The UK is unlikely to unlock significant new summer destinations this week when changes to travel restrictions are announced, with key holiday countries unlikely to be quarantine-free until later in the summer, Whitehall sources have said.
The changes to England’s travel advice are eagerly anticipated by the beleaguered travel industry, which is hoping for changes to the green list of destinations that do not require quarantine on return.
Portugal is the only mass tourism destination where no quarantine is required on either leg, but operators are pinning hopes on the reopening of holiday islands such as Malta, the Canaries or the Balearics, even if mainland Spain remains on the amber list.
Boris Johnson told Tory MPs at a Conservative backbench 1922 Committee meeting last week he expected “quite a few” destinations to be added to the list, but there are doubts over some of the most popular European countries such as Spain and France.
“We are still early in the summer, no one is expecting huge changes,” a Whitehall source said. “Very little has changed in terms of the risks in most places, including the risk from variants.”
Spain lifted all restrictions for UK travellers on 24 May, though France has tightened restrictions on British visitors owing to fears over the spread of the Delta variant first detected in India. Entry to France is limited to EU nationals, French residents and those travelling for essential purposes.
The changes are expected to be announced on Thursday after ministers receive advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre. Those changes would then take effect the following week.
The UK government has confirmed it is monitoring a suspected Covid variant detected in Vietnam ahead of a decision on travel restrictions due later this week that could result in more destinations being added to England’s red list, which requires arrivals to go into hotel quarantine.
Vietnam is currently on the amber list, which requires self-isolation at home upon return, but is among the countries that could be upgraded to stricter quarantine measures.
“We continually run genomic testing on positive cases of the virus and we will continue to do so to spot new and emerging variants,” Downing Street said.
Vietnam’s containment of coronavirus had been a worldwide success story until the past few months, when cases have risen. The country has recorded about 7,000 total cases, with 47 deaths.
Vietnam’s health minister, Nguyễn Thanh Long, said on Saturday that a variant had been detected combining characteristics of two existing variants first found in India and the UK.
The Telegraph reported analysis by Robert Boyle, a BA strategist, suggesting Bahrain, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago and Kuwait could also be added to the red list because of their case rates.
Heathrow airport in London has reopened a dedicated terminal for red-list passengers after significant concerns were raised about people mixing at border control.
Currently the red list requires hotel quarantine for arrivals from countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, South Africa, the UAE and Turkey.
From Tuesday, red-list arrivals will pass through the airport’s Terminal 3, which has been closed since April 2020 due to plummeting visitor numbers.