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Foreign travel is almost allowed — Here’s what to know before booking

Malta? Likely. The US or France? Maybe. South Africa? Probably not.

At least that’s where British travellers stand for now as the date for re-starting international travel fast approaches.

In the four-stage roadmap, announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in February, international travel is set to resume in the third step, after 17 May and government officials have said that Britons can “start to think about” booking flights abroad. 

Here’s what we know:

Green light, red light

Earlier this month, the UK government announced that it would put in place a traffic light system, categorising countries based on their Covid-19 risk level and requirements before and after travel. Countries can either be green, amber or red.

When international travel is allowed to resume, travellers will also no longer need to have a permission form justifying the reason for leaving the UK.

There will also be a “green watchlist”, which will keep people informed about green countries that are teetering on the risk category of amber. The watchlist is designed to avoid scenes of crowded airports and train stations last summer, when many travellers had only a few days to change their plans in order to avoid a 14-day quarantine. 

Green countries have the lowest Covid risk level, with people travelling from those countries required to take a pre-departure test, which must be negative. Upon arrival, they would not need to quarantine unless they test positive for coronavirus on their second day test after returning. 

Those travelling to amber countries will have to quarantine for 10 days at home upon their return, similar to the rules in place for many countries before December. Travellers returning from red countries, however, will be required to quarantine for 10 days in a government-approved hotel, which costs £1,750 for the hotel, transport and testing

READ Traffic light travel: How the UK’s new system for holidays will work

The much-anticipated list is expected in early May. However, travel consultancy The PC Agency has compiled its own chart published on 16 April, ranking countries into possible categories depending on a range of factors. 


The agency looked at the percentage of the population that received its first dose, the number of infections per 100,000 people over seven days and over 14 days, as well as the percentage change in seven-day infections over the last week. 

Malta, Portugal and Israel are classified green under the ranking, with those countries boasting 40%, 16% and 61% of their population having received the first dose as of 15 April. 

The US is amber despite 37% of its population with vaccinations. So is Greece. In France, with over 350 infections per 100,000 people over seven days, is in the amber category despite having 16% of the population with a first dose. South Africa, which has a “variant of concern”, is a red-list country. 

READ  Britons can ‘start to think about’ booking foreign holidays

In a 22 April post, chief executive of The PC Agency Paul Charles said, citing anonymous sources, that all of Europe is likely to be either amber or green.

In the UK, more than 33 million people have received the first dose of their vaccine, with 11 million fully vaccinated, according to the government’s dashboard. On 22 April, there were 2,729 new positive Covid-19 cases and 18 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

Covid status certificates: what are they and when will they be ready? 

The UK government is currently reviewing the potential role of “Covid-status certification” in helping venues reopen safely as the country begins to lift its third nationwide lockdown.

In a 5 April update on the ongoing roadmap reviews, which also include social distancing and global travel, the government said that the certification could have an “important role to play both domestically and internationally, as a temporary measure”.

“The vaccination programme could offer a more stable route out of the need for such restrictions — provided we see sufficient efficacy against any variants of concern — which means the role of COVID-status certification is crucial to this work,” the update said.

There is still no date as to when the certificates will be issued. A spokesperson for the Department for Transport told Sky News that it is a “priority” and the government intends to have the solution “ready as soon as possible”. 

“We are working on a solution to enable residents to prove their Covid-19 status, including vaccination status, to other countries on the outbound leg,” the spokesperson said.

What is at stake for the sector? 

The travel and tourism industry contributed 6.7% of all gross value added in the UK in 2018, the Office for National Statistics found in a report on the impact of Covid-19 on the two sectors. 

The Transport Committee, a group of MPs tasked with holding the Department for Transport to account, warned that the aviation and tourism sectors will suffer “significant economic detriment if they experience another summer without international travel” in a 22 April report


Does the European Union have a Covid status equivalent? 

On 17 March, the European Commission presented a proposal to create a “digital green certificate” to facilitate free movement of citizens in the European Union – a right that has been put on hold as countries grapple with containing the spread of the coronavirus.

The certificate, available both in paper and digital format, will provide proof that a person has either been vaccinated against Covid-19 with an EU authorised vaccine, has received a negative test result or has recovered from Covid-19.

Much like the UK system, the Commission has not yet said when the certificates will be ready. When the proposal was first announced, the bloc said it was aiming to have the technical work completed in “the coming months”.

READ  EU Covid passports will allow travel to restart – here’s how they will work

Some EU countries, however, have already made clear that they are hoping travel will resume with the UK. Spain’s tourism minister told Sky News on 22 April that the country will be “ready” for British tourists. 

“The vaccination scheme in the UK is going pretty well, so hopefully we’ll be seeing this summer the restart of holidays,” said Fernando Valdes, adding that Covid status passports are “going to help us” restart travel. Valdes also gave a tentative date of June, saying that Spain was persuading the European Union to restart travel with non-EU countries like the UK.

Greece and Cyprus have also said that they will allow vaccinated tourists from May, removing the need to quarantine upon arrival, in a bid to restart their economies, which are heavily reliant on tourism. 

To contact the author of this story with feedback or news, email Bérengère Sim

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