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The Government has form when it comes to throwing holidays into disarray at the worst possible moment. I’m sure many will remember July 25, 2020, when Grant Shapps stripped Spain of its travel corridor, sparking a mad rush home to avoid a 14-day quarantine.
This was not an isolated incident. Over the past 12 months, just about all of our top destinations have fallen at the scythe of Government travel restrictions – Portugal, Greece, France – and many of us have felt the impact. So it is understandable that, as a nation, we were bracing for the worst in today’s keynote summer holiday traffic light announcement.
Spain and Greece would fall onto a new, slippery ‘amber watchlist’ on their death march to the red list; arrivals from France would remain under lock and key because of rising cases on a remote Indian Ocean island. And what’s that? A new traffic light colour – why not… purple? – announced the day after the announcement, imposing travel restrictions based on your blood type.
Only, it didn’t work out that way. In fact, on the face of it, this week’s traffic light update was one of the most positive we have received to date. The biggest positive is that France lost its ‘amber plus’ quarantine status (requiring even doubly vaccinated Britons to self-isolate on their return), but seven European countries also went green, and four significant business and transport hubs emerged from the red list. With the next update confirmed for three weeks from now so that people can travel "without looking over their shoulders the whole time", it appears that – when it comes to our summer holidays – we have been given the all clear.
But as with all holiday news since the beginning of the pandemic, there are caveats. Those green additions aren’t quite as exciting as they might appear. Of the seven newly green countries, only Latvia and Slovenia will welcome unvaccinated arrivals without quarantine. The four countries promoted from red to amber came as another four were demoted to hotel quarantine status. What’s more, the cost of hotel quarantine has inexplicably shot up by around £500, as testing requirements continue to make travelling prohibitively expensive, particularly for families.
And while it may have sidestepped an official amber watchlist, there remain warning signs that Spain could still be demoted to ‘amber plus’. Travellers coming back from the country have been urged to take a PCR test, not lateral flow, before they fly "as a precaution against the increased prevalence of the virus and variants in the country". When quizzed on whether countries could move between categories at short notice, Grant Shapps said: “I think you know that with coronavirus… you can never say zero chance.” Despite reassurances, it might be worth keeping half an eye over that shoulder during your holiday, just in case.
There’s a lot to digest. So let’s weigh it up. What are the positives, and what are the negatives, when it comes to the latest traffic light travel announcement? Let’s start with the good.
France is back on the table
After sitting in its own ‘amber plus’ subcategory for a few weeks, France has joined the ‘amber regular’ list. This means double vaccinated arrivals can sidestep quarantine on their return to the UK, with just one test on day two. For British holidaymakers, this is a big relief and widens our options. It puts the vital Eurostar and cross-Channel ferry connections into viable service, making driving holidays on the Continent a possibility for the summer. France will let Britons in for non-essential reasons, if double jabbed.
Red countries can turn amber
For the first time, we have evidence that red-listed countries can indeed turn amber. There will be sighs of relief for the 1.5 million Indian nationals living in Britain, who can once again reunite with families after months apart. And likewise for the 150,000 British expats living in the United Arab Emirates.
Green list options have grown
The green list has little impact on those who have received two doses of the vaccine, who can also travel to all amber destinations without quarantine on return, but for the 27 per cent of the population who are not double jabbed, our European holiday options have just increased – slightly. Austria, Germany, Latvia, Norway, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia are now on the cards, although, crucially, only Latvia and Slovenia will let you in without two doses of the vaccine. Still, this is a step in the right direction.
Boris saw sense and scrapped the amber watchlist
In the past week, there were whispers that Greece and Spain could be added to yet another new traffic light category called the ‘amber watchlist’. Inclusion on this would mean a country is at risk of turning red at short notice. Thankfully, following significant outcry from Tory backbenchers and travel industry chiefs, plans for the category appear to have been shelved.
UAE promotion is a positive sign for long-haul plans
The movement of the UAE from red to amber is good news for the 150,000 Britons living in the country, and indeed good news for anyone hoping to plan a trip to Dubai any time soon. This, along with transport mega-hub Qatar going amber, is also a promising piece of mood music that the Government is possibly looking to open up travel connections with long-haul destinations in the future.
Hotel quarantine has gone up
There will be a 30 per cent increase in the cost of hotel quarantine for red list travellers from £1,750 to £2,285 per adult, with a second adult required to pay £1,430. The Government says this better reflects the costs involved. For anyone unable to return from the newly red-listed countries before 4am on Sunday, that extra cost will be a bitter pill to swallow. There were hopes that Britain might take steps towards scrapping hotel quarantine, rather than upping the cost of it.
Turkey remains red
While the UAE and India emerging from the red list is a good sign, one of our favourite holiday destinations remains stuck on the naughty step. This will be down in part to the rising cases in the country (52 per cent up week on week) as well as the slow start to the vaccination campaign. Only 44 per cent of the population is double jabbed. Other favourites including the Seychelles, South Africa and the Maldives also remain on the red list.
Three days' notice is not enough
While the movement of Mexico, Georgia, La Reunion and Mayotte to the red list will affect a fairly small number of British holidaymakers, the fact is that 72 hours is a very short amount of time to summon people home under the threat of mandatory 10-day hotel quarantine. Some Britons will have maximised on Mexico’s laissez faire entry requirements, and now face a hectic, expensive three days to get home.
Green list options remain thin
There were hopes that up to 15 countries could be upgraded to green in this week’s announcement, but only seven made the cut. Those who have not received both doses of the vaccine will feel the frustration that holiday favourites of Greece, Portugal, Spain and France remain off the table for the summer, as they all require a 10-day quarantine on your return if you are not fully vaccinated (with the option to release after day five).
Testing remains prohibitively expensive
There have been calls for the Government to scrap prohibitively expensive testing requirements, which mean all arrivals must take a pre-departure test before coming home followed by another PCR test two days after arrival home. On average, individuals are paying around £100 for these tests to travel, ramping up to an unmanageable bill for families getting away this summer. Some have suggested that lateral flow tests should be used instead of PCR tests.