Today’s big question

When will the UK ditch quarantine rules for amber list countries?

Boris Johnson pushing for policy change to coincide with 19 July’s Freedom Day

Plans to allow fully vaccinated travellers to avoid Covid quarantines when returning to England from amber list countries will be signed off at a meeting of ministers tomorrow, according to reports.

The Times says that Boris Johnson is believed to be in favour of ditching the isolation rules from “as early as 19 July”, so-called Freedom Day, “to coincide with the lifting of other lockdown restrictions”.

The date has not been formally agreed yet, however, with a Whitehall source confirming to the paper only that the policy “will happen before August”. Previous reports suggested the change might kick in from 26 July, to coincide with the start of school summer holidays.

How travel rules are changing

Under the current traffic light system for travel, foreign countries are split into three categories. Travellers visiting destinations on the government’s green list do not need to quarantine after returning, while trips to amber list countries come with a mandatory ten days of isolation at home. Anyone arriving from red list areas - those deemed the highest risk - has to quarantine in a government-approved hotel at their own cost.

Johnson said on Monday that  the government was working “with the travel industry towards removing the need for fully vaccinated arrivals to isolate on return from an amber country”, and that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps would provide an update “later this week”.

The policy change, which will only apply to England, is set to open up travel to dozens of popular destinations including France, Germany, Italy and Spain, although these and other countries have their own Covid policies for new arrivals.

Potential problems

“Significant concerns remain over the logistical challenge of the move,” says The Times, but aviation industry bosses are keen to prove that their companies can handle extra passengers and additional checks.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic will begin a trial from this weekend of fast-track lanes at Heathrow Airport for fully vaccinated passengers arriving on “selected flights” from Athens, Los Angeles, Montego Bay and New York, the BBC reports.

Passengers will be able to upload their vaccination status from the NHS app before boarding and then use a dedicated arrivals lane at the UK border.

But while industry bosses are trying to pave the way for quarantine-free travel, the UK’s Test and Trace rules threaten to cause “carnage”, says the Daily Mail, after Health Secretary Sajid Javid yesterday “revealed the requirement for the double-jabbed to self-isolate will not be dropped until 16 August”.

The newly appointed minister admitted that following the Freedom Day unlocking, Covid-19 cases in the UK could top 100,000 a day. The Adam Smith Institute think-tank has estimated that 4.6 million people a week could be asked to self-isolate after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive.

And with the rapid spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus fuelling the hike in infections, “families could see everything wrecked at the last minute thanks to one ping from the app or a call from Test and Trace”, says the newspaper. 

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