Confusion deepens as new ‘watchlist’ leaves foreign holidays in limbo

·4 min read
Malta - Elvira Podolinska
Malta - Elvira Podolinska

Ministers were on Thursday night accused of making summer travel more "complex and confusing" after warning holidaymakers that their trips could be scuppered at the last minute.

The Government announced that 14 destinations – including the holiday islands Mallorca, Ibiza, Malta and Madeira – would be opened up, allowing holidaymakers to travel to them from 4am on Wednesday without having to quarantine on their return.

But 13 of the nations were added to a newly-created green "watchlist", meaning they are "most at risk" of suddenly turning amber.

Ministers also said they would allow quarantine-free travel for fully-vaccinated Britons to amber list countries but set no date other than "later in the summer".

Boris Johnson had earlier raised hopes that double-vaccinated holiday makers would be given clarity, saying: "I think that the real opportunity we all have now is to open up travel through the double jab."

On Thursday night, travel industry figures and MPs said the Government had created "further complexity and confusion".

Henry Smith, the Tory chairman of the all-party Future of Aviation Group, said: "What the travel and tourism sector needs is certainty, and putting them on an amber light or uncertain green won't provide that.

"I welcome the direction of travel that sees greater, safer reopening, but the list of green countries is overly cautious and the cost and complexity of testing is still a discouraging factor for people being able to travel."

Rory Boland, the Which? travel editor, said: "Travellers still need to be extremely cautious about booking trips this summer, even to green list destinations. Countries can be downgraded quickly and with little warning."

Huw Merriman, the chairman of the Commons Transport Select Committee, said: "Like an oasis just out of reach, travel to more than 150 countries on the amber list is still unnecessarily difficult.

"In the latest analysis of figures from NHS Test and Trace, only 0.4 per cent of passengers to amber list destinations between May and June tested positive for coronavirus. For 151 of the previous 167 amber list countries, there were no positive cases at all.

"The Government must apply its own logic of using the data to admit going abroad is safe for those who have had both jabs. They must consider this in time for the start of the July summer holidays."

Karen Dee, the chief executive of the Airport Operators' Association, said: "Any extension of the green list is welcome, however small, but we also have to be realistic – this is not yet the meaningful restart the aviation industry needs to be able to recover from the pandemic.

"The overly cautious approach continues to have major financial impacts for airports."

Shai Weiss, the chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said the Government's announcement of an expanded travel green list "fails to go far enough", adding: "The Government's own evidence shows that the US is low risk and should be added to the green list now."

Malta is the only new destination to be fully on the green list with no caveats, with the Balearic islands of Ibiza, Mallorca and Menorca, Madeira and Caribbean islands including Grenada and Barbados on the watchlist.

The Balearics – which, pre-pandemic, attracted five million British tourists a year – and Madeira have the highest infection rates of any of the new green list countries.

Their placement on the "watchlist" is designed to avoid a repeat of the Portugal chaos when the country went straight from green to amber with just four days notice, causing travel mayhem for Britons who had to race back to avoid quarantine.

Israel and Jerusalem have also been moved from the green to the green "watchlist" after a trebling in cases driven largely by the spread of the Indian or delta Covid variant.

Only the Balearic Islands and Madeira of the 14 destinations do not have any restrictions on British tourists. Malta requires even vaccinated holidaymakers to have a negative PCR test result.

All arrivals in Montserrat, Grenada, the Cayman Islands and Anguilla must enter quarantine regardless of their vaccination status, although vaccinated travellers in these countries can leave quarantine earlier. Unvaccinated arrivals in Barbados have to self-isolate for at least five days, and all incoming tourists must present a negative PCR test.

Pitcairn Island is closed completely to Britons, while Dominica, the Turks and Caicos Islands and Antigua require negative PCR tests taken within 72 hours before arrival and paid for by the passenger. The final destination, the British Antarctic Territory, has temperatures of -60C.

Uganda, Tunisia, Eritrea, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Mongolia have been added to the red list, requiring Britons returning from them to quarantine in hotels for 10 days at a cost of £1,750 per person.

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