The Guardian

EU to open up to vaccinated Britons as UK urges caution

- Jessica Elgot and Daniel Boffey

Britons’ summer holiday plans were given a big boost yesterday as the EU confirmed vaccinated travellers would be able to fly to Europe from June, although it is understood the UK could give the green light to travel to fewer than 10 countries.

The changes in the quarantine requiremen­ts for popular holiday destinatio­ns could make 2021 the year of the last-minute booking.

The EU will reopen to holidaymak­ers from countries with low Covid infection rates such as the UK, and to anyone fully vaccinated, by the start of June under a European commission plan.

A traffic light system will be announced this week under which countries will put in green, amber and red lists, with different rules regarding issues such as quarantine of returning travellers for each category.

Senior UK government sources said the number of destinatio­ns to which Britons could travel quarantine-free from 17 May might be in single figures – despite pressure from Conservati­ve MPs for the UK to sanction travel to the whole of Europe as vaccine rates improve. Many countries on the list are unlikely to be major holiday destinatio­ns, one source warned.

One Whitehall source said changes could come quite rapidly over the summer as the list of green countries is reviewed every three weeks.

“It will be a cautious approach, but then things could start to change quickly,” the source said.

Yesterday Johnson said that he did not want to see an “influx of disease” once internatio­nal travel resumed, which is why the government said it was being “as cautious as we can” with the roadmap.

“We do want to do some opening up on 17 May but I don’t think that the people of this country want to see an influx of disease,” the prime minister told reporters on a campaign visit to Hartlepool. “I certainly don’t and we have got to be very, very tough, and we have got to be as cautious as we can, whilst we continue to open up.”

The government will have the right to rapidly remove countries from the green or amber lists if case numbers rise quickly, but more routinely countries will be added to a “watch list”, raising questions about the implicatio­ns for cancellati­ons and insurance.

Portugal, Malta and Gibraltar are likely to be on the green list, meaning testing will be required before travel but not quarantine upon returning.

Popular destinatio­ns, such as Spain and France, are expected to be amber, a category that requires home quarantine. Red list countries, which are likely to include Brazil, UAE and South Africa, require quarantine in government-mandated hotels.

Advice to UK ministers will be given by the Joint Biosecurit­y Centre, which will give its final verdict tomorrow, meaning an announceme­nt is likely to be delayed until Friday because of the local elections on Thursday. However, one government source said there was a possibilit­y Johnson could make the announceme­nt tomorrow, a morale boost before the polls after a week dominated by stories of Tory sleaze.

The government will give the go-ahead for internatio­nal travel to restart on 17 May, and advice to “minimise travel” will change to “travel safely, plan ahead” with no advice on limiting travel around the UK.

The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, warned there should not be a repeat of the “chopping and changing” of the travel corridors list introduced last summer. “We need to be very careful. I think it’s clear that the virus is increasing in some countries around the world, so we have to be very, very careful,” he told reporters during a campaign visit to Lewisham.

Agreement on opening of European borders is due to be sought from EU member states during meetings today and tomorrow.

The existing requiremen­t to undergo Covid testing before or after arrival or to quarantine could still be enforced by member states but EU officials hope there will be a gradual phasing out of these conditions.

Under the commission’s proposals, member states would allow travel into the EU of those people who had received, at least 14 days before arrival, the final dose of an authorised vaccine. Even those not fully vaccinated, which is likely to be a younger demographi­c in the UK, will be allowed in the EU if they are coming from a country with a “good epidemiolo­gical situation”.

As it stands, only seven countries worldwide are on a green list allowing for non-essential travel. A senior official said the UK could be added to the green list but that it would depend on a reciprocal willingnes­s to open its borders to all EU citizens. “The figures for the UK are good,” the EU official said. “Those vaccinated in the UK will be eligible to travel to the EU but [we are] mindful of other aspects: reciprocit­y. It is still a principle under this new recommenda­tion.”

The commission is proposing, however, an emergency brake. When the epidemiolo­gical situation of a non-EU country worsens quickly and in particular if a variant of concern or interest is detected, a member state will be able to “urgently and temporaril­y suspend all inbound travel by non-EU citizens resident in such a country”.

Johnson also confirmed that the UK was likely to relax social distancing measures on 21 June when the government intended to loosen all remaining restrictio­ns on hospitalit­y and social gatherings. However, it is likely to mean masks will remain mandatory in some indoor settings.

“I think we have got a good chance of being able to dispense with the one-metre plus from 21 June,” Johnson said. “That is still dependent on the data, we can’t say it categorica­lly yet, we have got to look at the epidemiolo­gy as we progress, we have got to look at where we get to with the disease. But that’s what it feels like to me right now.”

Yesterday, the UK recorded just one death within 28 days of a positive Covid test, the lowest such figure since 30 August.

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