Hopes for a summer vacation in Europe were boosted yesterday with the possibility of non-essential travel to destinations like Portugal and Malta as early as mid-May.
Limited overseas travel is likely to be allowed in just over two weeks, and experts say an initial “green list” is likely to include up to 24 countries.
Meanwhile, France announced that the British will be able to travel there from the beginning of June as long as they have proof of being vaccinated.
More good news for tourists came when it was revealed that the cost of coronavirus testing for tourists has been reduced to just £ 45 each under government plans to force prices down.
Across England, coronavirus cases have fallen to record lows, with all regions of the country reporting reductions in the infection rate. Experts say the UK as a whole is emerging from the pandemic and towards a more manageable stage.
The director of BioNTech, the pharmaceutical company involved in the production of the Pfizer vaccine, said Europe could achieve herd immunity in four months.
The government’s traffic light system for classifying countries will be released in the middle of next week for the start of non-essential foreign travel from May 17. The government’s Covid operations committee met yesterday to discuss the plan.
Grant Shapps, the Transportation Secretary, confirmed in the Commons that the traffic light system would be based on four tests: vaccination rates, the number of coronavirus cases, the prevalence of “worrisome variants,” and the quality of the test data. .
It is understood that at least 40 percent of the population in most countries will need to have received at least one dose of a vaccine to be included on the green list.
The initial list is likely to be severely restricted due to concerns about the continuously high rates of Covid-19 in most of continental Europe and the slow rollout of the vaccine program.
There are also fears that British ports and airports will be overwhelmed by a rapid reopening of international travel, and that additional red tape is already causing delays of up to six hours at Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport.
However, an analysis by the PC Agency, a travel consultancy, said that based on current rates of infection and vaccine use, up to 24 British overseas countries or territories could be declared green by May 17.
This includes Mediterranean destinations such as Portugal, Gibraltar, Malta, Israel, and Morocco. The Caribbean islands that could be opened include Antigua, Barbados, Jamaica, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and Saint Lucia, as well as Bermuda in the North Atlantic.
Not all of these countries have high vaccination rates, but they are still considered potential candidates due to the overall low cases of Covid-19. Most require proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test before admission.
Ministers will keep the initial list limited, but the PC Agency said it expected it to double from June 28 to include countries such as Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Poland and the United States.
Paul Charles, Executive Director of the PC Agency, said: “While most European countries will be in a position to reopen in June, there are still some countries that are in a safe and stable enough position to reopen in May, to know Malta, Gibraltar, Barbados and Portugal. Vaccine launches are increasing in Europe and also in the Caribbean. “
A government source said there was a “big dispute” between health and transportation departments over the initial list.
The Department of Transportation is “concerned that the green list is so small that it does not make sense,” the source said. A second source added: “As always during the pandemic, health does not want to take any risks. Health wants nothing; DfT wants everything.”
Last night, President Macron announced that the British will be allowed to travel to France on vacation from June 9 provided they have proof of being vaccinated.
EasyJet, the UK’s busiest airline, currently operates a vastly reduced network, but said it was preparing to “scale up” services quickly when travel restrictions are lifted.
The reduced price tests for inbound travelers were revealed by Shapps, who said they were being offered by a new entrant to the government-approved list of companies that provide PCR testing.
The cost could fall further if the government chooses to eliminate VAT. If transferred to the customer, it would cut the cost of a PCR test by a fifth, meaning the cheapest test offered would be £ 36.