Will Covid holiday rules price out all but the richest travellers?
Government to warn holidaymakers ahead of taking countries off ‘green list’
Holidaymakers could be given two weeks’ warning if a country is at risk of being removed from the quarantine-free travel “green list”, the transport secretary has said.
Grant Shapps told MPs that the government “would flag perhaps a couple of weeks in advance” if a country was in danger of falling from the green list under its “traffic light” system, which will allow overseas travel to resume, reports The Telegraph.
Portugal, Malta, Iceland, Finland and Gibraltar all look set to join the initial list, although there is an “expectation” that most countries in Europe will be labelled “green” by the end of June.
The total number of green-listed countries was initially expected to be extremely limited. But ministers “have apparently been buoyed by the lack of a third wave of cases” in the UK as lockdown eases, and are now believed to be considering increasing the total to 30, says Metro.
The growing list of green-listed destinations is being tipped to include Israel, Barbados, Morocco, Maldives, Seychelles, Grenada, St Lucia, Antigua and the British Overseas Territories of Bermuda, Turks and Caicos, Falkland Islands, St Helena, as well as the Canary Islands, Azores and Malta.
Shapps is due to confirm in just under two weeks’ time, on 10 May, when travel can restart, although Paul Charles, chief executive of the PC Agency, tweeted that we may know which countries have been green listed as early as next week “on 6th or 7th May”.
Under the current rules, British holidaymakers face forking out hundreds of pounds for Covid tests if they want to go abroad. The regulations have triggered a “furious backlash” from both Tory MPs and travel industry bosses, “who warned the restrictions meant holidays would be reserved for the wealthy”, City A.M. reports.
Amid growing pressure for a rule change ahead of the summer holiday season, Shapps has now hinted that holidaymakers may be allowed free NHS lateral flow tests to use abroad before returning to the UK, rather than “purchase notoriously expensive PCR tests”, in order to gain re-entry, The Telegraph reports.
“We are looking at things like whether people can take their tests away,” he told an industry webinar this week. “A sort of Covid version of bring your own bottle when you go on holiday.”
As the newspaper notes, “the twice-weekly NHS lateral flow tests are currently offered to everyone in England as part of the government’s plans to ease lockdown, but the results are not presently accepted for international travel”.
But while that could be set to change, Shapps has warned that the status quo will be maintained for now. “The PCR test gets us closer to the truth about somebody’s coronavirus and for the time being that’s the one that’s going to be required,” he said.
Countries will be green-listed based on their vaccination rates, prevalence of the coronavirus and their “capacity for genomic testing to detect mutant strains”, The Times reports.
Passengers returning to the UK from these countries will have to take a Covid test on or before the second day after their arrival, but will not have to spend any time in quarantine unless they test positive.
Research by Which? Has found that the average cost of a PCR test in the UK is £120, meaning the cost of travel could rise by an extra £600 for a family of four, on top of flights and accommodation costs.
Currently, a return trip to Greece requires five tests, at an estimated cost of £370 per person, while France would cost £420 per person, Spain £330 and Italy £310, according to the consumer rights group.
However, the government is also investigating ways to slash the cost of PCR tests to £60 or less, with Shapps suggesting earlier this month that “some of the higher end PCR tests should be half the price”.
The minister said he was “undertaking” to “drive down the costs of tests for travel and we’re looking at what innovative steps we can do around this. We’re trying to do everything we can.”