Quarantine-free holidays from Freedom Day today sparked an avalanche of bookings with easyJet seeing a 400 per cent rise in sales and Ryanair launching £4.99 flights to amber list destinations – but there is growing anxiety about more horrendous queues at passport control and plans to test children as young as five.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has even warned holidaymakers to expect border chaos as he announced that millions of fully vaccinated Britons will not have to self-isolate after trips abroad to amber list countries from July 19.
And after the news that opens up 140 destinations, Britons with two jabs started furiously booking their breaks abroad.
EasyJet said flight bookings to Alicante and Malaga in Spain, Faro in Portugal, Nice in France and Corfu in Greece exploded by 400 per cent compared to a week ago, with an extra 145,000 extra seats put online, and package holiday sales were up 440 per cent. Ryanair are selling tickets for £4.99 to dozens of European destinations.
The change will allow Britons to head to France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Croatia and Cyprus but some EU countries are still restricting entry, including Italy, which still demands Britons self-isolate for five days on arrival. The United States is on the amber list but still bans British tourists.
And sources have warned that the extra checks could initially result in queues at borders of up to six hours. A Whitehall source said Border Force is ‘nowhere near ready’ to cope with the changes. The source predicted that the agency was unlikely to have upgraded its system until next month, potentially leading to weeks of chaos at the border.
‘You could easily be looking at queues of six hours to start with,’ the source said, adding: ‘The Border Force is nowhere near ready. What no-one knows is how much extra traffic there will be as a result of the change.’
Grant Shapps also faces a backlash over mandatory PCR tests for children as young as five when they return from holidays. All adult travellers will still have to take two tests – one pre-return within three days of travel to England and another post-arrival by day two. Children aged 11 to 17 will also need to take the pre-return and post-arrival tests.
But controversially children aged 5 to 10 will need to take the post-arrival test by day two. The level of testing means it could easily add £400 to the cost of a holiday for a family of four.
Molly Kingsley, co-founder of parents’ group Us for Them told the Telegraph: ‘It is very unclear why we would be doing this now at a time when we know the vaccines have broken the link between infections and hospitalisations.
‘Many parents would feel uneasy about normalising testing for children as young as this. It sends a very negative message to our children that they are disease vectors. Any holiday with a family is expensive enough as it is. I would not put a five or eight-year-old through this to go away’.
Newof the great getaway came as it also emerged:
- Free asymptomatic tests may be scrapped at the end of August and Brits may have to pay for lateral flow kits;
- Millions of at-risk Britons will be told to have limited contact when curbs are lifted – but will not have to shield;
- Covid cases in England are 13 times higher in young people compared to over-60s in proof of ‘vaccine effect’;
- Boris Johnson is ‘actively considering’ an extra Bank Holiday if England win Euro 2020 after fan petition;
- Overweight people will get supermarket discounts, shopping vouchers and Fitbits in £6million NHS plan.
Airline easyJet said bookings for flights to amber countries surged 400 per cent and 440 per cent for package holidays following the news of quarantine-free holidays
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed that new ‘amber list’ rules will kick in from July 19
Announcing the move in the Commons, Mr Shapps confirmed that from the so-called ‘Freedom Day’, double-jabbed people can visit amber-list destinations without having to quarantine on their return
Pictured: Passengers at Terminal 5 Departures on Thursday. Earlier this year queues of up to seven hours were seen at Heathrow Airport despite passenger numbers being around 15 per cent of pre-pandemic levels
Arriving passengers queue at UK Border Control at the Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport in London, Britain June 29
People walk in the sea as they enjoy the hot weather at the beach on July 8 near Malaga, Spain
Surge in flight bookings after Shapps announces change to travel rules
Announcing the move in the Commons, Grant Shapps confirmed that from the so-called ‘Freedom Day’, double-jabbed people can visit amber-list destinations without having to quarantine on their return.
Already airlines reported a surge in flight bookings, with easyJet recording a 400 per cent rise in bookings to amber destinations in the house after the policy change.
EasyJet added an extra 145,000 seats for the summer, while British Airways said traffic to its website almost doubled after the announcement yesterday – with Spanish and US amber destinations becoming the most searched alongside the green-listed Balearic and Caribbean islands.
Yesterday’s announcement means quarantine-free holidays to major European destinations such as Greece, Spain and Portugal can get under way for the first time since last year. For the double-jabbed, it also effectively turns 147 destinations currently on the amber list into green-list destinations.
Currently, Britons returning from amber-list countries have to self-isolate at home for up to ten days after their return.
MPs and tourism leaders hailed the announcement as ‘a shot in the arm’ for the beleaguered travel sector and UK economy. But they also warned that the cost of tests remains a ‘barrier’ to foreign travel for many families as they urged ministers to drive down prices further.
Announcing the move in the Commons, Mr Shapps warned that the extra checks which come with the overhaul could see huge queues at both foreign and UK borders.
Earlier this year queues of up to seven hours were seen at Heathrow Airport despite passenger numbers being around 15 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
There was also confusion last night about whether the Foreign Office will fully align its travel advice to the new amber rules.
It currently advises against non-essential travel to most amber destinations, invalidating most insurance policies and putting people off travel. Last night the Foreign Office dropped its advice against non-essential travel to 23 destinations – including France, Greece, the Greek islands, Spain and the US.
But it was unclear if it would be changed for the more than 100 other amber destinations.
Airline easyJet said bookings for flights to amber countries surged 400 per cent and 440 per cent for package holidays following the news.
Ryanair is using the pent up demand for holidays to launch a £4.99 sale to destinations all over Europe
Travel firm Skyscanner said 30 minutes after the announcement, the agency saw a 53% increase in traffic from the UK compared to the same time on Wednesday.
Martin Nolan, from the company, said: ‘It’s clear that people are aching to be able to travel again within the guidelines, as evidenced by the immediate uptick in searches and bookings we’ve witnessed as destinations have been added to the green list.
‘This is a huge moment for the UK travel industry, who have been waiting for measures that will truly help to kickstart travel in a safe, smart and sustainable way.
‘This move will reunite families and allow people to finally plan travel to their favourite destinations around the world, many of which will be delighted to finally be able to welcome UK travellers for the first time in a year.’
Thomas Cook said web traffic doubled in the moments after the announcement, and has only grown since.
A spokesperson said: ‘Searches for Greece have tripled in volume and will be the biggest winner from families booking last-minute summer holidays.
‘(Before Thursday) we have been selling very few holidays to amber countries and so with Greece, mainland Spain and Canaries all now available to people who’ve been double jabbed we’d expect a flood of bookings over the weekend.’
In the Commons, former prime minister Theresa May hailed the easing of restrictions for the double-jabbed as ‘the first step in opening up Britain for business’.
But she called on Mr Shapps to broker a deal with fellow ministers to boost border resources to avoid ‘inordinately long queues’.
Responding, Mr Shapps said: ‘Quite a lot of the check-in would be done before you board the aircraft, or what could also be a train or boat, from the location you’re coming back from. And so the queues at check-in, whilst you’re abroad, may in fact be the place where those problems most exist.
‘I know that many of the airlines are developing systems to further automate that check-in, but they will be doing quite a complicated job.’ Asked by Tory MP Sir Roger Gale what would be done to ensure the UK-French Channel border runs smoothly, Mr Shapps said: ‘These additional checks are likely to cause delays, potentially on both sides of the Channel this summer, and that people will want to prepare and plan their journeys with supplies and also ensure that they have picked the best time of day to travel in order to avoid it.’
Tory MP Huw Merriman said the revamped amber rules were ‘a shot in the arm’ for the double-vaccinated and the travel industry, but tackled Mr Shapps over the cost of testing.
The current traffic light system has very few recognised holiday destinations on the ‘green list’ for Britons to visit
Mr Shapps’ announcement means that for fully-vaccinated Britons the rules will be essentially the same for green and amber list countries
Health minister sparks row after claiming face masks only offer ‘marginal’ benefit in Covid fight
A health minister sparked a row in the House of Lords yesterday after he questioned the effectiveness of masks at preventing Covid.
Lord Bethell said face coverings offered only ‘marginal protection’ when questioned over Government plans to lift the remaining coronavirus restrictions in England on July 19.
The move has faced criticism from more than 120 scientists and doctors who signed a letter in The Lancet accusing the UK Government of conducting a ‘dangerous and unethical experiment’. Pressed by peers, Lord Bethell said: ‘Masks simply aren’t a panacea.
‘Were the whole country to wear a mask for the rest of their lives we would still have pandemics, because they only offer marginal protection.’
But Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oates said: ‘Is the minister aware the comments he just made are not just nonsense, they are dangerous nonsense and will he withdraw them?’ Lord Bethell responded: ‘I don’t accept that at all. The argument I make is an extremely reasonable one.’
Mr Merriman urged ministers to consider allowing travellers to use cheaper, rapid tests upon arrival in England rather than the more costly ‘gold standard’ PCR swabs.
But Mr Shapps said the ‘scientific evidence’ showed PCR tests were needed because they can be used to detect variants of concern. He said ‘there are quite a number of tests now for much lower prices’ and cited some on the government-approved list ‘as inexpensive as a tenner’.
But these are for swabs which are self-administered at sites that people often have to travel miles to reach and yesterday most were sold out.
Some of the prices stated on the government website are also wrong. The Daily Mail found that the cost of a post-arrival test listed as £4.98 from one firm on the government website was in fact £85 when clicking through to the company’s webpage.
The travel industry largely welcomed the announcement, but called for testing requirements for the fully vaccinated to be dropped altogether and more countries be added to the green list.
There was also anger from domestic tourism firms that the new measures will not apply to foreign visitors coming from amber countries, who will still have to quarantine. It means these firms will continue to be starved of the cash spent by visiting foreigners.
British Airways chief Sean Doyle said: ‘While the quarantine requirement for amber countries is being lifted for fully vaccinated UK travellers, the Government needs to quickly extend this to all vaccinated travellers, agree a reciprocal deal with the US, add more countries to the green list and reduce the need for unnecessary, expensive tests.’
Holiday firms have been gearing up for a bookings surge with quarantine-free trips unlocked for millions of families to more than 130 countries – including the US, Thailand and most European countries.
As it stands, travellers returning from these destinations must quarantine for up to ten days – regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not.
Only travellers returning from a small list of green countries can avoid quarantine.
Mr Shapps told the Commons: ‘I can confirm today that from the 19th of July, UK residents who are fully vaccinated through the UK vaccine rollout will no longer have to self-isolate when they return to England.
‘They’ll still be required to take a test three days before returning, the pre-departure test, demonstrating they’re negative before they travel, and a PCR test on or before day two, but they will no longer be required to take a day eight test.
Quarantine-free holidays are set to be unlocked for millions of families to more than 130 countries – including the US, Thailand and Spain (pictured, Malaga)
Sky Scanner has produced an interactive service that tells travellers what restrictions they currently face at both ends of their journey
What restrictions do other countries have on Britons visiting?
Travellers who can prove they are fully vaccinated do not need an essential reason to travel to France and do not need to self-isolate on arrival.
Anyone aged over 11 years must give evidence of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure, or a negative antigen test result taken within 48 hours of departure, as well as a ‘sworn statement’ they are not suffering from Covid symptoms and have not been in contact with confirmed cases in the preceding fortnight.
Britons aged 12 or over must have either proof of a negative test 48 hours prior to arrival, or proof of being fully vaccinated at least 14 days beforehand.
Anyone aged six or over who has been in the UK in the previous 14 days must present a negative test result from the past 48 hours.
They must also self-isolate for five days and take another test at the end of the period.
Those arriving without a negative test will need to self-isolate for 10 days and then have a test.
Travellers from the UK can avoid quarantine requirements if they have proof of a negative PCR test up to 72 hours before arrival, a rapid antigen test within 48 hours, or that they have received two vaccine jabs at least 14 days earlier.
It is also acceptable to show evidence of having recovered from coronavirus – such as a positive test from months earlier.
All travellers, apart from children under 12, must have proof of a negative COVID-19 test to travel to or through mainland Portugal.
If you have travelled from the UK to mainland Portugal, you must quarantine for 14 days in the place you are staying.
But this requirement is waived if people can show they are fully vaccinated, and children travelling with a vaccinated adult are exempt from quarantine.
In Madeira and Porto Santo tests are not required for people who are fully vaccinated.
Fully vaccinated Britons are exempt from quarantine, but must do a pre-departure digital registration.
Unvaccinated children under 12 years of age are allowed to enter Germany if they present proof of a negative test result and travel with at least one fully vaccinated parent.
Since 16 March 2020, it is not possible for most British nationals to enter the US if they have been in the UK, Ireland, Schengen zone, Iran, Brazil, or China within the previous 14 days.
‘In essence, this means that for fully vaccinated travellers the requirements for green and amber list countries are the same.
‘To be clear, a full vaccination means 14 days have passed since your final dose of the vaccine, and it’s also important to note that health matters are devolved, so decision-making and implementation may differ across the UK administrations and we’ll continue to work with the devolved administrations to ensure we achieve our shared objectives of safe, sustainable and robust return to international travel.’
Mr Shapps said the changes he had announced would ‘prioritise those vaccinated in the United Kingdom’ – but suggested that foreign tourists coming to England could soon benefit from the same treatment.
‘We want to welcome international visitors back to the UK and are working to extend our approach to vaccinated passengers from important markets and holiday destinations later this summer, such as the United States and the EU,’ he said.
Mr Shapps said he would update MPs in ‘due course’ on the issue.
Former PM Theresa May urged Mr Shapps to take action to make sure that travellers did not face massive queues due to Covid red tape.
He said ‘a lot of investment’ was going into minimising the issues – but admitted there is likely to be longer waits.
‘I have been working with the Home Secretary and Border force on exactly this issue,’ he said.
‘I should be perhaps a little but more specific about where travellers might expect queues. Quite a lot of the checking will be done upstream, in other words before you board the aircraft typically, or it could be a train or a boat, from your location you are coming back from.
‘The queues at check in whilst you are abroad may in fact bye the place where those problems most exist.
‘I know that many of the airlines are developing systems to further automate that check-in but they will be doing quite a complicated job – checking the passenger locator form against the booked test still required on day two and of course vaccine status as well.
‘So I just think it is fair to warn people who are travelling this summer that is something we haven’t had to do before.’
The news was warmly welcomed by the travel industry. British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle said: ‘We’re pleased to see this common sense approach which is already working safely for many other countries, but there is more work to do.
‘While the quarantine requirement for amber countries is being lifted for fully vaccinated UK travellers, the government needs to quickly extend this to all vaccinated travellers, agree a reciprocal deal with the US, add more countries to the green list and reduce the need for unnecessary, expensive tests.’
Amid growing speculation in recent days, comparison site TravelSupermarket said more than half of all new bookings were for the last week of July or first week of August – up from 10 per cent a fortnight ago.
Meanwhile 62 per cent of all package holiday searches are for July/August, up 20 per cent on last month.
British Airways said searches for holidays to amber list countries on its website yesterday were up 45 per cent compared with the same day last week. And Jet2 said it had seen ‘enormous demand’ for flights.
Martin Nolan, of booking site Skyscanner, said: ‘It is clear that people are aching to be able to travel again… as evidenced by the immediate uptick in searches and bookings.’
Paul Charles, CEO of The PC Agency, a travel consultancy, said firms were racing to bring staff back off furlough to handle the expected surge in bookings.
He said: ‘My advice is for people to lock in tomorrow on the deals they see before there’s an announcement because prices will rise when demand spikes.
‘I think we will see a lot of last-minute bookings for trips at short notice. Families will confirm some trips but then you will get a lot of couples that are fully-jabbed.
‘I think there will be a rush to the border by the double-jabbed over-40s and the silver generation.
‘The pent up demands is enormous. There will be a lot of trips to long-distance, more exotic locations. But Spain, France and Portugal will also all do really well.’
He added: ‘One issue is resources and whether firms have the staff and capacity to deliver it.
What countries are on the ‘amber list’ for travel?
Akrotiri and Dhekelia
Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Central African Republic
Cook Islands, Tokelau and Niue
Czech Republic (Czechia)
Greece (including islands)
The Occupied Palestinian Territories
Papua New Guinea
Portugal (including the Azores) Madeira is on the green watchlist.
Sao Tome and Principe
Spain (including the Canary Islands) The Balearic islands are on the green watchlist.
St Kitts and Nevis
St Martin and St Barthélemy
St Pierre and Miquelon
St Vincent and the Grenadines
United States (USA)
Wallis and Futuna
British Airways said searches for holidays to amber list countries on its website yesterday were up 45 per cent compared with the same day last week
‘I know some travel firms that are bringing people back from furlough to cope with the expected increase in demand.’
Under the revamped rules, the ‘do not travel’ advice will be dropped and vaccinated UK residents will be allowed to travel home from amber countries without the need to quarantine.
Children, who are not eligible for vaccination, will be exempted from self-isolation if they are travelling with family.
But they will have to take additional tests. According to the Telegraph, Mr Shapps has told the industry: ‘Day-two testing will remain for arrivals from amber countries, regardless of vaccinated status, as this pro vides genomic sequencing capability to identify the risk of importing variants.’
Those who have not received both vaccines will still have to quarantine when they arrive in the UK or face a £10,000 fine.
The change will make no difference to red list countries such as India, Turkey and Brazil.
Anyone returning from a red list country must quarantine in an approved hotel at a cost of £1,750 each.