As coronavirus case rates and deaths continue to decline in the UK following stringent lockdown measures and a rapid vaccine rollout, the prime minister has announced his “roadmap” for how restrictions will be gradually eased this summer.
The reopening depends on four tests: that the vaccination rollout continues at pace; evidence showing that vaccines are effective; that infection rates do not cause increased hospitalisations; and that the assessment of the risks is not changed by new variants.
Boris Johnson set out the full plan to parliament on Monday 22 February, including key dates for travel.
Stay local: 29 March
However, since then Labour politicians have criticised the government’s reckless promises to tourists over summer holidays after the Brazilian coronavirus variant arrived in the UK.
The P1 variant has mutations similar to the South African one, which has been found to reduce the impact of vaccines – and a hunt is still on for one mystery patient in the UK infected with it.
Mr Johnson insisted there was “no reason” to think vaccines would not work against new “variants of concern” and that health officials did not believe there is “a threat to the wider public”.
The first key date for travel in Mr Johnson’s roadmap is 29 March, when the “stay at home” message is likely to be scrapped in favour of “stay local”. As well as daytrips coming a step closer, from this date up to six people or two households will also be able to meet outdoors.
Some domestic travel in Wales: 2-5 April
The Welsh first minister told BBC Breakfast on 19 February that he was working with the Tourism Task Force in Wales in a bid to enable limited tourism by Easter – which this year is the weekend of 2-5 April.
“What we will work on with them is the possibility – and it is only that – of some limited reopening around Easter of self-contained accommodation only. Places where people don’t mix with other people, where there aren’t shared facilities,” said Mark Drakeford. “That is how we began the reopening of tourism in Wales.”
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Some domestic travel in England: 12 April
In England, trips to self-contained accommodation could restart from 12 April, for one household.
It’s understood that this will include second homes, holiday homes and campsites and caravan parks where there are no shared indoor facilities.
Some holiday parks are looking to open from this time too, with restrictions in place. For example, Center Parcs has announced that it plans to have all five sites open from 12 April.
Restrictions will be in place however, with a limit of one household per lodge, restaurants only available for delivery service, and the continued closure of hotels and apartments on site.
Most outdoor activities will be able to go ahead, according to the brand, but it remains uncertain whether the “Subtropical Swimming Paradise” waterparks will be able to open.
Some domestic travel in Scotland: End of April?
Scotland has laid out its own, separate road map, in which the widescale reopening of the economy is projected to begin in the last week of April, when the country will return to a tiered approach. As part of a phased reopening, some areas of the hospitality industry may be able to restart, though exact dates for domestic travel remain uncertain.
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is cautious when it comes to reopening for international travel. She said in an address to Scottish parliament: “Travel restrictions are also essential and are likely to remain so for some time yet.
“We saw over the summer how new cases were imported into Scotland, after the virus had almost been eliminated here. We do not want that to happen again if we can avoid it.”
Other domestic travel in England: 17 May
The more mainstream travel industry in England, which would include hotels, hostels and B&Bs, should be able to restart from 17 May, Mr Johnson announced.
International travel: 17 May
The prime minister signalled that recreational international travel can restart from 17 May at the earliest.
Leisure travel both domestically and internationally has been banned since the start of January. Travel is currently allowed for a tight set of circumstances, including business and for compassionate reasons, and the government has repeatedly warned people that holidays are illegal.
The tentative reopening date follows weeks of speculation from the industry as to when international travel might be allowed again.
In response to the announcement, sun-starved Brits rushed to book summer holidays, with travel companies reporting a surge in interest.
The Global Travel Taskforce will give an update on 12 April about whether international travel will be able to go ahead from 17 May. Either way, there are still many unknowns: will other countries be willing to open their borders? Will they demand travellers be fully vaccinated first? And will there still be testing and quarantine hoops to jump through?
Speaking at Monday’s Downing Street briefing, Jonathan Van Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, emphasised that future international travel plans were still uncertain: “We are still in a zone of great uncertainty about what the virus will do next. On top of that many of the vaccination programmes in Europe, which is a place where we frequently go on holiday abroad, are running behind ours. And clearly whether we can go on holiday abroad to places such as Europe depends upon what other countries will say and do in terms of foreign tourism.
“So that's the best I can do to level with you. I'm not going to give are you a firm answer because I genuinely don't think there is one at this point.
“I think I would just say there has to be great uncertainty at the moment.”
Watch: How England will leave lockdown
Boris Johnson has proposed using rapid coronavirus testing as a way to gradually reopen venues across the UK – a move that could also help open up domestic travel.
The suggested measure has been backed by the World Health Organisation’s special envoy on Covid-19.
Dr David Nabarro said he believed rapid testing could indeed play a crucial role in reopening nightclubs, theatres and other venues that have been forced to shut down during the pandemic.
“The secret to getting life back to some degree of normality for most of us is going to be the availability of really reliable, super-quick tests,” Dr Nabarro told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
“That will make movement so, so much easier.”
The WHO special envoy also said that vaccination certificates could also be required for international travel and “activities where you’re actually going into a different jurisdiction”.
However, he said, “for moving around [domestically], it will be rapid tests”.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has also provided reassurances that travellers will be able to obtain vaccine “certificates” proving they have received both jabs, if required, in order to travel abroad.
The vaccines minister suggested the government was aware of the possibility that countries might require certificates proving travellers have been vaccinated.
He said that if that was a requirement, the government wants to “make it as easy as possible” for people to obtain such a document.
The EU has announced its own version of a vaccination passport scheme. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said: “We'll present this month a legislative proposal for a Digital Green Pass. The aim is to provide: Proof that a person has been vaccinated; Results of tests for those who couldn’t get a vaccine yet; Info on COVID19 recovery.
“It will respect data protection, security and privacy.
“The Digital Green Pass should facilitate Europeans‘ lives. The aim is to gradually enable them to move safely in the European Union or abroad - for work or tourism.”
Closer to home, Mr Zahawi said that UK cinemas, theatres and other venues will be free to demand proof of Covid-19 vaccination before allowing people to enter, despite the government ruling out a “vaccine passport” scheme of its own.
Mr Zahawi said it was “up to businesses” to determine what rules to introduce.