Ministers are set to allow quarantine-free travel to families, holidaymakers and businessmen coming through red list destinations if they remain airside by easing Britain’s travel ban on airport hubs, in a move likely to unleash new airport chaos.
At a crunch meeting this week, ministers are set to agree a plan to allow travellers to pass through the red list hubs of the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Bahrain without having to quarantine in a hotel on arrival in the UK for 10 days at a cost of £1,750.
Travellers would be quarantine-free provided they remained airside on transit through the airports, in a major boon for the devastated travel and hospitality sectors, as well as the holiday hopes of millions of people this summer.
Though the UAE, Turkey, Qatar and Bahrain are on the red list amid concerns they could act as focal points for the spread of Covid variants, ministers are preparing to exemption travellers who do not enter the countries and instead transit and remain airside.
The move will make it cheaper and easier for business travellers and families, particularly those seeking to reunite with relatives in Australia and New Zealand, with a Government source telling the Sunday Telegraph: ‘We are close to agreement and it will be announced in the next week or so.’
The travel sector reacted positively to the development. Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency, told the newspaper: ‘The infection rates in the hubs have fallen. Opening them up is vital to the future success of aviation.
‘Aviation has grown in recent years on the back of strong interconnectivity at these hubs. Without them, the air lines cannot operate at anything like the capacity they need. It would be major progress if they opened the hubs for transit passengers but it is only when they come off the red list that it will make a true difference to the travel sector.’
A traveller arrives at Heathrow Airport in London, Britain, 31 July 2021
Most viable European holiday destinations, including Spain and Italy, are amber. There are fears both countries could be moved to the tougher watch list as early as this week
‘You’d have to be crackers to book a holiday’: Fury at travel chaos and NEW list
Ministers have been condemned for causing quarantine confusion as a raging battle has erupted in the cabinet over plans for a danger list of countries that could see destinations like Spain and Italy suddenly move to red.
The plans for a new ‘amber watch list’ sparked outrage in Whitehall as some ministers believe it could ruin the holiday hopes of millions of Britons.
The idea, which was agreed in principle this week, would see holidaymakers warned that while they are abroad certain amber countries could go straight on to the red list.
This would leave them facing compulsory hotel quarantine on their return, at a cost of £1,750 a head.
Spain and Italy both featured in talks about countries that could be put into the new category – as soon as next week – amid fears about the Beta variant, which first emerged in South Africa.
Senior ministers, including Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Chancellor Rishi Sunak, are said to have reservations about imposing further disruption on the beleaguered travel sector.
One Whitehall source said: ‘You would have to be crackers to book a holiday to a place knowing that it could go on to the red list at any moment.
‘If you have already booked to go there you are going to spend your whole holiday worrying whether you are going to have to make a dash to the airport to get home.
‘The decision next week will basically be in place for August. It is peak holiday season – are we really going to cause that much disruption to this many people?’
The report will help heap pressure on President Joe Biden to lift the US travel ban on the UK. Though double-vaccinated US citizens will be able to travel to Britain from tomorrow without having to quarantine, Britons remain banned from travelling to the United States.
Seventy-seven members of Congress have written to President Biden urging him to remove the ban and boost transatlantic trade. Henry Smith, the Tory chairman of the all party Future of Aviation group, said the Anglo-US taskforce must work ‘much more in concert’ rather than the UK ‘just taking unilateral action.’
It comes as Chancellor Rishi Sunak urges Boris Johnson to scrap Covid travel restrictions and save summer holidays this year, warning that border rules are wrecking the UK economy, squandering Britain’s vaccine advantage and are stricter than European rivals.
Mr Sunak has reportedly written to the Prime Minister to scrap travel restrictions amid mounting concerns that current UK border rules are damaging the country’s wobbly economy, particularly its already-devastated tourism and hospitality sectors.
The Chancellor is said to have warned that the UK is squandering its vaccine advantage after locking-down the country in January to roll-out Covid jabs, and is now saddling travellers with more ‘draconian’ rules than even Britain’s rivals in the European Union.
A source close to the Chancellor told the Sunday Times that Mr Sunak also wants to see the rules eased amid growing fears that restrictions are hampering City firms that are competing against EU cities to do business with the United States.
The Chancellor’s intervention comes ahead of a meeting on Thursday, at which ministers will set rules that will be in place for most of August. Millions of Britons will want to know whether they have to undergo Covid tests or quarantine if they travel to popular tourist destinations such as France, Italy and Spain.
A senior Government source told the newspaper: ‘Rishi and the PM are concerned that we’ve got the benefit from vaccinating so many people and yet we are an outlier in terms of how draconian we are about travel.’ Treasury sources did not deny that the Chancellor had written to the Prime Minister but said the communication was not related to next week’s review.
The Government has faced criticism over changes to its border policy during the coronavirus pandemic, with France the latest to be irked after it was placed on a newly-created ‘amber-plus’ list as part of the so-called traffic light system.
The fresh designation, in response to suggestions of growing cases of the Beta variant that was first discovered in South Africa, saw the quarantine exemption for the fully vaccinated scrapped, meaning those returning from France had to quarantine for 10 days.
It comes as MPs called for a guarantee that holidaymakers in so-called amber countries would not have to self-isolate if their destination was placed on the red list while they were abroad, as the holiday hopes of millions risk being thrown into chaos by plans for a ‘danger list’ that could force people to pay for hotel quarantine upon returning to the UK.
Analysts have predicted that Spain could be the next country to go on the amber-plus list, in what would be a blow to British tourists given Spain is the UK’s most popular tourist destination.
There is speculation that France might be promoted back to amber when the Government updates the travel lists on August 5, restoring the ability for the double jabbed to skip self-isolation.
No 10 sources said it was too early to speculate on what changes might be made next week, with ministers yet to see the latest data from the Joint Biosecurity Centre, which assesses the risks presented by international travel.
They pointed to the decision to open up travel to those who are fully vaccinated coming from the US and European Union as an example of Mr Johnson’s own desire to see more open borders in Britain.
Mr Sunak’s push for travel restrictions to be softened comes only days after scientists advising the Government on coronavirus warned, in papers published on Friday, that any increase in foreign travel this summer is concerning.
Analysts have predicted that Spain could be the next country to go on the amber-plus list, in what would be a blow to British tourists given Spain is the UK’s most popular tourist destination. There is speculation that France might be promoted back to amber when the Government updates the travel lists on August 5, restoring the ability for the double jabbed to skip self-isolation
Last week Ministers agreed in principle a new ‘amber watch list’ which could mean amber countries go straight to red. However, Tories want some guarantee that UK travellers will not be forced to self-isolate if the rules change while they are abroad, meaning people who flew out under one set of rules would be allowed to fly back on the same rules – even if the country designation changed while there.
Sir John Hayes, who leads the Common Sense group of Tory MPs, said: ‘It is really important holidaymakers know where they stand. The worst in the world would be if you have flown somewhere and find you will not be able to get back except at significant cost.’
He called on Ministers to ‘get the balance right’ and not ‘move the goal posts’ for fully vaccinated people who were told they could fly to amber countries without needing to isolate.
‘Hopefully we can sort something out that reassures people that if they do embark on a trip without being stranded. It’s common sense,’ he added.
Henry Smith, the Conservative MP for Crawley, said there should be a time-limited window in which people can fly back under the same rules they flew out on. He called on Ministers to introduce ‘some sort of fortnight guarantee if you travelled in good faith, you should be allowed to come back in on the conditions you left.’
The MP added the current system is ‘really putting people off international travel, to places that are arguably safer than many parts of the UK. The real effects will be more job losses in the travel and aviation sectors.’
The new traffic light plan comes just weeks after double-jabbed Brits were told they could go to amber countries without having to self-isolate on their return. However France was moved to an ‘amber plus’ list and exempted. Most viable European holiday destinations, including Spain and Italy, are amber. There are fears both countries could be moved to the tougher watch list as early as this week.
Tom Hunt, the Conservative who also sits on the Common Sense Group of MPs, said that, unless the Government this week ‘significantly’ expands the green list, people flying to amber list countries should be given more protection.
Mr Hunt said giving people a guarantee they can return on the same rules they flew out with is ‘reasonable’ and called on the Government to consider it. The MP called on Ministers to ‘chart a balance between keeping an eye on variants and borders, and giving certainty to holidaymakers.
The daily average of coronavirus-related deaths, those dying within 28 days of a positive test, has increased by 9 per cent over the past week, with hospital admissions up by almost a fifth
Mr Hunt also warned of the mental health impact on holidaymakers finally trying to get a break. ‘If you’re checking your phone every hour when over in one of these countries, anxious about it changing category, it counteracts the whole point of a holiday,’ he said.
Claire Brophy, 40, from Marlow, Buckinghamshire, flew to Alicante yesterday to see her parents for the first time in a year. If Spain moved on to a red list she would have to fly home immediately to allow time to self-isolate before the start of her two children’s school term and pay about £600 for Covid tests.
She said: ‘Changing the traffic lights for Spain absolutely shouldn’t be allowed: the cost of that for our family would be ludicrous. If this trip was just for a holiday, I wouldn’t bother. But I haven’t seen my family since last August.’
She and husband Damien, 39, booked their second vaccinations when the Government said double-jabbed passengers travelling to amber countries would be exempt from quarantine from July 19. But Ms Brophy is now angry the freedom promised by the vaccine could be taken away.
Last night the travel industry attacked Ministers’ traffic lights approach and ‘chaos’ over travel.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry body Airlines UK, which represents the UK’s major airlines, said: ‘Cooking up yet another traffic light tier at will – the sixth since the Global Travel Taskforce was published – would be a further blow to demand in the middle of what is supposed to be the peak summer season.
‘The Government must focus on getting more countries on to the green list during its review next week. That’s the single best way to provide the necessary reassurance to families desperate to get away.’
The daily average of coronavirus-related deaths, those dying within 28 days of a positive test, has increased by nine per cent over the past week, with hospital admissions up by almost a fifth.
Government data showed a further 71 people died as of Saturday, bringing the UK total to 129,654, and a further 26,144 lab-confirmed cases were also recorded.
With more than 900 people reported to have been admitted to hospital on Saturday, meaning 5,900 Covid patients are currently being treated in wards, fresh incentives are being rolled out to entice young people into getting vaccinated.
The Department of Health and Social Care said around 67 per cent of people aged 18 to 29 in England have received a first dose, and it is hoping to boost those figures with offers of vouchers and discounts for popular takeaways and taxi for those who get a jab.
Uber, Bolt, Deliveroo and Pizza Pilgrims are among the brands who will be offering incentives to encourage youngsters to get inoculated.
Taxi app firm Uber will be sending reminders to all users in August encouraging them to get jabbed, DHSC said. The company will offer discounted Uber rides and meals on its Uber Eats platform for young adults who receive a vaccine.
Bolt, another ride-hailing app, will offer ‘free ride credit’ to vaccination centres following a similar scheme earlier this year when it offered £250,000 worth of free rides to London vaccination facilities.
Deliveroo is planning to give vouchers to young people who get jabbed.
The DHSC said further details on partnerships will be released ‘in due course’ and other incentives ‘could include vouchers or discount codes’, along with competitions and promotional offers for restaurants.