Boris Johnson’s government will announce the restart of quarantine-free foreign travel from July 19 for double-jabbed residents of England, despite concerns of long airport queues and a surge in coronavirus cases.
Johnson and senior ministers have agreed that travellers with two Covid-19 vaccinations and children should be allowed to travel to amber list countries, including France, Spain and Italy, without isolating for 10 days on their return.
Details of the plan will be announced to MPs by Grant Shapps, transport secretary, on Thursday. Two Whitehall officials told the Financial Times that the new regime would start on July 19, when most of England’s legal Covid-19 restrictions are expected to end.
Shapps will set out the new arrangements, which are expected to include the need for a PCR test upon return to England, as currently happens for travel to green list destinations such as Malta and Mallorca.
Although ministers want to ease travel arrangements from July 19, the UK Border Force has been eager to delay until July 26 to allow more time to prepare for a significant increase in airport traffic.
“Ministers want it introduced on July 19 for the big bang day, although the Border Force is concerned about the logistics,” one insider said. Another official said: “It makes sense to align as much as possible for simplicity.”
Speaking at a parliamentary select committee on Wednesday, Johnson confirmed the announcement would come on Thursday and described double vaccinations as a “great liberator” that offered “massive potential” to return life to normal.
This week, the prime minister said: “We will maintain our tough border controls including the red list, and recognising the protection afforded by two doses of vaccine, we will work with the travel industry towards removing the need for fully vaccinated arrivals to isolate on return from an amber country.”
Airports are worried about huge queues at immigration if there is a sudden pick-up in people travelling and Border Force officials check every arriving passenger’s vaccination certificates.
Airlines have suggested that they should check passengers’ status at check-in instead, and British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Heathrow airport have teamed up to launch a trial that will fast-track fully vaccinated arrivals.
It is also still unclear how passengers who have not been vaccinated in Britain can prove their vaccination status.
The start of the school holiday season has also been overshadowed by the prospect that trips might have to be cancelled at short notice because of a surge in Covid-19 cases.
Sajid Javid, health secretary, has said cases could rise to a record 100,000 a day if — as he expects — the decision is taken on July 12 to remove most legal restrictions on July 19.
Recent data suggest that for every coronavirus case, two more people are told to self-isolate.
That suggests that 700,000 people a week could be infected, with a further 1.4m being told to self-isolate, potentially throwing travel plans of more than 2m people a week into chaos at short notice.
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said the prospect of having to isolate will weigh on travellers’ planning.
“Being flexible is going to be key to getting through the ups and downs of last-minute border rule changes and other restrictions this summer,” he said.
A group of six aviation companies, led by Manchester Airports Group, will on Friday take the government to the High Court to seek a judicial review over the transparency of the traffic-light system for international travel.
“We desperately need the UK government to be more agile and open when it comes to international travel,” said Charlie Cornish, MAG chief executive.