Usually in mid-November the travel correspondent of The Independent is to be found at “work” on the beautiful island of Grand Cayman, location for his second job as an adviser to prominent yet discreet individuals who find the Caribbean island a convenient haven.
But he paused his negotiations to tackle your pressing travel questions.
Q: We are going to Negril in Jamaica over Christmas. I have read about “tourist corridors” on the Jamaican government website. I’m a little confused as to what restrictions (if any) are in place for tourists visiting the island as the message is rather contradictory. Any thoughts/advice would be much appreciated.
A: Jamaica does not understate its claims to be able to offer a good holiday during the coronavirus pandemic. VisitJamaica says the island’s “new normal for travel delivers an authentic, relaxing and Covid-secure travel experience”.
It continues: “We have paired a comprehensive destination-wide approach with a laser-like focus, committed to providing the highest levels of health for visitors, tourism workers and local communities.”
So what does that mean for tourists like you? Well, the government has created “resilient corridors” that it claims “encompass the majority of the island’s tourism regions” – basically resorts along the northern and southern coasts.
The idea is that you can carry on much as normal, though leaving your accommodation comes with strict conditions attached.
The government explains: “Under this measure, persons are required to remain at their hotel/resort within the corridor for the duration of their stay.
“They may, however, leave the hotel/resort to visit a restaurant, duty-free shopping mall, craft market or tourist attraction that is certified by the Jamaica Tourist Board to be a ‘Covid-19 Resilient licensed tourist attraction’ located within the resilient corridor.
“All travel to and from the attraction must be on transportation licensed under the Tourist Board Act.”
But that position appears to be relaxing: on Thursday the prime minister said that fully vaccinated people who take a PCR test in advance (rather than the lateral flow that is standard for entry to Jamaica) will be able to enter the country without quarantine or further tests.
So, by Christmas, I predict things will be fairly normal in all the usual holiday areas – and Jamaica may once again be excellent backpacking territory.
Q: Is there any sign of rules changing for self isolation for close contacts vaccinated abroad? Do you have roughly an idea of how many tourists are actually getting stuck in hotels for 10 days? If everyone on every flight with a positive case has to isolate, surely that would mean almost every tourist in the UK ends up in isolation, but is this really the case?
A: For months the UK has maintained that only British vaccines will do to protect against catching Covid if someone on your plane tests positive. Basically, foreign jabs can’t be trusted, so you must self-isolate for 10 days.
Even by the exceptionalist standards of this government, that is one of the more absurd policies.
Thankfully I have just decoded a tweet from the health secretary, Sajid Javid, which says: “FANTASTIC NEWS”. From December anyone fully vaccinated with a WHO EUL vaccine will not need to self-isolate if identified as a close contact while in England.
“Huge help for British nationals vaccinated abroad who want to come back and visit friends and family in England.”
To explain: WHO EUL means emergency use listing by the World Health Organisation, and covers all the leading vaccines.
Now the question remains: why December, why not now?
The Department of Health told me the change would not take immediate effect to allow time for the legislation to be changed – and to “update operational systems so that those contacts who are vaccinated overseas receive the right advice”.
You can read more here.
Q: Is the US entry Covid test a supervised one? Or is a postal one enough for entry? Also we are cruising out of Galveston and need another test for boarding. Does this have to be paid and/or supervised or do CVS/Walgreens tests work?
I Need A Holiday
A: The US does not accept self-administered tests (unless supervised on video by a certified American provider). Having said that, I have not been contacted by anyone who has faced problems at check-in – so it may be that unsupervised DIY tests are acceptable. Nevertheless I strongly recommend a rapid and relatively cheap lateral flow test on the day of travel at your departure airport.
Sorry, I can’t comment on the rules imposed by your individual cruise company – if you have booked through a travel agent, they should be able to help.
Q: Can you tell me the procedure for testing children after arriving into the US please
A: On day 3, 4 or 5 after arrival unvaccinated children aged 2-17 must take a test (lateral flow, self-administered will do). You can pick them up from pharmacies for around $25 (£19) for two. No need to upload results.
For the avoidance of doubt: You cannot use a free NHS lateral flow test; tests for international travel must be paid for privately.
Q: I would like to know the consequences of an under 18 not taking the day 3-5 test?
A: In theory there is no way of the authorities knowing if you have complied or not, but as it is an official requirement of course I urge you to follow the rules.
Q: I want to fly into East Midlands at 1.30pm from the European Union, then travel by public transport to Stansted, wait overnight in the entrance hall, then fly out at 6.30am. But I can’t find any relevant advice about a Covid test for such a short time period. What for would such a test be required – is it shown on departure (I am vaccinated).
A: You need to take (or at least book) a “Day 2” test. For maximum public health benefit, I urge you to take it on arrival at East Midlands airport.
Q: I am travelling to Ireland on 26 December. I have seen on the Irish Embassy website that travellers from the UK who have recovered from Covid in the last six months can produce a positive covid test as proof of recovery.
This is for a 15 year old so he has no access to the NHS covid pass. Will the email from the NHS confirming the positive PCR test result suffice to board an Aer Lingus flight?
A: The Irish government says: “Children between the ages of 12 and 17 will be required to have a negative RT-PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to arrival to travel into the country, unless they have valid proof of vaccination or recovery.”
My experience of flying back and forth across the Irish Sea in the past 15 months suggests that reasonable proof will get you in – but unless there is anything you can do to obtain an actual letter, you might have problems getting on board the plane.
Were that to happen, then to be sure you should opt for the PCR test. If you are flying out of an airport that offers three-hour tests, you could plan to get to the airport four hours ahead of the flight so you can, if necessary, buy the required PCR for your son.
Q: I’m due to travel to Vienna next weekend. They have now announced that in addition to vaccination status to enter all the major events you need a PCR test less than 48 hours old.
We are due to visit an event the morning after we arrive on an early evening flight and it seems unlikely we’ll get a local PCR test result back in time. Will they accept a UK PCR certificate if we get tested at Heathrow before we fly?
A: I am not sure the event will be going ahead. The Foreign Office says: “Nationwide lockdown from Monday 22 November. During lockdown, all non-essential businesses will remain closed. This includes restaurants, bars and most shops.
“The only valid reasons to leave the home include medical attention (including vaccinations), education, exercise for physical or mental health, and purchasing essentials such as food or medicine.”
If I am wrong about the impending event, then I hope I am right that a PCR test taken in the UK will be sufficient.
Q: European lockdowns seem to be making a comeback. Are winter holidays in jeopardy?
A: Soaring Covid rates, increased hospitalisations and concerns about unvaccinated citizens are causing governments across Continental Europe to step up measures aimed at cracking down on Covid-19.
Rates in Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia and many other countries are now significantly higher than the UK (which is not exactly a star performer, mind). Possible outcomes:
1 Countries impose stricter rules on foreign visitors.
2 Nations’ lockdown restrictions make visits unpleasureable (see Austrian answer, above).
3 UK imposes more controls on returning/incoming travellers.
Of these, I believe (2) is probable while (1) and (3) are possible but unlikely.
Q: I am due to travel to Singapore and Malaysia in March. Singapore is already open to UK travellers, Malaysia is expected to be open by January. After six days in Singapore, we’ll fly from Singapore to Penang and spend a week in the region before heading over to Langkawi.
What entry requirements will apply upon entry to Malaysia? Do we have to comply with those requirements set for British travellers entering Malaysia or will we be treated as entrants from Singapore (since we’ll have spent the preceding five nights there)?
A: I am impressed with your boldness in (I infer) booking a trip to Malaysia before the country is effectively open to British tourists.
My analysis of the information provided by the Asian nation’s high commission in London is that you or I could travel there right now (assuming full vaccination), but we would need to quarantine for seven days, wearing a “surveillance wristband” to ensure we stayed put.
This would not be my idea of the best way to spend a week on the gorgeous island of Penang.
Will the country open up? Well, for the past week a “pilot project for the travel bubble” to Langkawi has been in operation. This basically emulates a scheme originally used by Thailand, whereby travellers spent a week on the island of Phuket and were then (subject to a negative Covid test) able to go elsewhere.
This one, requiring full vaccination, is based on the Malaysian island of Langkawi. If it remains in place perhaps you could swap your planned first stop in Penang for Langkawi? But I would be very surprised if things stay as they currently are. As you say, there are hopes that Malaysia, which is highly dependent on tourism, will reopen more fully on 1 January. Again, being full vaccinated will be the key.
In terms of testing and other requirements: generally nations want to know where you have been in the past 10 days/two weeks (that’s certainly the case for Singapore), so assume that you will have to meet the criteria for arrivals from both Singapore and the UK. I would expect a negative PCR before departure to Malaysia, and possibly another after arrival.
Q: The inability for 12 to 15 year olds to prove their vaccination status is starting to cause many families to cancel travel plans for Christmas and New Year.
Luckily for us my daughter has been double vaccinated due to my health status, but we will still have to pay for tests in France because we cannot prove her status.
Do you think this problem will ever be sorted out and families with teens can enjoy unrestricted travel like their vaccinated over-16 friends and relatives?
A: Yes, it will be sorted out – the only question is “When”?
I hope the answer is very soon, now that the adult boosters are showing on the NHS app (at least for England) and the discrimination against foreign jabs is ending. This is one of the remaining elements that needs to be solved.
The government’s prevailing view for the past 20 months, though, has been, approximately: “Don’t you know there’s a pandemic on? We can’t be expected to make life easy for you.”
What are the chances …?
Q: I am due to travel to South Africa for a holiday in February 2022. What do you think the chances are that the holiday will happen? Also if Christmas causes a spike, would this ruin my chances of going? Also do you know what testing will be required to do?
A: I think it is likely the trip will go ahead. I can’t see much likelihood of the UK government banning international travel again. Conversely, South Africa is unlikely to put barriers in place – they desperately need a decent tourism seasons. Because Christmas coincides with midsummer, I don’t expect a spike in South Africa – but I would keep a close eye on events. In terms of testing, I cannot speculate three months ahead.
Q: What are the chances of being able to visit Argentina in March 2022?
A: Reasonably high. But in your position I wouldn’t even start booking until the second half of February.
Q: What do you think are the prospects of being able to visit France for Christmas?
A: Very high. For months, France has been open and welcoming to fully vaccinated travellers, and I expect that continue despite some high current infection rates.
Q: The NHS vaccine passport currently works with the French passe sanitaire required for restaurants, galleries etc. My two vaccines successfully load into the app. However am 65 and planning to go to Paris on 16 December – one day after the French government have announced that to obtain a passe sanitaire over-65s will need either to have had their second vaccine within six months or show a certificate for a third vaccine.
Booster jabs are not part of the NHS passport. Will over-65s with UK vaccines come unstuck visiting France after 15 December?
A: As from now, boosters are shown on the NHS app.
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