UK

Coronavirus UK: Thousands of Britons jet off to ‘amber list’ destinations

The Government today caused further confusion over foreign holidays after saying Britons could go to an ‘amber list’ country to see their friends and relatives – as airlines cut prices to Spain, Italy and Greece to as little as £18 next month.

Passengers are already heading to amber list countries with 120 flights to them from Heathrow yesterday – compared with just 19 to green, quarantine-free destinations.

At London Gatwick it was 31 and six respectively, despite Downing Street saying people should not be travelling to any places on the amber list unless it is essential.

But Environment Secretary George Eustice told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning: ‘The reason we have the amber list is there will be reasons why people feel they need to travel – either to visit family or indeed to visit friends.

‘They can travel to those countries but they then have to observe quarantine when they return and have two tests after returning. So people can travel to those areas, yes, but they will then have to subject themselves to quarantine on their return.’

Asked if this was confusing, he said: ‘Because we want to give people that clarity, we are taking things a step at a time. They can go to those countries [on the amber list] provided they quarantine when they come back and have the two tests on return.’ 

Airlines are hoping for a further surge of UK tourists if countries on the amber list are moved to the green list when it is first reviewed on June 7 and then on June 28.

And return flights for a four-day trip to Madrid from London will cost just £18 next month, while Rome is £22 and Athens is £26 – all with Ryanair from London Stansted.

These prices are significantly down on what is available this week – with returns to Rome at £204, Madrid at £155 and Athens at £238, according to Google Flights.

The prices for Paris are yet not dropping to such low levels, with most returns in June around the £90 mark – and only three days below £70, with the cheapest at £56.

Passengers returning from amber list countries must stay at home for ten days and take a PCR test on days two and eight – as well as a lateral flow test before the return flight. They can also pay for ‘Test to Release’ on day five to end self-isolation early.

It comes as a change to the NHS app brought in today allows people to prove whether they have had the Covid jab – effectively making it a vaccine passport.

ROME: Return flights for a four-day trip to Rome from London will cost just £22 next month

PARIS: Flights from London to the French capital will not fall below £87 mark until mid-June

PARIS: Flights from London to the French capital will not fall below £87 mark until mid-June

MADRID: A return to the Spanish city will be just £18 next month and only rises slightly in July

MADRID: A return to the Spanish city will be just £18 next month and only rises slightly in July

ATHENS: Those hoping to visit Greece can get a bargain if they travel on selected dates in June

ATHENS: Those hoping to visit Greece can get a bargain if they travel on selected dates in June

LARNACA: Flight costs will fall gradually in the coming weeks before levelling off in mid-June

LARNACA: Flight costs will fall gradually in the coming weeks before levelling off in mid-June

Flight track software shows far more flights in Britain today (left) compared to March 25 (right)

People wait to check in at London Heathrow Airport's Terminal Two departures area today

People wait to check in at London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Two departures area today

Tourism and airline chiefs have been left exasperated as the Government’s mixed messaging on holidays overshadowed the resumption of foreign travel.

As the ban on non-essential travel was lifted, Downing Street doubled down and insisted people should only be holidaying in the 12 countries on the green list.

How the cost of flights between UK and amber list countries has fallen since announcement

The cheapest return from London to a European destination is shown. 

The prices were checked on Skyscanner for flying out in ten days’ time and returning a week later.

Prices for May 17 to May 24 were taken on May 7, one hour before Government announced the new green list. Prices for May 28 to June 4 were taken today (May 18), also ten days in advance.

Madrid (Spain) – DOWN 56%

  • May 28 to June 4 — £41 return with Ryanair from Stansted
  • May 17 to May 24 — £93 return with Iberia from Heathrow

Athens (Greece) – DOWN 41%

  • May 28 to June 4 – £87 return with Ryanair from Stansted
  • May 17 to May 24 — £148 return with easyjet from Gatwick

Paris (France) – DOWN 15%

  • May 28 to June 4 — £104 return with easyJet from Gatwick
  • May 17 to May 24 — £123 return with British Airways from Heathrow

Larnaca (Cyprus) – DOWN 26%

  • May 28 to June 4 — £143 return with British Airways from Heathrow
  • May 17 to May 24 — £194 return with British Airways from Heathrow

 

Huw Merriman, Tory chairman of the transport committee, confronted Health Secretary Matt Hancock in the Commons last night and accused him of ‘effectively turning the amber list into red’.

He added: ‘Can I ask him what the point is of me having my passport any more? This Covid will always mutate, the vaccine will always have to keep up, we’ve managed to vaccinate 99 per cent of the mortality risk. When will this Government actually take a little bit of risk and allow people to get on with their lives again?’

Mr Hancock replied: ‘He should get his passport out, he can get on a plane to Portugal or one of the other [green list] countries.’

He also faced calls for ‘clarity’ in the Commons from predecessor Jeremy Hunt, who said: ‘Should my constituents go on holiday to countries on that amber list even when it is no longer illegal?’

Mr Hancock replied: ‘The answer is no. People should not travel to amber or red list countries or territories… unless you have an exceptional reason.’

Last night, the bosses of British Airways, easyJet and Heathrow were among those to call for greater clarity from ministers. 

They also demanded that the quarantine-free travel ‘green list’ should be expanded to stem the losses that threaten the industry’s future.

Johan Lundgren from easyJet, accused ministers of being ‘inconsistent’ and sending ‘mixed messages’ by lifting the ban on foreign travel but warning people not to visit amber countries for holidays.

He added: ‘Any suggestions instead that people should take their holiday on overcrowded beaches in Cornwall and Bournemouth and not travel to equally low risk countries across Europe, that doesn’t make sense.’ 

Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye called for clearer messaging and a new watchlist so travellers know when a country is likely to go green well ahead of three-weekly reviews of the list.

He told the Mail: ‘I think that this is where the government needs to help people to be law-abiding, because if they don’t put countries such as, let’s say Spain or Greece, which are accepting visitors from the UK, onto the green list in a timely way, then people will make their own choices.’

How coronavirus case rates have changed in Italy, France, Greece, Spain and Britain

How coronavirus case rates have changed in Italy, France, Greece, Spain and Britain

Environment Secretary George Eustice (above) caused further confusion over foreign holidays after saying Britons could go to an 'amber list' country to see their friends and relatives

Environment Secretary George Eustice (above) caused further confusion over foreign holidays after saying Britons could go to an ‘amber list’ country to see their friends and relatives

BA chief Sean Doyle said the current advice on on travel to amber list countries was ‘not clear’ and that there were ‘many reasons’ why people needed to travel.

NHS app will contain ‘Covid passport’ from TODAY: Update allows patients to prove they have had the jab… but critics voice privacy fears

 

A change to the NHS app brought in today allows people to prove whether they have had the Covid jab – effectively making it a vaccine passport.

The update for users in England has been brought in with little fanfare but MPs and privacy campaigners have voiced fears that any such system could be discriminatory and a breach of human rights.

The app, which is separate to the NHS Covid-19 app for contact tracing, can already be used to request repeat prescriptions, book doctor appointments and view medical records.

The update coincides with Step 3 of the Government’s roadmap, which lifts the ban on foreign travel.

The NHS Digital website reads: ‘From 17 May, people in England who have had a full course of the Covid-19 vaccine can demonstrate their Covid-19 vaccination status for international travel.

People can prove their vaccination status in the NHS app or by ringing 119 to get a letter.’

A No 10 source last night said the updated app was designed to allow people to meet foreign countries’ requirements for visitors.

But they said ‘no decisions’ had been taken on the scope or use of any domestic scheme.

Boris Johnson has shelved the idea of requiring people to prove their Covid status to access pubs and restaurants.

But the idea is still being investigated by a review led by Michael Gove for mass events like sports stadiums and business conferences, and larger indoor venues like theatres.

The controversial notion of vaccine passports has been considered as a way for fully vaccinated adults to mix freely indoors without any need for restrictive public health measures or masks.

However, MPs across the political spectrum and privacy campaigners have voiced their fear that any such passport could be discriminatory and a breach of human rights.

The change introduces a ‘vaccine record’ service.

Users can prove they have had two doses of the jab and are therefore fully vaccinated..

A paper version is also available by calling 119 but not through a GP.

He said: ‘It’s not just about holidays. I think there’s an awful lot of real need to travel to amber countries from people who haven’t seen their parents for a year and also essential business that needs to be undertaken. And I think people will undertake that kind of travelling.’

The Government made it legal to visit countries on the amber list yesterday but said people should travel to them unless they had an ‘absolutely compelling reason’.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘Our advice is that no one should be travelling to amber countries, that’s in the interests of public health.

‘There may be unavoidable, essential reasons for which people still have to travel to amber list countries, that’s why the rules are there.’

In the Commons last night, Mr Hancock repeated the message, saying people should not travel there without an ‘essential’ reason.

But that leaves people with an extremely limited list of potential holiday destinations.

And yesterday, there were dozens of flights to traditional hotspots such as Spain, Greece and Italy yesterday despite all of them being on the amber list. Several more were bound for America.

There were also more than 20 flights scheduled for red list countries, including India, Pakistan, Qatar, Turkey and South Africa. These red list destinations are countries linked to worrying Covid variants.

Those returning from amber countries must self-isolate at home for ten days while red country travellers must quarantine for 11 nights in airport hotels at their own expense.

Tourism chiefs want this ‘green list’ of countries to be rapidly expanded in time for summer, including to traditional European hotspots, the Caribbean and United States.

Regardless of the uncertainty, thousands jetted off to holiday destinations legally for the first time in months after the ban on foreign travel ended at 4am yesterday.

Departures at Heathrow, Britain’s biggest airport, jumped from about 7,000 last Monday to 11,000 yesterday. This compares to about 120,000 pre-pandemic for this time of year.

The airport insisted the majority of the surge were flying to green list countries such as Portugal and Gibraltar. There were seven flights scheduled to these two yesterday from Heathrow.

Travel chiefs also called on ministers to follow the lead of some European countries by dropping testing and quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers.

Mr Doyle hailed yesterday as ‘an important milestone’ and ‘a very special day for many people who have been separated from their families and loved ones for over a year’.

But he added: ‘We need the government to start progressively assigning green status to many more low risk countries as their vaccination rates increase, and their infection rates begin to fall.

‘It’s clear to us that America should be on the green list, and the importance of the US and UK cannot be underestimated.’ 

He said around £32million a day is being lost from being shut to the US, which has jabbed more than half its adult population with at least one dose of vaccine. Infection rates there have also plummeted to around 67 per 100,000 people. It is currently about 24 per 100,000 in the UK.

Passengers arriving on a flight from Britain wait outside Faro airport in Portugal yesterday

Passengers arriving on a flight from Britain wait outside Faro airport in Portugal yesterday

Travellers are embraced by people waiting for them at Lisbon Airport in Portugal yesterday

Travellers are embraced by people waiting for them at Lisbon Airport in Portugal yesterday

Ryanair flight FR1080 from London Stansted Airport lands at Lisbon Airport yesterday

Ryanair flight FR1080 from London Stansted Airport lands at Lisbon Airport yesterday

Mr Holland-Kaye said it was ‘disappointing’ no Caribbean islands are on the green list, which was unveiled on May 7.

 

He said: ‘If we look at Barbados, its vaccination rollout is the same as Portugal, and its level of new cases is lower than the UK, you might say that it embodies low risk.

‘In Europe, many countries are seeing reduced infection rates as their vaccination levels rise. Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, France and Germany are making tremendous progress, and we expect them to be added to the green list soon, and certainly in time for the summer holiday season.’ 

As it stands, there is only a watchlist for countries which are at risk of going from green to amber due to rising infection rates.

But he said: ‘We are calling on the government to help people to plan ahead by publishing a list of countries expected to be on the green list for the summer, so that passengers are not faced with high prices and limited choices for last minute bookings, as this happened for many people travelling to Portugal today.

Passengers waiting at London Gatwick Airport for an early morning flight to Madeira yesterday

Passengers waiting at London Gatwick Airport for an early morning flight to Madeira yesterday

Travellers at Fiumicino Airport yesterday after Italy lifted quarantine restrictions for Britons

Travellers at Fiumicino Airport yesterday after Italy lifted quarantine restrictions for Britons

One passenger bragged of booking a flight to Portugal today for just £10, at 11pm last night

One passenger bragged of booking a flight to Portugal today for just £10, at 11pm last night 

‘Let’s give hardworking Britons a chance to get their towels on the sun lounger.’ Vaccinated travellers should also be exempt from testing and quarantine measures on their return to the UK, they said.

As it stands even inoculated Britons must take two tests, one pre-departure and another post-arrival, when returning from low-risk green countries.

They are required to take three tests and self-isolate for ten days when returning from amber destinations.

But a string of European countries are waiving testing and quarantine measures for their vaccinated citizens to help re-boot tourism and make holidays more seamless.

Mr Holland-Kaye said: ‘Vaccines are having the desired protective effect. If Public Health England thinks that vaccinations work, we believe it should follow the lead of its counterparts in the US and EU by removing the requirement for vaccinated Britons to take tests to return to the UK from low risk countries.

‘We urge the Government to expand the green list at the earliest opportunity so we don’t fall behind our European neighbours.’ 

The green list will first be reviewed on June 7 and then on June 28.


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