Months after other countries started allowing vaccinated travellers to avoid onerous travel restrictions, the UK will bring in its own scheme on 19 July. Initially, though, arrivals from France will be excluded, and the chance to avoid quarantine from “amber list” locations will be limited to British residents.
These are the key questions and answers.
What are the rules at present?
Arrivals from high-risk countries on the “red list” must go into 11 nights of hotel quarantine at their expense. Nations include India, the UAE, Turkey, South Africa and every country in South America.
From “amber list” locations – which include the vast majority of popular holiday destinations, including France, Italy, Greece, mainland Spain and the US – the requirement is 10 days of self-isolation.
Quarantine-free admission to the UK is allowed only from a handful of “green list” locations, including Gibraltar, Iceland, Malta, Madeira and the Balearic Islands of Spain.
The amber list restrictions have been described as effectively a travel ban, preventing people from booking summer holidays and making trips to visit family and partners. In addition, the sudden move of Portugal from the green list to amber last month undermined customer confidence in booking summer trips.
Sixteen months after the coronavirus pandemic began, many people who are separated from loved ones, or need to make business trips, or simply want to escape abroad, are increasingly desperate for the chance to travel with relatively little hassle and expense.
What is changing?
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, says that fully jabbed travellers will be able to avoid quarantine on arrival in England – though they will still need to undergo testing.
People are regarded as being fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose (or, in the case of single-dose vaccines, the only jab). In addition, someone “on a formally approved UK vaccine clinical trial” qualifies, in recognition of their contribution to public health.
Effectively it bestows green list conditions on amber list arrivals who have been immunised.
To whom do I prove my ‘jabbed’ status – and how?
“Passengers will need to provide proof of their vaccination status to carriers in advance of travel,” the Department for Transport (DfT) says. In other words, the airline, ferry firm or train operator will check your paperwork before you are allowed to board a service to the UK. Note that before departure to the UK you must complete a passenger locator form.
The NHS in England provides evidence of vaccination on the standard app. In addition you can download a certificate, or get an NHS Covid letter sent to you. The latter provides the most convincing proof.
On arrival, your paperwork will probably be checked by UK Border Force – though it is thought that e-gates may still be used with spot checks to ensure compliance.
I am a UK citizen but resident abroad. Do I qualify?
Only if you happen to have been vaccinated in the UK – no “foreign jabs” are accepted to swerve quarantine. Even though NHS jabs are recognised in dozens of countries, the UK government insists travellers with foreign vaccinations will not initially be able to avoid quarantine.
The first stage of “vaccination vacations” relies on access to the NHS database, allowing officials to verify everyone’s vaccinations. So only people whose jabs are administered and recorded in the UK initially qualify.
British citizens resident – and vaccinated in – the European Union will qualify for the EU Digital Covid Certificate, which I expect to be linked to the UK system soon.
I predict that any “100 per cent verification” process will be very short-lived, and that the “British residents only” rule will be dropped soon: it is out of kilter with the rest of the world.
When will I be able to avoid quarantine from an amber country?
For arrivals from 4am on Monday 19 July.
For the avoidance of doubt, anyone who returns before that time from an amber list country will need to complete their quarantine even if they have been fully vaccinated. They cannot stop self-isolating.
What about France?
On 16 July, the government announced that the existing measures for arrivals from France will remain in place after 19 July.
Affected travellers must continue to quarantine in their own accommodation for ten days and complete a day 2 and day 8 test, regardless of vaccination status
Will testing still be required?
Many countries require a negative test result from people arriving from the UK. But if your destination does not (eg, because you are vaccinated or they are relaxed) then there is no need to get one. No test is required solely to board a train, boat or plane leaving the UK.
The arrangements for return will be as they are currently for green list arrivals. You will need a “test-to-fly” before departure to the UK. A single post-arrival PCR is required on the day of arrival or one of the two following days; there is no need to self-isolate while you wait for the result. The government says: “Any positive results will be genomically sequenced to continue to manage the risk from importing variants.”
Together, these tests are likely to cost £100 or more.
Vaccinated travellers are not expected to take a second test on day eight, which is the standard for amber list arrivals.
What happens to under-18s?
They will be allowed to avoid quarantine – which is just as well for families, as the vast majority of under-18s are unvaccinated.
They will still require to be tested.
So can I go anywhere on the amber list now?
No. Many countries around the world do not allow in British travellers.
With coronavirus levels set to soar to 100,000 daily in the UK, it is questionable how many nations will want to welcome British visitors, vaccinated or not.
It is the traveller’s responsibility to establish the rules for each destination that is contemplated.
Meanwhile some countries, such as Malta, are banning outright anyone aged 12 or over who has not been fully vaccinated.
I will fly the UK via France or a red list country. Can I avoid quarantine?
No. the highest risk category always applies.
Travellers from amber (or green) countries travelling via Paris CDG must self-isolate at home for 10 days, though those returning to England can “test to release” after five days.
Even if you only spend an hour changing planes in Dubai or Istanbul, you must go into hotel quarantine for 11 nights.
What about government advice not to visit amber list countries?
That will be dropped by 4am on Monday 19 July.
The insistence by ministers that amber list countries should not be visited except for essential reasons was already confusing, given that the Foreign Office did not warn against travel to some amber list destinations such as Portugal, the Canary Islands of Spain and some Greek islands.
Will foreign visitors be given the same option?
Not initially, because the government wants to ensure that a system for UK travellers can work.
There are hopes that the NHS certification system could be linked with the EU Digital Covid Certificate to allow freer movement for European visitors.
I don’t get my second jab until August …
Then you will not be able to avail of a vaccination vacation until two weeks after your second jab. Of course if you are going on a fortnight’s holiday then you can depart the day after the vaccination and will meet the conditions on return.
The Independent has been told by pharmacists that one reason for the sudden change of heart by the government is to encourage young adults to get vaccinated.
What if I’ve recovered from Covid-19?
Unlike in the European Union, there is no allowance made for a certified recovery from the virus. However, some destinations will allow travellers with proof of recovery to avoid testing and other restrictions.
Does this apply to residents of Scotland/Wales/Northern Ireland?
Yes. The devolved administrations make their own decisions, and these apply to residents of those countries – even if they arrive via England.
Wales and Scotland have aligned reluctantly with England’s plan.
In Wales, the health minister Eluned Morgan said: “We continue to caution against international travel for non-essential reasons this summer.
“We regret the UK government’s decision to remove the requirement for adults who have been fully vaccinated to self-isolate when returning from amber list countries. However, it would not be practical for us to introduce a separate border health policy.
“Therefore, from 19 July, fully vaccinated adults returning from amber list countries, and under-18s, will no longer need to self-isolate.”
One specific rule for Wales is to that visiting people in a hospital or care home during the first 10 days back should be avoided.
“This is the year to enjoy the summer in the UK,” said Baroness Morgan.
Scotland’s environment minister, Mairi McAllan, said: “From the outset we have said caution is required regarding international travel and people should think very carefully about travelling abroad as situations can suddenly change.”
Northern Ireland will adopt the same arrangements as England but only from 26 July. Before then, if you travel to Northern Ireland, either directly or indirectly, from an amber country, you must book a post-arrival travel test package and self-isolate for 10 days.
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