Holidaymakers could face fresh chaos amid claims Spain is on the verge of being placed on the ‘amber plus’ list for quarantine.
The move – which could leave hundreds of thousands of Britons having to self-isolate unexpectedly on return – is believed to be on the cards amid growing concern about cases of the South African variant.
The speculation comes as the ‘Covid O’ group of ministers are meeting today to sign off exempting double-jabbed European and US travellers from quarantine rules in England.
Despite Labour branding it ‘reckless’, the easing looks almost certain to go ahead after Boris Johnson voiced concerns the EU was further ahead in welcoming international travellers than the UK and risk ‘squandering its vaccine bonus’.
There is also a new wave of optimism after coronavirus cases tumbled for a seventh day running – with ministers privately claiming the crisis is now ‘all over bar the shouting’.
Boris Johnson said this morning that dropping self-isolation rules for people who are ‘pinged’ is ‘nailed on’ for August 16. But he is defying furious Tory demands for the date to be brought forward, amid warnings from businesses of food shortages caused by so many staff being off.
As the country waits anxiously for the next phase of the pandemic:
- The International Monetary Fund upgraded its forecasts to predict the UK economy would bounce back with 7 per cent growth this year;
- Boris Johnson has slapped down Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove for branding vaccine refusers ‘selfish’ and warning they could be barred from venues;
- The Department of Health admitted daily testing was just as effective as self-isolation;
- New figures revealed a record 1.13million children were off school in the final week of term because of self-isolation rules;
- Leaked Covid hospitalisation figures suggested almost half of patients tested positive only after being admitted;
- A further 131 virus-related deaths were reported – the highest figure since March – while Covid patients in hospital rose to 5,918.
Reprieve? Travel to France (left) might soon be easier… but holidaymakers in Spain may have to quarantine even if double-jabbed
Whitehall sources are increasingly confident that France will be removed from the ‘amber plus’ list, which requires people to self-isolate for ten days on return even if fully vaccinated. Pictured, Mahon, the capital city of Menorca in Spain
What are the rules on returning to England from an amber list country?
Since July 19, people who have received both vaccine doses in the UK at least 14 days prior to travelling have not been required to self-isolate when returning from ‘amber list’ destinations.
They are also not obliged to take a Covid test on day eight after getting back.
However, that get-out does not apply to ‘amber plus’ France at the moment amid concerns about the prevalence of the Beta – or South African – strain.
Non-vaccinated people returning from ‘amber list’ countries must take a private PCR or lateral flow test in the three days before departing for England.
Before arriving back you must also book and pay for day two and day eight Covid-19 tests.
You can choose to pay for a private Covid-19 test on day five, and if it is negative that ends self-isolation.
The UK economy is estimated to be losing as much as £639million every day because of the current limits in place on incoming tourists.
After the fully-vaccinated EU and US travellers, other countries could be added to the quarantine-free travel list at a later date.
Since July 19, double jabbed Britons have been able to travel to and from amber list countries without quarantining upon their return, but the same right was not extended to those who received jabs abroad.
The plans would initially only apply to England but other UK nations could follow suit.
Under the proposals, airlines will be expected to approve passengers’ vaccine status before check-in for England-bound flights, to prevent huge queues at passport control.
A trial was carried out by Heathrow, BA and Virgin which found they could overcome 99 per cent of the difficulties in verifying the vaccination status of travellers from the US.
Different states have different paper and digital certificates, but airports and airlines are hoping for the new rules to be smoothly adopted.
Ministers will also approve plans to allow all double vaccinated expats to travel to the UK from amber list countries without the need to quarantine.
Only Britons vaccinated by the NHS are currently exempt from quarantine.
Travellers who transit through certain red country hubs such as Dubai, Doha, Istanbul, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi could also avoid hotel quarantine if they remain airside during their connections, according to The Telegraph.
However, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner condemned the plans for quarantine exemptions.
‘This is reckless. We know that the Delta variant came into this country and delayed the lifting of some of the restrictions and caused infections here,’ she told Sky News.
‘We need to make sure that we have got data driven analysis and we look at an international passport for vaccines.
‘We also know that people who have had the vaccine of course can still get the virus, so a testing regime is very important and crucial as well.’
Pressure to change Spain’s designation follows concern about the Beta variant, which emerged in South Africa and is thought to be more resistant to the AstraZeneca vaccine given to millions in the UK.
A Whitehall source said: ‘The situation in Spain is beginning to feel a lot like the build-up to the decision on France.
‘The Department of Health are getting very jumpy about the number of Beta cases in parts of the country.
‘We’re not talking about the main tourist hotspots, but that might not make any difference – it didn’t with France.’
The shock move to place France in its own category earlier this month wrecked thousands of families’ holidays as well as the plans of many expats hoping to see loved ones for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
Cases of the Delta variant have fallen sharply in France in recent weeks and ministers are confident it will be restored to the same status as other amber list countries, meaning fully vaccinated travellers will no longer have to quarantine when they return.
One source said: ‘France is going to happen. It should never have been left out in the first place – the Department of Health just panicked. But there could be no justification for keeping restrictions in place now.’
Any move to put Spain on the ‘amber plus’ list is likely to provoke a fierce row within Government. Although there is concern about the Beta variant, many experts believe it is being ‘crowded out’ by the more virulent Delta variant now spreading rapidly across Spain.
Current amber and red list destinations. A review of the UK travel list is expected on Wednesday or Thursday next week
The shock move to place France in its own category earlier this month wrecked thousands of families’ holidays. Pictured, a covid testing site by the Eiffel Tower in France
No curbs for US visitors – but America won’t let us in
Ministers are set to rubber-stamp proposals to allow more double-jabbed tourists into the UK – amid growing frustration at the US for refusing to do the same.
Senior Cabinet members will meet today to discuss the reciprocal deal with the EU to allow residents into Britain without quarantine.
They also plan to allow US citizens in quarantine-free, even though there is no sign the US intends to do the same for us.
Officials hope it will be seen as a goodwill gesture that will encourage the country to respond in kind. Yesterday, policing minister Kit Malthouse told Sky News it was ‘disappointing’ that the US still had no plans to loosen travel restrictions across the Atlantic because of the Delta variant.
Spain has seen a recent uptick in infections that could force the government to add it to the travel quarantine list
Holiday cover blow
Families who lose their holidays because one or more member is ‘pinged’ face losing their cash as well.
Many travel insurance policies will not cover people who have to cancel after a notification to self-isolate from the NHS Test & Trace app.
Nine in 10 policies do pay out if the policyholder tests positive for Covid. But this falls to six in 10 when a trip is cancelled due to a ping, said analysts Defaqto. Amid fears of a hit to bookings, package holiday firm TUI is allowing people pinged to change their dates for free.
Anna-Marie Duthie, from Defaqto, said some insurers would be sympathetic, but added: ‘Policyholders should read their policies carefully to be sure they fully understand what cover they have, and if in doubt contact their insurers before changing any travel plans.’