British industry bosses have urged further clarity on when other holiday destinations could be added to the quarantine-free green list amid criticism the government had been too cautious in its approach to unlocking international travel.
Portugal, Gibraltar and Israel are among just 12 destinations that will be on the green list from May 17 – with some countries on the list still not accepting holidaymakers.
United Kingdom Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, said the removal of the ban on international leisure travel was “necessarily cautious,” but sector leaders warned it could “delay the industry’s recovery.”
People returning to England from a green destination from May 17 will not be required to self-isolate and are only required to take one post-arrival coronavirus test. The green list also features several remote British Overseas Territories and destinations where visits are heavily restricted, such as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei and the Faroe Islands.
EasyJet boss Johan Lundgren said, “The decision to put so few European countries into the green tier is simply not justified by the data or the science and is inconsistent with the approach to reopen the domestic economy.”
He added, “So, we call on the government to provide transparency on decision-making and clarity on when we can expect other European countries to join the green list so that consumers and airlines alike can plan for this summer.”
Airlines U.K., an industry body that represents British carriers, said the government must make “major additions” to the green list at the next review point in three weeks.
Chief executive Tim Alderslade said, “This is a missed opportunity and, with so few countries making it on to the green list, represents a reopening of air travel in name only. By contrast, the EU has said vaccinated people will be able to travel without restrictions, which leaves the U.K. at risk of falling behind and not opening up international travel to key markets across Europe as well as the United States.”
Brian Strutton, general secretary of pilots’ union Balpa, accused the government of an “excess of caution,” adding that it is “extremely disappointing for everyone who works in the travel sector and the millions of people who are desperate to jet away on holiday or business.”
“Almost all tourist hotspots in Europe including Spain, France and Greece are in the amber category, which is as good as red as far as most tourists are concerned, with a potential 10-day quarantine needed on return,” he said.
Strutton added, “Tourists are sat gazing at the amber light, revving their engines, desperate to travel safe in the knowledge that their jabs will protect them. The government must flick those amber lights to green as soon as it possibly can.”
At a Downing Street press conference on Friday, Shapps said the government must “make absolutely sure” the countries that Britain reconnects with are safe.
He said, “We in this country have managed to construct a fortress against COVID. But the disease is still prevalent in other parts of the world, most notably at the moment in India.”
His announcement prompted a surge in eager holidaymakers booking trips to Portugal, with Thomas Cook reporting that bookings were “through the roof” immediately after the announcement.
Meanwhile, Shapps said people “should not be traveling” to countries on the amber list, which includes holiday hotspots Spain, France, Italy and Greece. Holidaymakers who go against the guidance and travel to an amber destination must self-isolate at home for 10 days and take two post-arrival tests.
British Airways boss Sean Doyle said this advice was “disappointing,” adding, “We cannot stress more greatly that the U.K. urgently needs travel between it and other low-risk countries, like the U.S., to restart the economy, support devastated industries and reunite loved ones.”
Turkey, the Maldives and Nepal have been added to the red list, meaning that those returning from those destinations to England after 4 a.m. local time on Wednesday will be required to stay in a quarantine hotel for 11 nights at a cost of 1,750 pounds for solo travelers.
The decision on Turkey means Manchester City and Chelsea supporters “should not travel” to the Champions League final in Istanbul later this month, Shapps said.
The traffic light system will be reviewed every three weeks, and there are four key tests the government will take into account when deciding how to categorize a country.
These include the percentage of the country’s population that have been vaccinated, the rate of infection, the prevalence of variants of concern and the country’s access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing.
No plans on international travel have been announced by administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but Shapps expects their rules will be “broadly similar” to those for English tourists.
Holidaymakers have been warned that wait times to enter the U.K. are likely to be longer than usual when leisure travel resumes, with staff required to check “100%” of all travelers coming through.