The Travel Correspondent of The Independent is never happier than when sipping a Mythos beer in a beachside taverna. Unfortunately for him, he is currently confined to barracks.
So each Thursday we wake him up and make him answer your questions live for an hour.
This is the compilation of the 6 May session.
Malta entry rules
Q: My husband and I have had both vaccinations but our son of 16 has had neither. Will places like Malta (who say anyone whose been vaccinated is welcome) accept our son if he produces evidence of negative tests?
A: Yes. The standard policy for many holiday destinations is going to be jab or test. If you can provide adequate proof of vaccination (and the nature of that proof is a separate discussion), then you swerve the testing requirement. Tests will be necessary for unvaccinated travellers including accompanying children/teenagers.
Follow travel news live: Green list of safe countries to be announced as foreign holiday rules ease
Q: Last week I mentioned we had flights to Menorca for 25 June, and speculation from the Balearics government was: they were trying for green status. Now it sounds a possible amber light instead. What’s your current thinking?
A: All the indications I have are that the green list will be minimalist.
It seems to me that the government is interested in keeping numbers low for the next few weeks, partly to reduce the overall risk of importing cases of coronavirus, partly to see if the airports can handle an upsurge of passenger numbers. If any Spanish islands were to be green-listed, then the Balearics would be most likely. But by the time your trip departs – or, more precisely, by the time you get back – I expect them to be green.
Q: We’re due to go to Crete 8 June, if they are put on the amber list, do you think we should move our holiday to 29 June, when they possibly could be on the green list by then, or leave as is and bite the bullet, taking whatever travelling amber might mean?
A: Amber will certainly mean 10 days of self-isolation (reducible with a test after five days) but the crucial thing, Marlene, is are you returning to the UK? I calculate that by 18 June there could have been two reviews of the lists, and if there has then there’s a good chance Crete will be green. The rules that apply depend on when you arrive back in the UK, not when you leave.
Greek islands travel
Q: When do you anticipate the Greek islands to be on the green list for safe travel. Also is it correct that you only need your vaccination card to enter the country?
A: On the basis of what we know about the UK government’s criteria for membership of the green list, there are undoubtedly some candidates among the Greek islands that deserve to be rated “green” because of their low prevalence of cases and absence of “variants of concern”.
But I would be (very pleasantly) surprised to see any islands included in the announcement from the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, expected at some time tomorrow.
Whatever happens in the next 24 hours, bear in mind also that not all Greek islands are accessible direct from the UK. Suppose you are aiming for the little-known island of Mythos*, accessible only via mainland port of Retsina*: if the island is green but the mainland is amber, the more onerous restrictions prevail. So if you pass through the mainland on your way home, that implies 10 days of self-isolation on your return to the UK.
In terms of entry rules for Greece: the government in Athens says British arrivals who want to skip the default week of quarantine must produce either a negative result to PCR Covid test taken within 72 hours of arrival or “a certificate of vaccination against Covid-19, issued by a national authority in the English language” that indicates you finished the jabs at least two weeks earlier.
The enquiries I have made suggest that the flimsy handwritten piece of card that many vaccinees are given by the NHS is sufficient.
The UK government has promised a sturdier form of proof before international leisure travel resumes on 17 May, but don’t hold your breath.
(* Mythos is my favourite Greek brand of beer, and retsina is best served ice-cold.)
Q: Italian government are accepting antigen/rapid/lateral flow tests for the results 48 hours prior to arrival and at the end of quarantine periods, etc and will probably accept them for the 48-hour green pass.
Will the free NHS tests suffice if I take a box of tests out with me when I travel in June for my wedding (Take 4!) or will I have to arrange for more onerous testing at every stage?
A: The general presumption is that NHS testing cannot be used for the purposes of travel, so therefore – regardless of the Italian government’s attitude – I must advise you not to do so.
The UK government has indicated that it may start providing NHS lateral flow tests to travellers for the pre-departure test required for all journeys to Britain, but there is no sign of them yet.
Q: My long ago-booked hol to Skiathos is looking like ‘amber’ and I don’t want to be self-isolate trapped in the house for 10 days especially having had my 2 jabs. Olympic Holidays site says clients can re-book a later date at no extra charge if it transpires they have to ‘quarantine’, do you think ‘quarantine’ includes self-isolation or will I have to use my booking or lose it?
A: Quarantine certainly includes self-isolation at home. But please talk to Olympic!
Q: Do you think the EU will open to the UK if there is no reciprocity on quarantine. This is a fear of mine, I have meetings I need to attend in Spain quite urgently but I’m just in limbo right now.
A: There is nothing reciprocal about the current travel arrangements. While the government has been keen to talk about travel corridors, and perhaps imply that there is a two-way agreement, in practice origin and destination countries will set their own criteria. I can be pretty confident though that Spain will be welcoming British visitors, from early June.
Q: There is a potential issue with insurance for any who may test positive prior to travelling back from a red or green country, even if they have no symptoms whatsoever. They will presumably need to quarantine locally. I have tried to get an answer from the insurance company, who keep prevaricating, simply saying they will cover costs if ill, but what happens if not. Is it possible to get a definitive answer. Presume no issue if on a package, as the company will no doubt help, but if travelling independently could be an issue.
Ian J 2021
A: Yes, it is a messy and uncertain situation. And as the summer progresses and more people travel it will become increasingly frequent. Of course there are many moving parts, including the policy of the country that you happen to be in when you are diagnosed with a case of Covid.
The first line of defence, as you say, if you are on a package holiday is to talk to the tour operator and see if they will cover the costs involved. Airlines, etc, will typically allow you to change flights without penalty, which helps to mitigate the losses. I imagine good travel insurance firms will look on this on a (time-worn phrase coming) case-by-case basis.
Q: Hi we bought a house in Florida all went through during first lockdown (which has turned out to be a nightmare) so we haven’t seen it yet, will restrictions be lifted for homeowners to sort out their properties any time soon?
A: Don’t ask me, ask that nice President Biden, since it is his proclamation that is keeping UK citizens out of America. I predict this will change early in June, when he turns up in lovely Cornwall for the G-7 Summit. If you need to get there earlier, then you can try laundering your British residential status with a fortnight’s stay in Mexico.
Q: Do you think there is any likelihood of the US borders opening up before the start of July? I have a booking made for the middle of June which I’m wondering should I cancel it now?
A: Yes. I think US borders will reopen, but it is all a question of how onerous the initial restrictions will be.
It may be that there is a testing and quarantine regime for arrivals into America, which will be tolerable by people desperate to see loved ones (or property owners), but not necessarily holidaymakers.
Wait to see what Joe Biden has to say before you cancel, though.
PCR test limits
Q: On returning to the UK, what if my negative PCR test is 74 hours old? Is there any leeway? Will I be refused entry? Is it from the time of the test or the time of the result?
A: “You must take the test in the three days before the service which you will arrive in England departs,” says the government. It gives the example of departing for England on Friday and says the test can be taken as early as Tuesday.
So, yes, there is a bit of flex – I make that significantly longer than 72 hours. Suppose you have a test at 8am on Tuesday for a flight that arrives at 8pm on Friday: that’s 84 hours. In theory, if your flight were delayed and touched down at 1am on Saturday that could be a problem, but I don’t suppose you would be in trouble.
Q: It’s been apparent for a fair while that Turkey wouldn’t be allocated green list status, and the situation doesn’t look good going forward. Our holiday was booked for the last week of August, and you described it as no better than 50/50,
Our balance is due for payment in June, do you think there’s a chance of Jet2 offering free cancellations if Turkey is placed amber or red? Or should we just forget it, cancel now and lose our deposit? Delaying until next year isn’t an option.
A: Three months from now, the world, including Turkey will look very different, and I believe now that I will give you odds of 60-40. Certainly I wouldn’t cancel now. Jet2 has behaved honourably throughout the coronavirus pandemic and I am sure will be flexible when needed.
Q: We have to cancel our wedding in Turkey due 26th May. Looking to rebook to July but having to pay more money. Do you think Turkey will make the green list by then? And how are Turkey hosting the champions league with 4,000 British fans for each team! Will they be isolating for 10 days as well as the players, as they have another game not long after?
A: Not sure about Turkey being green list by July. UK fans will certainly need to self isolate on return. Elite sports professionals gain exemptions.
UAE red list
Q: Is it Turkey and UAE would be on amber? Or more likely both on the red list?
A: Turkey amber for now, UAE on red indefinitely due to hub status.
Scotland vaccine status
Q: In terms of pleasing a cruise line, what can people in Scotland use as proof we’ve had our two jabs, given we aren’t getting a card, as in the rest of the UK?
A: I am afraid that all I can suggest is that you talk to your GP, who probably has many other things to be getting on with, but may be able to provide an acceptable letter if you ask (and pay).
But given that there are many people in this position, before you do that speak to the cruise company to find out exactly what they are demanding.
Corfu or Malta?
Q: Hi Simon we are due to go to Corfu on June 21st but have the option to move to Malta now, do you think we should wait or move now while we can? I would expect prices to go up when the green list is announced?
A: I am afraid that the government is keeping everybody on tenterhooks, and at this stage all I can say is wait for another 24 hours or so. Yes some prices will go up, but equally capacity is going to soar once the travel companies see which countries are going to be open for business over the next few weeks. Whereupon prices will fall.
Q: I want to travel to Germany to finally visit my family and combine this with a holiday in a green list country to avoid quarantine upon returning to the UK. How long would I need to spend in a green list country? I gather this would be ten days but I’m not sure how exactly I would count the ten days. Does the day of my arrival and departure to/from the green list country count as part of these? Thanks
A: The question asked on the passenger locator form coming back into the UK is: what countries have you been in over the past 10 days? So even if you had left Germany at one minute past midnight on day one, that would count. These tricky days it helps to assume the toughest rules apply. But “laundering” amber or red list status is perfectly legal and has been practised quite a lot, according to the many stories I have heard from returning travellers.
Scotland hotel quarantine
Q: Just wondering if a Scottish person flying from an English airport to a green list country would be able to return and abide by the English rules on tests etc. I know in Scotland it’s mandatory hotel quarantine for everyone just now but it is only if arriving directly into Scotland.
Our first minister said a while back this was a loophole. Is this still the case and what is the legality side of it? Hope to visit family in Portugal soon
A: The differing policies between England and Scotland have caused a lot of concern for the government in Edinburgh. Initially ministers at Holyrood wanted to get English officials to identify Scottish travellers and insist that they went into hotel quarantine from all overseas destinations. This request was declined, and instead Scotland allowed them to arrive in England but self isolate at home when they reach their residence north of the border.
However I expect this to change by 17 May, and that all four UK nations will adopt the same policy – largely because of the mess created by people legitimately exploiting differences.
Q: Why isn’t anyone pushing the British government to provide the testing data from the hotel quarantine arrivals? UK Citizens are being held in detention hotels for doing nothing wrong and there seems to be very little data disclosed about how many travellers from “high risk” countries are testing positive.
A: I am trying to obtain data on hotel quarantine, as is the Labour MP Ben Bradshaw. But when he put in a written Parliamentary question on the subject, three months ago, the expected after a week did not materialise – and he was told last week that Parliament had run out of time and would not be able to respond to his question. I imagine in time the government will provide the information, but at the moment it is keeping its cards very close to its chest. A cynic would say that there are more forces at work than simply statistical data, and the government would really prefer not to open up too much at the moment.
Q: I want to travel to Republic of Ireland from the UK, will I be legally allowed to go on or after the 17th of May? I am aware ROI are lifting their inter county travel restrictions on the 10th May but I am not sure if I still need an essential reason to travel there. I am looking to relocate permanently to Waterford but had to repatriate to England last Nov when we entered the last lockdown.
A: I am glad to say that in the case of Ireland, there is a common sense approach, and you are advised to get in touch with the Irish Embassy in London to discuss your case. I imagine if you are moving house, then this will be allowed ahead of general relaxation of travel rules.
Northern Ireland travel
Q: I wish to visit Northern Ireland but there is still a restriction. When may this be lifted?
A: “You should not travel in or out of Northern Ireland except where it is essential to do so,” says the government in Belfast. If you plan to stay for more than 24 hours, public health advice is that you should self isolate for 10 days unless you are exempt. Household members need not self isolate. I imagine this will change well before the end of May, and I look forward to returning to Northern Ireland.
Q: I have family in Portugal that I have not been able to see for two years. I only want to travel for two days.
Can I take a test in the UK and return within 72 hours and would a lateral flow be suitable? Also, are the gov looking at issuing free lateral flow tests to take abroad with you? Would that be through the NHS like the way schools receive home testing kits now?
A: Ridiculous as it may seem, the most sensible approach before a swift trip abroad is to get a negative Covid test completed before they leave the UK. The government has confirmed it will be accepted at check-in before you depart for home, assuming that it was taken in the three days beforehand.
I agree that this isn’t brilliantly thought through, if the whole purpose of the exercise is to ensure you haven’t picked up something nasty on your trip, but them’s the rules. As previously mentioned the government has mooted taking lateral flow tests abroad, but there is no policy in place at the moment.
Q: I am wondering where you think Tenerife will be with regards to the traffic light system?
Also a question on if it is green, how does the testing work? Do we do the test at the airport or is it a case of doing a self test and then proving a negative test?
A: Tenerife will almost certainly be amber initially.
Tests must be carried out within three days of departure to the UK, which for a lot of travellers is going to be most easily achieved at the airport. Self-tests have been discussed but are certainly not allowed at present. A proper medical certificate (in English/French/Spanish) is the only acceptable proof.
Q: If you have been fully vaccinated in Brazil and would like to come over to the UK to visit family, do you still have to quarantine in a government approved hotel for 10 days? Thank you
A: Vaccination status is of no interest to the UK government in terms of admission. So, yes, you must still quarantine. And I am sorry to say that even though the stretch is widely described as 10 days, in fact you must pay for 11 nights and the rules say you must be there for at least part of the first and last days – so 12 days are affected.
Q: How likely do you think it would be for a red list country (Kenya) to be moved to amber or green by August? Safari booked in February 2020 for August 2021!
A: Crikey, I admire your optimism for booking 18 months ahead. And I sympathise if you rather wish you hadn’t done so. The UK government’s actions over the past year suggest it has concerned for travellers who wish to go to Africa, and the tourism industry on the continent. So I am afraid I rate the chances as less than 50 per cent.
UK testing requirements
Q: Do you anticipate any changes to test requirements to re-enter the UK? What’s the best way to get the appropriate tests in UK and in holiday destination? Do you anticipate extending queues at airports because of Covid checks? We are considering Malta in early June.
A: I certainly expect the UK’s onerous demands for testing to be eased, probably at the same time as the number of green list countries is greatly expanded – to include Spain, France, Italy, Croatia and Greece.
It may be that the two tests currently required of green list arrivals will be replaced by a single pre-departure test, or at least a quick and simple lateral flow test on arrival that can be carried out as part of the airport process.
I expect that to happen later in June or early July. But I may be wrong.
While there are people who think there may be queues lasted many hours at Britain’s airports, but I think pragmatism will prevail and that there will be an accelerated process.
Q: I am confused about the testing schedules that I read everywhere. Does a test before departure mean a test before leaving the UK or a test before leaving to return to the UK? Is a test needed to leave the UK regardless of the country of arrival?
A: Okay, let’s see if I can clear up the confusion that many people have. The UK government has exactly nothing to say about testing before you leave the country. However, many destinations are very keen that you have a Covid test in the 72 hours before you leave the UK or before you arrive with them. Some of them are allowing people who have been vaccinated to swerve the testing requirement.
Coming back the UK government insists on a test before you board a train, boat or plane to Britain, which can be more or less any variety as long as it is written in English, French or Spanish, and certified by proper medical practice abroad; and one or more pre-booked PCR tests for after you arrive in the UK.
Travellers from green list locations need only one, taken within two days of arrival, while those from amber and red places must pre-book two tests.
Q: Do you know when Mexico will be on the green list? I’ve got it booked for 5 June or should I change to Jamaica?
A: I cannot see any appetite at the moment for placing Mexico on the green list, and if you have a holiday booked for 29 days time, you may wish to consider postponing or changing. But not to Jamaica!
While I love the island, it is certainly not the ideal place to be in early June, and I will direct you instead to Portugal (assuming it is on the green list) or possibly a Greek island – again if it is deemed to be low risk.
Q: I am currently living in Geneva (I moved in November 2020), Switzerland but want to come to the UK to see my family and friends. When do you think it will be on the green list?
A: June or July. Sorry I can’t be more specific.