At this stage of October, the travel correspondent of The Independent is usually to be found in his private compartment travelling east over the central section of the Trans-Siberian railway in eastern Russia, en route to Ulan Bator ahead of the nationwide celebrations on 25 October of Mongolian Republic Day.
This year he has instead chosen to venture no further east than Ulan-Ude – where the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian lines diverge – and found time to respond to a dozen urgent travel questions from readers.
Q: Do you think that the UK in their upcoming travel update will also extend the list of countries for those people who have had vaccinations overseas? Whilst the UK government accept the vaccination type we have had, they don’t accept the country we have had it in.
A: British exceptionalism strikes again. One of many scandalously unfair travel-related issues of the coronavirus era is the refusal of the UK to acknowledge the vaccinations from a majority of countries in the world.
Fully jabbed visitors from more than 100 nations are told, effectively, “we don’t think your vaccinations are as good as ours”. They must then go into self-isolation for 10 days and take multiple tests, even though they almost certainly present far less of a Covid threat to the UK than the UK poses to them.
Clearly this is an absurd state of affairs. I hope the UK will soon change its tune and conform to the almost universal view that an AstraZeneca or Pfizer jab, properly administered by a health service abroad, is just as good as one in the UK.
For overseas travellers to Britain who are “pinged” by NHS Test & Trace because someone on their flight has tested positive, things are even worse: the UK flatly refuses to accept proof of vaccination instead of self-isolation for anyone not jabbed here. So while British travellers can escape the requirement to self-isolate for 10 days on proof of being jabbed, the same courtesy is not afforded to anyone jabbed anywhere abroad.
The DSHC says: “The government’s rules are that the vaccine must be administered in the UK, by a recognised NHS member of staff who has been trained and authorised to administer that vaccine.
”The reasoning behind this is that elsewhere the same vaccine may be stored or administered to different standards or protocols.”
Besides the stress, expense and inconvenience of pointless self-isolation, these measures are yet more disincentive to anyone thinking of travelling to the UK to visit family, conduct business or simply spend money as a tourist.
Q: I’m travelling to Amsterdam in November. I’m wondering if the NHS Covid app will ever be accepted by EU or am I going to have to have a covid test every 24 hours to access indoor venues still?
A: November is a great month to be in Amsterdam: the Dutch capital is atmospheric and empty, with a certain misty melancholy.
But as things stand you will indeed have to turn up at a very efficiently run government testing centre every 24 hours before you are allowed to do normal things like go to a bar or enter one of the city’s magnificent museums.
On Wednesday the health secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “We work with our international partners to try to come to a common understanding.” Unfortunately, as with so many aspects of life in Covid/Brexit Britain, there is precious little evidence of rapid progress – or, indeed, any progress.
Q: I’ve transferred my QR code from the NHS app to the French anti COVID app. Will the French app be accepted in Germany for entry to hotels and restaurants there and in other EU countries? We don’t seem to have the EU app available for us.
A: On my recent trip to Germany, by far the most useful item I carried was printed proof of vaccination. You can get this for free from the NHS in the UK nation you live in.
Q: Could you please explain how the “90/180 rule” for travel to the European Union works? No one seems to be able to advise me in the event of using it for the maximum days use in the year.
We own a house in Spain, if I start with a week’s holiday on, say, 4 January, will that mean I only have 180 days from that date? So I wouldn’t be able to go in August, September or October?
A: The referendum on leaving the European Union has brought many changes for travellers, almost all of them negative. One of the most significant outcomes was the decision by the UK to limit the amount of time that can be spent in the EU (and associated Schengen area countries, such as Switzerland and Norway) – by dint of becoming a “third country”.
The top rule for such locations is the 90/180 limit. It is easy to express but difficult to interpret. Basically, in any spell of 180 days (just short of six months) you cannot spend more than 90 days (three months) in the Schengen area.
It follows that you cannot have a stay in the European Union above 90 days, and that if you go for the maximum, you must then leave the EU for a further 90 days.
In your case, though, it may just work. If you spend a week in Spain in January, all that happens is that – in the ensuing 173 days, say to the end of June – you cannot spend more than 83 days (almost 12 weeks) in the Schengen area.
To spend a continuous 90-day spell from the beginning of August through September until almost the end of October, you would need to avoid the EU entirely in May, June and July (give or take a day or two).
Do share this response with your fellow property owners in Spain: I am getting more and more questions about it as winter approaches, from people concerned that their normal November to Easter stays are no longer possible.
They are, but only if you apply for residence or a long-stay visa.
Red list moves
Q: Any thoughts about the chance of Ecuador possibly leaving the red list on the next review?
A: The higher that coronavirus rates in the UK so, the more preposterous it is that there is still a red list aimed at seven Latin American nations – including Ecuador, Colombia and Peru. I am expecting the next review six days from now on Thursday 28 October, and that the red list will shrink – or, hopefully, be torn up.
Dreaming of a French Christmas
Q: I know it’s a while off but what do you think of the chances of getting to France at Christmas?
A: Without wishing to sound simplistic or unhelpful, it depends on what happens with coronavirus rates in the UK and Europe – particularly France, of course. At present the UK’s new Covid-19 infections are running at around nine times those in France. If the gap widens to, say, 12, 15 or 20 times, then there is a risk that targeted precautions could be introduced by France. But if case numbers settle, I do not see particular problems.
Morocco flight ban – and possible repercussions
Q: What I don’t get with countries like Morocco is that if you are double-jabbed and take a PCR or a lateral flow test before you go indicating you haven’t got Covid, how can you spread it if you haven’t got it?
A: The sudden decision by health officials in this wonderful North African nation to ban flights from the UK – as well as Germany and the Netherlands – took everyone by surprise. Even senior tourism industry figures seem to have been caught unawares.
For arrivals from the UK and other nations, many countries are content with JOT or JAT: “jab or test” or “jab and test”.
I imagine the Moroccan ban may be lifted quite soon – though perhaps first for the Dutch and the Germans.
Q: My wife and I are both fully vaccinated and have trip planned for our anniversary to Gran Canaria on 11 November. With Morocco banning UK flights, we’re slightly concerned about Spain doing the same. How likely would you say that is to happen?
A: For Spain I think the chances are relatively unlikely, and especially so for the Canaries which have separate rules from the mainland of Spain.
But if the health secretary’s warning of new Covid cases in the UK possibly reaching 100,000 comes to pass, then I imagine a wide range of governments across Europe will be looking with mounting concern at British travellers.
A more pragmatic step than Morocco’s all-out flight ban would be for a concerned nation to impose mandatory testing for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, as Portugal did throughout the summer.
Q: Do you have any idea when Italy will announce changes to its current travel rules which expire on Monday? Any rumours they’ll reintroduce quarantine from the UK?
“Hoping to holiday”
A: Through the summer Italy has been very circumspect about visitors from the UK.
At present you need proof of vaccination and to show evidence of a negative PCR or antigen test, taken within 48 hours before entering Italy.
I think any decision to tighten restrictions – for example by reintroducing mandatory quarantine for British visitors – will be taken in the light of case numbers that are pinned on UK travellers. But were the UK to reach 100,000 new cases a day, I think more than just Italy would be alarmed.
Q: We are flying to Spain tomorrow. We are trying to fill in the SpTH (Spanish Health Form) and have hit a problem with the following question: “Have you been in contact with a person that has been a confirmed case for COVID-19 during the last 14 days?”
We had a positive PCR result in the house 17 days ago so do not know if we answer NO to this or YES because isolation didn’t end until a week ago. I have been through UK and Spanish websites but cannot get a clear answer. Please can you advise on what to do next?
A: You are in a very tricky position. I suggest that you get a PCR test for everybody who is travelling. Although it may not be a legal requirement if you are fully vaccinated, it is the best way to ensure that you are not infectious and pose a risk to public health in Spain. If everyone tests negative then, in your position, I would answer “no” to the question.
Q: I’m in the Bahamas with my family and have been told that my 12-year-old needs an antigen to get home. Apparently the government website not been updated. We’re flying home with British Airways.
A: How annoying. I cannot see any evidence of testing needed prior to departure so long as your 12-year-old normally lives in one of the countries whose jabs are recognised by the UK government.
But I can see an element of implication in the current Foreign Office advice, which says: “You are responsible for organising your own Covid-19 test, in line with UK government testing requirements. Testing is widely available from private clinics in New Providence and in main tourist locations on outer islands.”
I imagine though, that this is aimed at people who are either unvaccinated or whose jabs are not recognised. Vaccinations approved in the Bahamas are recognised by the UK.
Any airline that denies boarding when you are properly documented must pay £550 in compensation on a flight of this length. But I hope it doesn’t reach that stage.
Q: First, thank you for helping me get to Rhodes earlier in September - I’m glad we listened to you. Our next trip is to New York in November, booked on the off chance we’d get there back in January.
If everything stays the same, will the US let us in with a lateral flow (privately bought) or will it have to be a more expensive PCR?
A: With 17 days to go before the US opens up to British travellers after a gap of 20 months, there is a ridiculous lack of information about how the new system will work.
However, since the US already admits people from most of the world’s countries, it is instructive to look at existing rules – which suggest that a simple lateral flow test, taken in the three calendar days before departure to the US would suffice.
As soon as I know anything for certain, I will be tweeting details @SimonCalder.