Grant Shapps, UK transport secretary, has confirmed that quarantine for British travellers returning to England from countries on the “amber” list will end on July 19 for those who have received two doses of coronavirus vaccine.
The announcement on Thursday paves the way for holidays this summer to more than 140 countries including Italy, Spain and Greece. But many destinations have introduced quarantining for British arrivals because of the rapid rise of the Delta variant, first identified in India, across the UK.
Border Force would bring in retired officers and staff from other departments to help deal with passport checks, as concerns grew over long queues when mass travel resumed, the ISU, the immigration staff union, said.
The union said it had “grave concerns about the ability of the border to cope with any level of increased traffic”.
Travel companies are bracing for a surge in demand as major summer holiday destinations open up. EasyJet said flight bookings from the UK to amber-list countries on Thursday rose 400 per cent week-on-week, underlining the demand for travel.
Passengers will still need to present Covid-19 documentation, including a passenger locator form when they land, and airports are worried about “queues out the building” if officials are required to inspect every passenger arriving from an amber-list country for proof of vaccination, one industry executive said.
Airlines are pushing for processing to be carried out at check-in instead, with Heathrow, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic conducting trials.
Addressing the House of Commons, Shapps said the relaxation would take place in England thanks to the success of the vaccination programme. The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have yet to announce their measures.
“I can confirm today, from 19 July UK residents who are fully vaccinated through the UK vaccine rollout will no longer have to self-isolate when they return to England,” he said.
The 10-day home quarantine will be scrapped from July 19, the same day most of England’s lockdown measures will be lifted. Travellers will still be required to take a PCR test on their second day after arrival. Children under the age of 18 would no longer need to self-isolate, Shapps said.
Vaccination certification can be shown through the NHS smartphone app or through an official letter available from the health service. Some 30 countries will also recognise vaccination certification issued in the UK.
Airlines and airports eager for mass travel to resume this summer welcomed the government’s decision. But they called on ministers to go further and remove the need for expensive tests when passengers return to the UK.
“We’re pleased to see this common sense approach which is already working safely for many other countries, but there is more work to do,” said Sean Doyle, British Airways chief executive.
The exemption for vaccinated passengers will only apply to people who have received their jabs in the UK.
“The UK should open up travel to fully vaccinated people from more countries — particularly our key partners in the US — by the end of July. If the EU can do it, so can the UK,” said John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow chief executive.
Shapps told MPs the government was hopeful of extending the exemption to other countries.
But there will be no imminent relaxation for countries on the “red list”, such as India, where mandatory hotel quarantine is required upon return to the UK. Shapps also warned that countries’ travel status could change rapidly.
The Foreign Office will remove its guidance advising against travel to amber-list countries as part of the relaxation on July 19.