Chios, Evia, Kos, Lesbos, Poros, Thassos and Zakinthos.
But warnings for Mykonos and Hydra have been eased to high risk, which applies to much of the rest of Greece.
The only part of Greece rated low risk is the Mount Athos peninsula in the north of the country.
Last autumn some of the most popular Greek islands, including Corfu, Crete and Rhodes, were awarded quarantine-free status.
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