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Expert Simon Calder answers your questions about travel from the UK as restrictions ease

“Expiry dates” for jabs, travel rules in Canada and Japan, and an alternative for high car rental rates in the US

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Tuesday 15 February 2022 12:58 GMT
Comments
Distant dream: Faro Beach in Portugal, a 20-minute walk from the airport
Distant dream: Faro Beach in Portugal, a 20-minute walk from the airport (Simon Calder)

The travel correspondent of The Independent was last seen boarding a southbound train from the northern Burgundy town of Migennes, where once the Orient-Express paused for replenishment, in the general direction of the Mediterranean.

His current exact whereabouts are unknown. But thanks to the wonders of technology, he was able to answer 19 of your pressing travel questions from a distant railway station.

Spanish practices

Q: I’m due to fly to Spain imminently. My son (with whom I live) tested positive for Covid 12 days ago. He was testing negative by 6 February and thus was released from isolation by his “day six” test two days later.

The health control form asks if you have had “close contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19 within the last week”. However, the wording of the form has confused me slightly. Do you think I can go to Spain?

Harry B

A: Yes. Your question is about whether you can truthfully complete the form that will allow you to go without presenting a risk to others.

My interpretation is that a “confirmed case of Covid-19” ceases to be such when they present a negative case.

I trust that since his infection was identified, you have been testing regularly using NHS lateral flow devices; this is permitted for domestic purposes, though not for travel.

Assuming they were all negative, then I would not think to mention the issue on the Spanish health form.

Q: I am due to go on holiday to Spain with my wife in August 2022. Due to the “270 day rule” that now applies, our third Covid jabs (boosters) will have expired during July.

Therefore we will no longer have valid proof of vaccination to be able to enter the country.

As boosters started to be rolled out in the UK in September 2021, this issue is going to start hitting thousands of travellers and holidaymakers from around about June 2022.

Surely the government will have to start rolling out second boosters? Otherwise foreign travel will again become severely restricted.

“Holiday Time”

A: The decision by a number of European countries to place an “expiry date” on the original course of Covid vaccines has caused plenty of consternation. The Spanish health ministry says that after 270 days (just under nine months), the original course of vaccines is deemed no longer to be effective.

In other countries, in some circumstances, the validity period is shorter – for example 180 days for activities/access to venues in Italy.

The authorities say that from 270 days after your second Covid jab, “in order to be valid, the vaccination certificate must reflect the administration of a booster dose”.

They add that the booster is valid indefinitely from the day of vaccination – and I am unaware of any major country setting a time limit for boosters.

In the six months before your trip, there will be many more changes to travel rules. But if expiry dates are imposed on booster jabs, that will be because there is general medical agreement a fourth vaccination is necessary.

Were that to happen, I am confident that health services, in the UK and elsewhere, will administer the jabs with sufficient speed to allow those who were boosted early to travel.

Q: We have booked a holiday to Fuerteventura in April. Can you clarify if a PCR test is needed for tourist travel to the Canary Islands?

The Spanish government website does not make it clear. We are all triple jabbed, but with the UK being on the Spanish “high risk” list one part of the website says a PCR test is needed for entry irrelevant of vaccination status. But on another part of the website it says no test required if you are fully vaccinated.

Rob Coulson

A: No test is needed for vaccinated arrivals from the UK. See above for what constitutes being fully vaccinated.

Italian connection

Q: Due to travel to Italy at the beginning of April. Can you clear up the question of vaccines? Is it 180 days if you have had two vaccines, and 270 days if you have had three?

Gingey

A: Neither: 270 days is the deadline for getting into Italy on your jabs, 180 for activities within Italy. But as mentioned above, a booster trumps these with no expiry date.

American adventures

Q: Which test do you have to take prior to travel to the US? Can it be a rapid antigen or do you have to book the more expensive PCR?

MJ

A: Rapid antigen is fine, I recommend a professionally administered test on the day of departure to the US or the previous day.

Q: What are the chances of the US dropping pre-travel testing anytime soon?

Kiwalskie

A: Low. The US was extremely slow in opening up to the UK and the EU, even when it was entirely clear that America had a far bigger Covid problem than Europe.

The best I’m hoping for at present is that the testing deadline gets extended back to three days before departure. That was how it began when the US opened up to Europe in November, but the Omicron scare reduced it to the day before.

Japan journey

Q: What do you think the chance is of being able to visit Japan independently by the end of April?

Filigato

A: Low, but not zero. For many months the UK and the rest of Europe have been on the very long list of locations from which travel to Japan is not generally permitted. Arrivals from Australia, New Zealand and some Pacific countries are allowed.

The relatively few people who are exempt from these rules (mainly because of family connections) are required to quarantine upon arrival. While the length of self-isolation was recently reduced from 10 to seven days, Japan is still a long way from wishing to welcome back tourists from the UK. Only 200 British people were allowed to enter the country in December 2021, down 99.3 per cent on the same month in 2019 and barely half the figure for the final month of 2020.

How different from October 2019, when the annual convention of Abta, the travel association, was held in Tokyo and great plans laid for increasing the number of British tourists to Japan.

This weekend, though, there are signs of easing the near-total ban. Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida hinted that the hard-line policy may change soon, with international students and business travellers the first to benefit. The current rules are due to expire at the end of February. One condition of any visit is likely to include having had a booster jab. While quarantine will still be required, reports say it may be cut to just three days – which is the sort of duration a traveller might tolerate for the joy of visiting the nation.

There is still a different mindset in many Asian countries to those in Europe about opening up international travel. But I do know that if Japan does open sufficiently in time for cherry blossom season, you will be able to book at the drop of a hat. So don’t commit to anything just yet. Buying a ticket a day or two before departure will be quite sufficient – and allow you to pass whatever testing regime is in place before committing cash.

French plans

Q: We are planning a family holiday from Plymouth to Roscoff (via ferry) in August and then travelling by car through France to Santander in Spain.

We return to the UK via ferry. My daughter’s 12th birthday will be during the holiday. She will not have had any Covid vaccinations as she is under 12.

Can my daughter enter Spain from France aged 12 without being vaccinated? Can she leave either Spain or France aged 12, unvaccinated?

Jo R

A: Almost certainly that will be possible – but it is too early to say. My prediction is that travel restrictions will be much lighter.

Even last week, when I was lucky enough to be in France, it was clear that checking/enforcement has become pretty random.

The TousAntiCovid app (which by the way is very intuitive and has a benign English-language version) was of great interest to the café at Charles de Gaulle airport, and at an outdoor bar in Auxerre, but not checked at all by passport control or the hotels I stayed in.

Q: I had my booster in October 2021. I am due to go to Nice in April. Will I need another booster?

Coopon

A: I doubt it very much, but during the coronavirus pandemic I have noticed two conflicting phenomena:

1 Governments can change restrictions radically in short timeframes with little apparent evidence.

2 Many rules stay in place much longer than the evidence suggests.

So I suggest we talk again in March.

Disruption techniques

Q: My flight from Faro to Leeds Bradford in December was initially delayed due to fog. After a few hours we were told that we had been transferred to a Manchester flight. This was also delayed, and we had to complete new passenger locator forms.

The board eventually showed that the Leeds flight was cancelled. The Manchester flight eventually took off at 11.15pm. This was followed by a coach transfer to Leeds, which meant we arrived some 12 hours late.

There were no more than 25 passengers on the coach. So I wonder if the flight was cancelled and transferred to Manchester for financial reasons rather than because of adverse weather? And In these circumstances are passengers due any formal compensation?

“Stranded Steve”

A: Sorry to hear about all this disruption. It must have been frustrating and exhausting.

Whenever there is a substantial delay – or complete rearrangement, as happened to you – an airline is obliged to pay compensation unless it can demonstrate “extraordinary circumstances” were responsible for the disruption.

Given the weather picture, I imagine Jet2 will have a pretty solid defence, but it’s always worth asking.

Just because there were apparently few passengers booked on the flight, it is not possible to conclude that the cancellation was on commercial grounds. During the coronavirus pandemic many airlines have proceeded with passenger loads way below normal.

Meanwhile I trust you were provided with meals during your delay, as the law demands.

Finally, you say you had to complete new passenger locator forms. I wonder who told you to do that? The law says that you must complete the form within 48 hours of the scheduled departure time of your original flight.

If there is a delay (or, in your case, an effective re-routing) the same passenger locator form should suffice. I’m afraid that’s another 20 minutes of your life that you are not getting back.

Testing times

Q: You have written about the abolition of arrival testing (for fully vaccinated travellers). Does this mean that there is no longer a need to have a test before getting onto a plane headed to UK (that is, the country you are in, on holiday) from wherever (say somewhere in Europe)? Or is this rule still at the discretion on the flight provider?

Linda1009

A: The pre-departure test before taking a train, boat or plane to the UK was actually axed a month ago. While some airlines have their own testing/vaccination rules, the vast majority do not. What changed at the weekend was: the post-arrival test known as “day two” is no longer required for fully vaccinated travellers.

Unvaccinated travellers must take a pre-departure and “day two” test either side of travel to the UK.

Q: I’m due to fly to Barbados in two weeks after delaying the trip due to a positive PCR. I read that PCRs can sometimes read positive beyond your recovery but Barbados accepts a doctors fit to fly note if you do. Is it risky to embark in these circumstances? I’m fully vaccinated

Peter 100

A: Assuming you are fully vaccinated I would simply take a lateral flow test on the day before departure, as Barbados allows visitors to do. Anecdotally it is very unlikely you will encounter any problem with your previous infection showing up.

Transit plan

Q: We are due to fly to the Maldives with an aircraft change at Dubai. Do we need to have PCR tests for Dubai as well as for the Maldives even though we’re only in transit?

Den30

A: No. “Transiting passengers are not required to present a Covid-19 PCR test certificate unless it is mandated by their final destination,” says Emirates.

Australian rules

Q: Am I fine to visit my son in Perth, Western Australia, in October 2022? I’m 70 and am fully vaccinated and boosted.

Jane H

A: As things stand, I am afraid to say you are not. The premier of Western Australia insists on full vaccination and boosting of the whole state before outsiders are allowed back into this vast and glorious region. But I very much hope and expect that this will change soon. October is a wonderful time to be there.

Q: I shall be flying back from Sydney to London on 25 February. I understand that I won’t need to book a Covid-19 test on my return to London but having checked the Singapore Airlines site it appears that I will need a negative lateral flow test to transit through Singapore, even thought I will be in a holding area between flights.

Is this correct? Alas the pharmacies in Sydney have discovered the moneymaking possibilities of test for travel and it seems that it will cost my husband and me about A$300 [£165] for the two of us.

Sheila K

A: Ouch. Singapore Airport says: “All transit travellers must take a Covid-19 test within two days before departure for Singapore (ie if the pre-departure test is taken on 1 November 2021, it will be valid for departures up to 3 November 2021, 2359 hours).” All I can say is that I hope competition will intervene in a healthy way in the near future to force prices down.

Canadian manoeuvres

Q: I am due to fly to Canada in the summer for a much-delayed tour with my teenage son. It appears that I will firstly have to travel in three days before in case we have to have a test in arrival and then pre-book a hotel for 14 days in case we test positive.

The hotels seem to be, understandably, reluctant to let you do this as there will be loads of cancellations. Our tour is starting on a set date.

Do you think this will change before the summer?

Sally Mac

A: The current Canadian travel rules are baffling. Arrivals are told they may be picked for a post-arrival test. It is a random selection procedure (no doubt informed by relative infection rates) and, as you appreciate, adds a degree of jeopardy. Because even if you are not infected, you still have to self-isolate until your negative result comes through, which should be within hours or could be a couple of days.

At present these rules will be tolerated by many UK travellers to Canada going to see family. But from a tourism perspective, they are unattractive. When Canada gets into step with “competitive reopening” things will get easier, but probably not this side of Easter.

German jaunt

Q: We are travelling to France shortly from the UK. We would like to go on to a Germany but are not sure what rules apply. As there are no border controls we assume there is no issue but can you confirm please?

Lorrigre

A: I believe Germans would like to know, from anyone entering their country, about their recent travel history. You should fill in the online form registering your recent travels.

Youth movement

Q: My grandson has just become 12 so only now received his letter to be vaccinated. Even if he had his first jab this weekend he will not be fully vaccinated by April to be able to travel for the Easter break.

Where can we go in Europe which will allow him to enter with either a negative test or unvaccinated without quarantine?

“Princess Leia”

A: Norway is the current best bet – it has just abandoned all testing, vaccination and quarantine regulations. But we are some way from having anything like a picture of how restrictions might be next week, let alone by April.

Rental rants

Q: We own a property in Florida and absolutely love going there. Our flights this year are comparable with previous years. However, the car hire is at least three times more expensive.

I am unwilling to pay over £1,200 for something that normally cost under £400. Do you foresee this changing in the near future?

LK

A: The car rental industry in the US and elsewhere in the world was traumatised by the coronavirus pandemic. In March 2020 they had billions of dollars’ worth of shiny new vehicles that, very suddenly, almost no one wanted. Naturally they responded by selling off cars in the tens of thousands, and stopped ordering new fleets.

When drivers started to return, a shortage of cars began to emerge. As in any part of the travel industry, if an asset is scarce and demand is strong, the most efficient (and profitable) way to allocate it is to put up prices. Inevitably, rates began to soar. Keeping fleets small ensures that rates stay high and rental companies are less exposed to further losses if there is another sudden slump in demand.

The travel market is naturally hyper-competitive, and in normal times the picture would improve from the customer’s point of view within a few months: companies would see the high yields being collected, and swiftly pile in with more capacity in the shape of additional cars to try to cash in. But you are probably aware of the semiconductor shortage in the automotive industry, which means that production lines are slower than normal.

Meanwhile, you could try what has been described as the “Airbnb of car rental”: Turo, which connects car owners with prospective renters. Right now I could pick up a 2018 Nissan Versa in Orlando for just $28 (£21) per day. Registering is easy, and the reports I have heard have generally been positive.

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