From the moment UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, mentioned in his Road Map for England that 17 May could be the day for the restart of holidays, the entire travel industry struck a ready-to-take-off pose.
Yet, it seems, there is still a long road ahead before any certainty could settle on the question of foreign travel which at this time is illegal.
So, when will international travel be allowed again?
Today (5 April) at the Downing Street briefing, the PM remained very cautious and indicated that the resumption of foreign holidays could be pushed back beyond 17 May saying:
“We can see waves of sickness afflicting other countries.
“I do not wish to give hostages to fortune or underestimate the difficulties being experienced in countries people might want to go to.
“The Global Travel Taskforce is going to report later on this week. We will be then setting out before 17 May what we think is reasonable.”
Currently, France, Germany and Italy are experiencing steep rises in incidences of Covid and the government is worried about new variants. This backdrop makes it impossible to say exactly when travel will be safe again.
The Traffic Light System
Going forward, there will be a risk assessment and countries will be judged on factors such as the proportion of the population that has been vaccinated, rates of infection, the presence of emerging new variants, and access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing.
Once the risk assessment has been formulated countries will be tagged as follows:
GREEN: There is only one country on the green list – Ireland. Perhaps more countries will be added. Travellers from these countries will not need to quarantine, but a test must be undertaken up to 72 hours before departure to England and a test on arrival back in England. The latter test can be a lateral flow test which will be free to receive after April 19.
AMBER: Quarantine at home for 10 days and tests before departure and PCR test after day 2 after 5 days after returning. This rule could be more flexible for fully vaccinated travellers.
RED: UK residents only will be allowed to enter the UK, and those that do will have to undergo a pre-departure test, then quarantine in a designated hotel at their own expense (up to £1,750) on arrival for 11 days. Then a test on days 2 and 8.
The government said that it still too soon to predict which countries will make it onto the green list and continues to advise against booking holidays abroad this summer.
The reaction from officials at Heathrow airport expressed disappointment that the government did not take the opportunity to give definite dates for travel. The government says it
“will confirm in advance whether non-essential international travel can resume on 17 May, or whether we will need to wait longer before lifting the outbound travel restriction”.
I’ve already got a holiday booked at the end of May. Should I cancel?
Don’t cancel your holiday. There really is no way of knowing whether or not it will go ahead. But don’t rush to cancel. If you do you will be charged a hefty cancellation fee.
It may be that all will be well and you get to go on holiday. In the event that the holiday company will have to cancel the holiday, you will be eligible for a refund.
Covid Status Certification (aka Vaccination Passport)T
Covid certification will most likely play a part in getting foreign travel off the ground and for the mass events. This will be developed in the coming months with trials starting as soon as mid-Apri. The certification is likely to be a version of the NHS Covid app.
The government says:
“The NHS is working on providing individuals with the means to demonstrate their Covid status through a digital and non-digital route, and is working with experts to put security and privacy at the core of this approach.
“When non-essential international travel does resume, the NHS solution will facilitate international travel where certification is required, and we will look to establish arrangements with other countries and international organisations to establish mutual recognition of certificates.”
In due course and this certificate would consider three things: immunity i.e. those who have had the virus before and have antibodies, vaccination status and proof of a negative covid test.
The global travel task force will be revealing its report on 13 April about the way forward.
In the meantime, lateral flow tests are now freely available from the NHS and the PM encouraged everyone to take a test twice a week if they can.
At the moment it is illegal to travel abroad and flouting this rule invites a hefty fine of £5,000. Domestic travel will be allowed from 12 April.