Boris Johnson on Monday indicated that Britons would be able to resume “some” international travel from May 17, as the European Commission announced plans to reopen the bloc to tourists who have been fully vaccinated.
Speaking on a campaigning visit to Hartlepool, in the north of England, ahead of Thursday’s by-election, the prime minister warned that the UK government would continue to take a “cautious” approach to lifting coronavirus travel restrictions. But he said: “I think there will be some openings-up on the 17th.”
Johnson’s comments came as Brussels said on Monday that foreign travellers who had had both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine and were arriving from countries with a “good epidemiological situation” should be allowed to travel across Europe without any restrictions.
“In addition, the commission proposes to raise, in line with the evolution of the epidemiological situation in the EU, the threshold related to the number of new Covid-19 cases used to determine a list of countries from which all travel should be permitted,” the commission said in a statement.
Ursula von der Leyen, the commission’s president, welcomed the recommendations but argued that an “EU emergency brake mechanism” may be needed in case new coronavirus variants begin to emerge.
Johnson said the British government remained concerned about variants from abroad, stating: “I don’t think that the people of this country want to see an influx of disease from anywhere else. I certainly don’t and we have got to be very, very tough.”
Under the UK government’s road map, restrictions on international travel could be lifted from May 17 at the earliest, with countries categorised as green, amber or red under a new traffic light system.
All holidays are banned at present, with only essential travel permitted. Individuals returning to the UK are expected to fill in a passenger locator form, take a coronavirus test up to three days before arriving in the country and quarantine for 10 days.
Under the new traffic light system, expected to be confirmed this week, travellers returning to the UK from “green” countries will not need to isolate or quarantine but will need to take a coronavirus test before departing and carry a passenger locator form.
UK residents returning from “red countries” will be subject to extensive coronavirus testing and be required to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days following their arrival.
Alan French, chief executive of holiday operator Thomas Cook, told the BBC that by June, he expected that “most of the countries that the UK goes on holiday to” would be open to international visitors.
“We are expecting Portugal, Spain, Greece, Croatia and so forth to be open, it would be nice if Turkey was open”, he said, adding: “When we look at what is going on in those countries, both in terms of infection rates and how they are preparing for holidaymakers, I think there is great progress being made.”
However, a cross-party group of more than 60 MPs and peers on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on coronavirus have urged the government to “discourage all international leisure travel” this year, in order to avoid the spread of variants.
“We wouldn’t want . . . for the sake of one summer holiday us [to] go backwards and have a further wave and a further lockdown,” said Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat chair of the group, on Monday.
Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer also called for a more “careful” approach and criticised the government’s approach to international travel thus far.
“What we can’t have is a repeat of last summer, where the lists were chopping and changing on a daily or even weekly basis.”