Holidays to Spain are back on for thousands of British sunseekers, with ministers set to axe the controversial ‘amber-plus’ list, which would have forced even double-jabbed travellers to quarantine on return.
Falling cases of the Beta variant, along with concerns over quarantine hotel room capacity, has nudged officials into avoiding placing Spain on the red list.
An announcement confirming its amber status is expected today, meaning fully-vaccinated holidaymakers won’t have to isolate for 10 days when they come back home.
Furthermore, European destinations including Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Poland are set to be added to the ‘green list’, opening up even more opportunities for a late summer getaway.
A Whitehall source told the Times: ‘Spain won’t be going on the amber watchlist — the only danger is it going red but that’s very unlikely. Cases are coming down. And they haven’t got enough beds to quarantine everybody. So it’s not going to happen.’
Boris Johnson has already vetoed the idea of the ‘amber watch list’, which was approved by ministers last week. The scheme could have seen popular destinations moving to the red list, which would have forced returning tourists to undertake hotel quarantine at a cost of £1,750.
The PM said on Monday that, following criticism of the complex patchwork of travel warnings, he wanted to move to a system that is ‘as simple and user-friendly for people as possible’.
Officials have warned that amber countries could still be placed on the red list in the event of a major outbreak or the emergence of a new variant.
But a Whitehall source said it was almost unthinkable that any major tourist destinations would be turned red this summer.
Holidays to Spain are back on for thousands of British sunseekers, with ministers set to axe the controversial ‘amber-plus’ list, which forced even double-jabbed travellers to quarantine on return
Falling cases of the Beta variant, along with concerns over quarantine hotel room capacity, has nudged officials into avoiding placing Spain on the red list
Wish you were fair… it’s the refund red list
By Sean Poulter, Consumer Affairs Editor for the Daily Mail
A red list of holiday firms that cannot be relied upon to offer flexible bookings and timely refunds amid the pandemic travel chaos has been identified by Which?
The list of 22 includes travel giants such as Lastminute.com, Love Holidays, On The Beach and Teletext.
Which? based its assessment on whether firms allow flexible booking and offer refunds to those who can’t travel for reasons such as being pinged by the NHS app or a change in Government rules. It compared the policies of more than 80 of the UK’s package holiday providers and rated each as Red, Amber, Green or Green+.
Companies that may put customers at risk of being left out of pocket if they are unable to travel were rated as red – as were those that failed to provide clear information. While Red companies’ policies were not necessarily in breach of consumer law, some – such as Love Holidays and Teletext – have faced investigations from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the past year.
Companies that committed to offering refunds in most scenarios – including British Airways Holidays, First Choice, Hays Travel, Jet2 Holidays, Trailfinders and Tui –were rated as green. But the Association of Independent Tour Operators’ chairman Chris Rowles demanded a retraction, saying putting firms on a red list amid a pandemic was ‘outrageous’.
The editor of Which? Travel, Rory Boland, insisted: ‘The difference between choosing a Red company over a Green company could be losing the entire cost of your holiday if circumstances change.’
On The Beach said it was at the mercy of airlines on refunds, adding: ‘We continue to provide customers with as much flexibility as possible.’ Love Holidays would only say it offered a ‘Book with Confidence’ promise – including a vow to pay refunds in some circumstances. Lastminute.com and Teletext did not comment.
The source added: ‘The truth is that none of the mass market destinations can really go red at the height of the holiday season.
‘It would cause so much disruption to so many people and we have not got anywhere near enough capacity for hotel quarantine.’
Travel expert Paul Charles, of the PC Agency, said the latest data suggested at least a dozen countries should go green tomorrow, including Canada, Poland and Slovenia, as well as Germany and Austria.
But he urged ministers to move to a simpler red/green list, with the fully-vaccinated allowed to travel freely to any country not rated as red.
The idea was backed by more than 300 travel firms. In a letter to the PM, they said the ‘easy to understand policy would help the UK travel sector recover, build confidence quickly among consumers and still protect our country’s health needs with pre-departure testing.’
The travel sector is also pressing ministers to cut the number and cost of tests required, amid fears that large bills for testing will make it impossible for many families to travel.
Whitehall sources did not rule out a move to a red/green system, but said it was more likely they would retain the amber list to help travellers judge the risk involved.
The Confederation of British Industry has called for a ‘new settlement’ to help the travel industry and the UK economy more broadly ‘live with Covid’, which would mean fewer people flying into the UK would need to isolate on arrival.
John Foster, CBI policy director, said: ‘The international travel sector is in the last chance saloon for the summer season.
‘Restrictions must be relaxed if beleaguered businesses are to salvage any opportunity to trade their way towards recovery this year. The UK’s successful vaccine rollout, coupled with lessons learned throughout the pandemic, offer genuine opportunity for more travel to resume safely.
‘Rebuilding passenger confidence will be key. Establishing simple, consistent rules and communicating them clearly is essential.’
A Department for Transport spokesman said: ‘We recognise this is a challenging period for the sector, as we seek to balance the timely reopening of international travel while safeguarding public health and protecting the vaccine rollout.’
Yesterday, Education Minister Gillian Keegan appeared to hint that changes will be made as she said the Government wants the rules to be ‘simple enough for people to really understand’ and to take decisions ‘based on the system so we have the red list countries, the amber list countries and the green list countries’.
An announcement confirming its amber status is expected today, meaning fully-vaccinated holidaymakers won’t have to isolate for 10 days when they come back home
A tourist jumps into the sea on the Amadores beach, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the south of the island of Gran Canaria, Spain
Britons travelling to the EU will need to pay €7 tax to Brussels from next year
British tourists wanting to holiday in the likes of France, Greece and Spain, will have to pay a €7 (£6) charge from next year, EU officials confirmed last night.
Brussels is working up plans to introduce the new travel system which will see non-EU citizens from 62 countries – including Britain – ordered to pay to enter the border-free Schengen zone.
Officials say the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) will allow the EU to pre-screen the information of travellers, including criminal records.
The scheme will be similar to the US’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) system – which allows citizens from 39 countries a 90-day visa-free stay.
However the EU’s version will be valid for up to three years – and will count for multiple entries.
It is being brought in, in part, to avoid the need for more complex visas – though travellers who need visas to enter the EU will still require them.
Plans were first suggested in 2016, prior to Brexit. But the regulations for the system were officially confirmed by EU officials on Tuesday.
The ETIAS scheme is expected to be in place by the end of 2022.
The Prime Minister then intervened to torpedo the ‘amber watchlist’ proposals after they provoked a wave of fury from Cabinet ministers, Tory MPs and the travel industry, with critics blasting the idea of adding a further level of complexity to the already chaotic system amid warnings it would prompt a collapse in bookings.
Travel firms welcomed the U-turn but immediately pressed the PM to go further as they called for the current system to be scrapped completely and replaced with a single ‘red list’ of banned countries.
The problems caused by the traffic light rules were illustrated today by warnings that European hotels are rejecting holiday bookings from UK travellers for August because they fear they will just cancel.
Noel Josephides, director of Aito, the Specialist Travel Association, and chairman of tour operator Sunvil, told The Guardian: ‘Hoteliers are turning away bookings from the UK in August because they don’t trust us – and European travellers are taking our beds and availability.’
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is expected to update the travel rules on Thursday and it is thought he could add 10 countries to the green list, including Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany.
Mr Shapps is being blamed by some of his Cabinet colleagues for the latest travel rules debacle. Five Cabinet sources told Politico that they believed Mr Shapps and the Department for Transport were responsible for the chaos.
The Government is also under fire after it emerged the boss of the Joint Biosecurity Centre, which advises ministers on the travel rules has quit, with no successor in place.
The Guardian reported last night that Clare Gardiner had left her role as director general and it is currently unclear who is actually in charge of the body, with critics claiming it is ‘rudderless’ at a crucial time.
The Department of Health and Social Care said Ms Gardiner had ‘returned as planned to a role in national security’ and the JBC ‘continues to operate routinely under robust interim arrangements’ with a replacement to be ‘announced imminently’.
Boris Johnson is under pressure from aviation chiefs to scrap the Government’s traffic light travel rules and replace them with a single ‘red list’ of banned destinations
Travel experts believe ministers are preparing to axe the amber plus and green watchlist categories. Scrapping the former would mean reopening travel to and from France. A beach in Biarritz is pictured on July 28
Mr Johnson yesterday abandoned plans to introduce a new ‘amber watchlist’ after warnings it would have further decimated the struggling travel sector. Heathrow Airport is pictured yesterday
What are the travel traffic light rules and what was the ‘amber watchlist’?
The Government currently has three main categories in its international traffic light scheme. These are red, amber and green. There is also an ‘amber plus’ list, but plans for an ‘amber watchlist’ have now been ditched.
Below is a breakdown of the rules for each category:
WHAT IS CURRENTLY IN PLACE?
RED: Travel to the UK from a red list country is banned for non-UK nationals. Britons returning to the UK must take a pre-departure test and book a ten-day stay in hotel quarantine including tests at a cost of £1,750. Countries include Turkey, India, Kenya and the UAE.
AMBER: A pre-departure test is required before heading to Britain while non-vaccinated people have to quarantine for ten days at home and book tests on day two and day 8. They can also pay for a day 5 test under the ‘test to release’ scheme. The fully-vaccinated do not have to isolate but they do have to book a day 2 test. Countries include Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece.
AMBER PLUS: This category currently only features France. It means everyone returning from the country, including the fully-vaccinated, must quarantine at home for 10 days and take tests on day two and day eight.
GREEN WATCHLIST: This is a category for countries which are at risk of losing their green status (see below). Countries include Barbados, Croatia and Israel.
GREEN: Returning travellers must take a pre-departure test and book a day two test as well. Quarantine is not required for anyone unless the test is positive. Countries include Bulgaria, Hong Kong, Iceland and Malta.
WHAT WERE THE GOVERNMENT CONSIDERING?
AMBER WATCHLIST: Ministers had considered bringing in this category to highlight countries which are amber but at imminent risk of turning red. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is said to have been behind the plan, but it…