Last week meant something different to everyone. Some spent so-called ‘Freedom Day’ headbanging in an armpit-infused nightclub. Others spent it fully masked, theatrically frowning at those daring to exercise their right to roam unsheathed. More than a million of us spent it at home, due to the dreaded ‘ping’.
There was another Freedom Day tribe. Last week, thousands of double vaccinated Britons arrived back from our favourite holiday destinations – Spain, Greece, Portugal – knowing they did not need to self-isolate on their return. Because in case you missed it, from July 19 onwards, the ‘amber’ traffic light category effectively means ‘green’, so long as you are fully jabbed up, and are not arriving from France.
Freedom at home, freedom for vaccinated arrivals. Everything is getting back to normal now, right? Sadly, it’s not quite as straightforward as that, when it comes to our holidays.
With the UK embracing a back-to-normal policy, we are witnessing what has been described as an ‘exit wave’ of Covid cases. It isn’t insignificant. The UK is currently reporting around 50,000 new cases a day, at an average weekly rate that is surpassed only by Fiji, Cyprus and the Seychelles.
Many will be happy with this trade-off – pre-pandemic freedoms for the price of a fresh surge – so long as deaths and hospitalisations remain low, as they currently are. But the reality is that our friends in Europe and farther afield are looking on in bewilderment. They are seeing footage of life looking very relaxed in a country with the fourth-worst Covid-19 case rate on the planet. As a result, they are lining up to reimpose the kind of restrictions which, well, we would impose on them if the situation was flipped around.
Things have ramped up over the past week. Shortly after we put Bulgaria on our green list, the Bulgarian Government promptly decided it did not fancy an onslaught of British arrivals and added us to their red list. Denmark has done the same (except for Welsh arrivals). Perhaps most concerningly for the highest number of Britons; the US Government has issued a severe warning against travel to the UK, in a period where the UK and US were supposed to be negotiating a transatlantic travel corridor. Travel across the pond has never seemed further away.
The list goes on. Croatia, too, has stepped in to tighten its testing regulations on double vaccinated British arrivals, while travel to Italy comes with a mandatory five day quarantine for all Britons. Malta – oddly – will not allow 12 to 18 year-old Britons to enter, unless vaccinated, which is impossible.
For months we have used up a lot of energy worrying about the next set of traffic lights. Which is understandable. Because we know they are faulty, unpredictable, subject to random change from green to amber to red. Now those traffic lights are more-or-less fixed to ‘go’ for the double vaccinated – it is the destination we need to be concerned with. Because a green or amber traffic light signal doesn’t count for much, when there’s a barbed-wire barricade 100 yards down the road telling you to turn back.
Right now, Ramsgate is more appealing than Rome
I got tired of tuning into the government’s traffic light travel announcements a long time ago. Seeing families dashing to the airport in the dead of night so they can avoid a hastily imposed flight home or expensive hotel quarantine doesn’t get my wanderlust going. Neither does confusion over Covid-19 tests (what, oh what, is a nucleic acid amplification test?) or fear that I might not have an approved vaccine (Malta was, until very recently, turning away Britons with the Indian-manufactured AstraZeneca jab).
As we have seen, a number of countries are now tightening rules on travellers from the UK. But here’s the thing. Even if we were allowed in, local rules in our longed-for destination mean it might not be the holiday we’ve been dreaming of – in Portugal, masks are mandatory in all outdoor areas, and in Malta, nightlife is closed.
For those who can’t visit family abroad it’s a horrible situation, but for those of us simply looking for some respite after a trying 18 months, being marooned in the UK isn’t so bad. England has had its freedom day, with Wales and Scotland set to follow in August (Northern Ireland is taking a more cautious approach). We’re open for travel, and with a brighter spell of weather ahead and some creative planning, you really can have your dream holiday.
I honeymooned in Cornwall and Devon in April, stayed in a bell tent at Elmley Nature Reserve in May and drove a motorhome around Scotland’s South West Coastal 300 route in June. I also managed to squeeze in some time in Ely and the Fens. We barely saw other people, and we didn’t spend a fortune, but we did see stunning countryside and coastline.
The UK has remote islands, white sand beaches and colossal national parks, not to mention vineyards, breweries and a stupendous food scene. I live in Ramsgate and the resort has a lovely summer buzz about it – the beach has space to spare and the harbourside cafes and bars are open for business. Who needs Rome or the French Riviera, anyway?
Shutter the nightclubs if it means I can go to California
Freedom day has been and gone – yet for people like me with family abroad, it certainly doesn’t feel that way. In fact, my chances of hugging my dad this side of 2021 seem like they are only about to get worse.
It’s now obvious to me that the government is happy to sacrifice all our international travel liberties to restore normality on home turf. Their argument is that it’s fine if the numbers are huge when our vaccine rate is so strong and the deaths remain low – but it’s not hard to see why other countries don’t feel the same. Would you fling open the door to a neighbour like us?
I can, of course, understand why the government feels they have to do this, but I wish they would slow down. Shutter the nightclubs. Cancel the festivals. Tell people to work from home if they can. The time is not now.
Trust me, as a single woman who feels her 20s are slowly slipping away, that’s a bitter pill to swallow. I was one of the first in line to purchase tickets to a night out when Freedom Day was announced. The anticipation was huge. All I wanted was to be surrounded by friends, dancing and drunk on merriment.
But, you know what? I would trade those moments a million times over if it means a week with my dad. Even a day.
I’m selfish, I know. Businesses have been closed for more than a year, life needs to get back to normal. But you’re allowed to be self-serving when it comes to your own family, right? If this year (well, let’s be real, 18 months) has taught us anything it’s to seize the moment and celebrate your loved ones.
I’ve waited patiently, not wanting to fly to California to visit my dad, grandma and extended family without being irresponsible. Finally, nearing my second vaccine date and with positive signs the US would reopen, I felt my moment was here. And so all the more crushing to hear that the CDC was advising against all travel to the UK.
I thought I might cry with joy the first time I stepped on a sticky dance floor again. Now I’m not sure I even want to return just yet, and if I do, the only tears will be ones of confliction knowing the trade-off.
A rise in cases in the UK is causing countries like the USA and Denmark to up their restrictions on UK travellers. Is 'Freedom Day' worth it, if it means losing our ability to go on holiday?
— Telegraph Travel (@TelegraphTravel) July 22, 2021
Five steps to booking a holiday
1. Check the traffic lights
The UK categorises countries as green, amber and red. The green list requires a test before returning home and a test two days after arrival home, but no quarantine. The rules for amber list arrivals are the same as green if you are double vaccinated; everyone else (and all returnees from France) must take the pre-departure test, then isolate for ten days on return with two tests on days two and eight – and the option to release after a test on day five. The red list requires ten-day quarantine in a hotel, costing £1,750, with two tests.
2. Check the FCDO advice
The FCDO has guidelines on whether you are advised to visit a country for non-essential reasons, such as holidays. If the FCDO advises against non-essential travel, your insurance will likely be invalidated. Check with your provider.
3. Check entry requirements
Different countries have different rules with no bearing on our own traffic lights. Green-listed Australia is not welcoming British arrivals, whereas red-listed Turkey is. It is likely you will need to take tests or provide proof of full vaccination, with possible quarantine, health screening procedures and mandatory tracking systems on arrival. Read up before you go.
4. Book your tests
Even if you are double vaccinated, you will possibly need to supply proof of a PCR test on arrival, taken 72 hours before travel (Croatia, for example). You will also need to book a pre-departure test before coming home, and then your test(s) on arrival back. Get this organised in good time before setting off.
5. Check your documents
Travel requires a lot more paperwork these days. If applicable, make sure you have your vaccination certificate (printed or via NHS app), your PCR results (printed), and swot up before travel to check you have filled out with any pre-arrival forms that your destination requires.
Check the FCDO advice at gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice before you travel.