Blanket restrictions on non-essential overseas travel will be relaxed in the UK from 6 July, ministers have said.
Holidaymakers are expected to be allowed to travel to certain European countries without having to spend 14 days in quarantine when they return.
They are thought to include Spain, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Finland, Belgium, Turkey, Germany and Norway – but not Portugal or Sweden.
The full list of travel corridors with the UK will be published next week.
A government spokesman said the new rules would give people “the opportunity for a summer holiday abroad” while also boosting the UK economy – but stressed the relaxation depended on risks staying low.
A traffic light system will be introduced – with countries classified as green, amber and red depending on the prevalence of coronavirus. The government said it “wouldn’t hesitate to put on the brakes” if the situation changes.
Portugal has seen a rise in the number of new cases in and around Lisbon recently, while Sweden is also unlikely to be on the list because the infection rate there is higher than in the UK. They are both likely to be classified as red.
But the government spokesman conceded there would be nothing to stop someone avoiding quarantine by flying into a Spanish airport, driving over the border into Portugal for their holiday and returning by the same route.
The travel sector has gone to war with the government over its blanket quarantine policy.
So a more nuanced, risk-based approach will quieten the critics to some extent.
But the storm of controversy swirling around this policy won’t completely go away.
Portugal, which will probably not be on next week’s list of exemptions, feels hard done-by.
The country is desperate that UK tourists return.
And although in public health terms the US is not currently close to being on the list, it does potentially present a tricky diplomatic dynamic, given the normally cosy relationship between Washington and London.
And the transatlantic flight market is lucrative too.
This announcement is a step in the right direction for UK aviation, but they want testing at airports to also provide another way for passengers to be exempt. So far, in public, the government has said very little about that.
UK travellers will still have to hand over the address they plan to stay at on their return from abroad, no matter which country they are coming back from. And they will also be legally required to wear face coverings on planes and ferries.
Travel industry group ABTA described the relaxation of quarantine rules as “encouraging”.
“Confirmation of the list of countries is eagerly anticipated by the travel industry, and should encourage customers to book,” it said in a statement.
“The blanket Foreign Office advice against all but essential travel is still a major impediment to travel, however, and we look forward to the government adopting a similar risk-based approach to that advice.”
The UK introduced rules requiring all people arriving in the UK to self-isolate for 14 days on 8 June. It was widely criticised by the travel industry and MPs of all parties.
What are the current quarantine rules?
- People arriving in the UK should drive their own car to their destination, where possible, and once there they must not use public transport or taxis
- Arrivals must not go to work, school, or public areas, or have visitors – except for essential support. They are also not allowed to go out to buy food, or other essentials, where they can rely on others
- Those arriving in England, Wales and Northern Ireland could face a fine of £1,000 if they fail to self-isolate for the full 14 days, while they face a £480 fine in Scotland. The maximum fine for repeat offenders in Scotland is £5,000.
For more on the rules click here.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the laws were designed “to prevent a second wave” of coronavirus.
Foreign Office advice against all but essential international travel has been in place since 17 March.
“Our public health measures at the border were put in place to manage the risk of imported cases and help prevent a second wave of the virus, and will continue to support our fight against coronavirus,” said a government spokesman.
“Our new risk-assessment system will enable us to carefully open a number of safe travel routes around the world – giving people the opportunity for a summer holiday abroad and boosting the UK economy through tourism and business.
“But we will not hesitate to put on the brakes if any risks re-emerge, and this system will enable us to take swift action to re-introduce self-isolation measures if new outbreaks occur overseas.”