The travel correspondent of The Independent is rarely seen away from his preferred location: a hammock strung between two palm trees. Ideally he will be cradling a glass of Round Rock IPA, because that means he is in Barbados.
That amber nectar is currently out-of-bounds because the Caribbean islands is, inexplicably, on the “amber list,” from which quarantine is required.
So instead Simon Calder took an hour out of his hectic schedule to answer your pressing travel issues live.
This is the compilation of the key questions and answers.
Traffic light changes
Q: When realistically could Turkey be moved to the “green list”? Anytime within the summer school holidays or even by October half term?
A: Turkey was added to the “red list” on 12 May, requiring hotel quarantine for anyone travelling to the UK.
As a result, it has a mountain to climb for reaching green list status from which there is no self isolation requirement.
First, Turkey needs to move from red to amber. There are rumours – nothing more – that this could happen as soon as the next review of “traffic light” categories on 24 June.
The actions of the UK government make it clear that there is no interest in easing travel restrictions before the rescheduled domestic opening of England on 19 July. I imagine Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Greece will be granted quarantine-free status well before Turkey. So I speculate Turkey may make the green list in September, in good time for October half term.
Q: I am due to fly to Turkey on 3 July. What are the chances of it becoming amber by then. Their vaccination rate is so much better now and covid levels more in line with ours in the UK
A: There is a slim possibility that Turkey could be moved from red to amber on 24 June or at some stage in July, but all the signs are that the country will remain in the highest risk category for a while.
Like the UAE, it is the location for two big international hub airports (the new Istanbul airport and the older Sabiha Gokcen) – which the UK government is known to be worried about.
Q: What are your thoughts on Turkey? They have less infections than ourselves but are on the red list.
A: Being an international hub is enough to consign a country to red list status indefinitely, I am afraid.
Q: Will Gibraltar remain on the green list at the next review?
A: I feel very nervous about sounding too confident about anything at present, because the government’s announcements seem to be very much at odds with reality and rational risk-based decisions. However, the special status of Gibraltar – a British Overseas Territory – and the astonishingly effective vaccination campaign makes me confidence it will stay green for the foreseeable future. The only changes you might find: testing requirements on arrival, which currently involve a free lateral flow test within 24 hours of touchdown. If infection rates in the UK continue to rise, Gibraltar could impose a pre-departure test requirements.
Q: How likely is it do you think that Greek Islands will be added on the next review? Due to go to Santorini on 1 July and it’s been cancelled twice already! Praying for a bit of good news but not seeing it.
A: If you look at the criteria originally stated for green list qualification, a number of Greek islands plainly qualify. But I am not expecting any miracles on 24 June, the next review, after the completely unforeseen tightening of travel restrictions.
Q: Do you think Spain will be green by August? I am prepared to self isolate as I have been vaccinated and very careful up to now.
A: It depends what you mean by “August,” he says unhelpfully. I believe the current effective travel ban on Spain – i.e. the amber list status with all that entails – will end on 5 August. But decisions have been so cruel that it may be delayed until 26 August. I would take the risk, though.
Q: Will our holiday to Cyprus on 18 July go ahead or would it be better to rebook for August?
A: Unfortunately all the signs are that the government will not countenance opening up international travel while domestic lockdown continues.
With ministers in London being petrified of being seen to “open the borders” in advance of 19 July, I cannot see Cyprus making the green list on 24 June or 15 July. So 5 August is my best guess. But I stress this is pure speculation.
Q: If guidance was to change while away is it safe to assume you can cancel tests if need be? This could potentially happen as I am away from 5th to the 19th August.
A: This summer there will be many travellers who find themselves in the pleasing position of having fewer restrictions than they were expecting on their return to the UK. I do not recommend that you book tests for returning to the UK until very shortly before your departure for home.
There is not usually any financial benefit for booking early, and the later you leave it the more opportunity there is for things to change to your advantage. On my trips so far this summer, I have booked the tests on my last night before flying home.
Q: Portugal’s infection rates have massively increased in the past few days. We are meant to be flying there next Thursday, which is the day we are supposed to get the monthly government travel updates. However we are terrified of it turning red when we are out there.
A: I believe the chance of Portugal reverting to red in the next few weeks is vanishingly low.
Q: What are the chances for Rhodes going green on the next update?
A: 20 per cent. That is pessimistic not because there are problems in Rhodes – it is a far safe location than the UK – but because ministers show no desire to open up very safe destinations.
Q: Inbound tourism to England is looking impossible for July, do you think there’s any chance of it opening for Europeans sometime in August? I would be coming over from Paris.
A: The situation for inbound tourism to the UK looks absolutely dreadful for the whole summer. While I believe that European visitors will be allowed in with relatively few restrictions from August, the government won’t confirm that until a few days beforehand. Therefore no one will be able to plan sensibly. If you are content to make a late decision, you should be able to be here in August without self-isolation, I predict.
Q: How about inbound travel to the UK, Simon? We were hoping to cross the Channel on 30 July from France (we are from the Netherlands). How likely do you think it is we will be able to enter without having to quarantine? We are fully vaccinated by that time.
A: Just 40 per cent. Your vaccination status is irrelevant, I’m afraid.
Rules on leaving the UK
Q: After postponing a holiday from last summer and then switching destinations from a red list to an amber list country, we are hoping to go to the Dominican Republic on 24 July.
We are happy to self isolate on return and take the required PCR tests.
Will we be required to complete any forms stating the reason for our trip as the UK government says non-essential travel to amber list countries is not permitted?
Also, are there any companies who will provide us with travel insurance for a holiday to an amber country?
A: You need not complete any forms to leave the UK – though most destinations require some online red tape ahead of your trip.
On 17 May the 19-week ban on international travel for all but essential reasons was lifted. Yet two days later the prime minister said: “It’s very important for people to grasp what an amber list country is. It is not somewhere where you should be going on holiday, let me be very clear about that.”
In fact, you can travel anywhere you wish, or at least anywhere that will welcome you. No one will ask you at the airport to justify your visit. But you must, of course, follow the quarantine rules when you return.
Suitable travel insurance policies for journeys against Foreign Office advice are increasingly widely available, for example from Battleface and Staysure.
Q: We’ve just had Antigua cancelled for the second time last weekend from when we had planned originally for 2020. We want to fly somewhere – even amber destinations. What are the likeliness of airlines flying to amber countries, such as Malta or Greece? We don’t want to book after next review on 24 June only for the airline to cancel a few days before.
A: 1 Ryanair and British Airways appear more inclined to fly to and from amber list countries than does easyJet.
2 Wait to see in case there are some meaningful additions to the green list on 24 June – if there are, then it is likely airlines may immediately pile on capacity.
3 Vaccination status irrelevant for the UK.
Q: If I’m willing to quarantine for 10 days, pay for two PCR tests and it’s not illegal to travel to an amber country, why are companies allowed to cancel my holiday? They are very quick to take payment but it can take up to 14 days for a refund and more in other cases.
A: Every travel company I know wants desperately to take you on holiday. The fact that the government is doing all it can to suppress international travel means that often, the best intention and firms are left with no alternative but to write off a planned trip. I can’t fault them for trying, though.
United Arab Emirates
Q: I’m a fully vaccinated British citizen with residency in Dubai, any idea if we will be removed from the red list? The reason stated was Dubai is a travel hub, but so are many more who aren’t on the red list! We just want to visit family after nearly two years.
A: The only possible way of the UAE being taken off the red list is for the UK government to perform a spectacular U-turn – saying that its decision to make all arrivals go into hotel quarantine was flawed. That decision was taken because Dubai and Abu Dhabi are key hub airports – which of course they still are.
I regard the possibility as slim right now, because politics seems usually to prevail over rationality or generosity to people who need to travel.
Q: I, along with many other expats, am holding onto hope for returning from the UAE this summer. We have for the most part accepted now we will not leave the red list so must make other arrangements.
My question is this: beginning to middle of July will see thousands of expats from across the Middle East returning home. How will the quarantine hotels cope with this influx? Will they fill up? Will more hotels be added? We want to leave it as late as possible to book but am worried there will be no rooms left! Please advise - I personally also have a time constraint of my sisters wedding!
J K Murphy
A: I foresee something rather different happening. If there is the tiniest opening up on 24 June, for example of Malta, it would make perfect sense for UAE residents to go there to launder their red list status. You would need to stay in the island nation for 10 full days. Another possibility is offered by Ireland; if its mid-July reopening to international visitors includes the UAE, then a 10-day stay in the republic will also work – with no formalities at all on return from Ireland to the UK.
Q: Since the airlines seem to need a minimum of four weeks notice to restart routes (and have been cancelling flights five weeks prior to departure at the moment) is there any chance of travel there this August. And if the government already know what the criteria needs to be (they must have spoken to Biden’s administration about it in detail already), shouldn’t they notify airlines and us much earlier than 19 July? Otherwise surely summer is truly a complete write off.
A: Considering how much upset, anxiety and stress is caused by the current effective bans on UK and US travellers visiting each other, both sides of the transatlantic travel conundrum seem remarkably relaxed. As soon as the word “taskforce” is mentioned, you can reckon on at least six weeks before anything actually happens. That looks to me like the start of August, which will coincide with the 5 August review.
There is no indication that ministers wish to provide advance notice to airlines – when leaks were being made two weeks ago about the removal of Portugal from the green list, aviation leaders were finding out what they could from online news sites.
Q: Do you think we should postpone our September Walt Disney World Florida holiday again for another year?
A: No. The governments in London and Washington can swim against the tide of travel aspirations for only so long before they will have to bow to the inevitable and open up transatlantic journeys. The earliest I expect an opening is on 5 August – but if a US-UK deal to open up travel doesn’t happen on that review date, it probably will at the next, on 26 August.
Q: I have tickets with Virgin Atlantic from London Heathrow to San Francisco departing on 1 October. What do you think are odds of the USA opening up?
A: October looks perfectly reasonable, because even the anti-travel interests in London and Washington are unlikely to be able to sustain the campaign of keeping people from each other by autumn/fall if the vaccination programmes on either side of the Atlantic continue to work their magic.
What is so desperately upsetting for people who are so keen to see loved ones or have a much deserved escape is that Joe Biden and Boris Johnson seem quite happy to wipe out summer travel between their nations.
Q: I have tickets booked to the US for the end of October and December. What do you think the chances are that travel will be allowed to the US by then with no quarantine on return?
A: 80 per cent. As Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s chief medic, told ITV news this week, it is “a reasonably good prediction” that travel between the US and UK will open by September.
Q: I’m a Scottish resident departing from and returning to Manchester Airport and possibly travelling to an amber destination. Scottish residents are restricted in relation to testing and must use the CTM tests at £170 per person for day 2 and 8 kits. Since I am returning into England, can I technically use a private firm test as is allowed for residents of England?
A: As a Scottish resident you must comply with the law in Scotland – unless you intend to stay in England for 10 full days before moving on from Manchester to Scotland.
Q: I’m due to visit amber destination next week, on return can you still avoid quarantine and testing by leaving the country again as per previous measures or do you still need to book tests and stay home
A: As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the only way to shorten quarantine in the UK is to leave the country again. (NB: In England, “test to release” can cut self-isolation from 10 days to five.) If you are going to be in the UK for seven days or fewer, you should be able to pre-book only one test, for day two.
Q: On return to the UK from an amber country, is it still possible to leave quarantine (at any point) if you go straight to an airport and fly abroad? Do you need to complete your interrupted UK quarantine when you return to the UK?
A: You can happily leave quarantine to go abroad again. So long as you don’t return to the UK before the original spell of self isolation was due to finish, there is no need to go back into quarantine – but unless you are heading for Gibraltar or Iceland it is likely that you will trigger a new spell of self-isolation.
Q: Do you think Portugal will allow vaccinated Brits to enter the country from July 1? The tourism minister Teresa Marques did mention this ages ago.
A: I have a great deal of sympathy with Portugal, because it has been royally messed around by the UK government. In both 2020 and 2021 the country has been opened up only to be close down again a couple of weeks later. But they still need British holidaymakers.
Already, since being booted off the green list, Portugal has eased the rules on testing required of visitors: an expensive PCR test is no longer demanded, and a cheaper Lateral Flow will do. There is no rational reason not to allow vaccinated visitors to swerve this altogether.
Vaccination replacing quarantine?
Q: Some of the African countries have low Covid 19 cases, and a number of people have been fully vaccinated.
Why can’t the UK government allow fully vaccinated people to travel? Foreign travel is not just about holidays. People have families and businesses.
A: The response of the government is ever more mystifying. There’s long been a disconnect between ministers saying how effective the vaccine is, yet insisting travellers lucky enough to have had both jabs undergo endure the same very tough regime on arrival in the UK as unvaccinated people.
The idea of lowering the barriers to overseas travel for fully vaccinated people appears only just to have occurred to ministers as a sensible way to balance risk and opportunity. Other countries have been doing this since February.
At present almost anywhere you might want to go on holiday, like Spain, France, Italy and Greece, is on the amber list, requiring self-isolation when you return and multiple tests.
There are at last leaks about the proposition that having both jabs allows you to swerve quarantine – though you’ll still need to test before your flight to the UK and again when you are back.
Details are still sketchy, and a government spokesperson saying: “we have commenced work to consider the role of vaccinations in shaping a different set of health and testing measures for inbound travel” – in other words, don’t expect a change any time soon.
There’s the tricky problem of what happens with unvaccinated kids. Anyone over 10 years of age must take the pre-departure test, over fours have to have a PCR test after they get home – and children of any age at present have to quarantine from amber list countries.
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