U.K. Poised to Ease Travel Curbs as Airlines Step Up Demands
(Bloomberg) -- Boris Johnson’s government is preparing to allow Britons who have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus to travel to more than 150 countries without the need to quarantine on their return to England later this summer.
Officials expect the new policy to be signed off by government in the next few days, paving the way for the reopening of international journeys to popular destinations in Europe and the U.S. on Britain’s so-called amber list of medium-risk countries.
But the change is unlikely to come into force before August, and ministers are expected to keep a tight limit on the number of destinations on the so-called green list for quarantine-free travel when they provide an update this week. This may minimize the benefit to airlines such as EasyJet Plc and British Airways, which have stepped up demands to loosen border restrictions with vaccines now having reached 65% of the U.K. population.
Final decisions on the quarantine policy and the green list have not yet been taken inside government, and both will be subject to scientific advice on the status of the pandemic.
“The whole point of the vaccine program is to be able to remove restrictions,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told LBC radio on Tuesday. “We are working on a plan for double vaccinated people, using tests and to have that testing regime in place instead of having to have the quarantine in some circumstances.”
The aviation and tourism industry has been hammered since the start of the pandemic, after governments were forced to close down international leisure travel to try to stop passengers importing the virus. With the European Union now moving to ease border restrictions, calls for the U.K. to follow suit have grown increasingly urgent.
Ryanair Holdings Plc and the owner of Manchester and Stansted airports filed a court challenge to the U.K. rules last week, saying a lack of transparency on how the government assesses risk levels is undermining consumer confidence.
On Wednesday, industry groups organized a protest to underscore demands that include targeted aid, amid warnings that up to 218,000 jobs are at risk from the ongoing restrictions. About 800 people -- including baggage handlers, travel agents and pilots grouped into two batches for social distancing -- gathered outside Parliament to demand a travel restart to save jobs.
“We keep hearing optimistic noises from the government but we don’t see any action,” said Brian Strutton, acting general secretary of the Balpa pilots union. “There’s a change of direction every day and that’s left the industry confused and angry.”
The U.K. currently codes foreign destinations in a so-called traffic light system based on assessments of pandemic risk, including vaccination and infection rates. The safest countries are on the “green list,” and passengers arriving in England from them do not need to quarantine.
People arriving from 167 destinations on the amber list are required to quarantine at home for 10 days and take tests after arriving, while those landing from red list countries -- rated the worst-hit by Covid -- must quarantine in a hotel.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is expected to publish an update to the lists on Thursday, though officials do not expect him to announce any major expansion of the list of safest countries.
The government is also due to give an update on rule changes, including exemptions for people who have been fully vaccinated, and this could also come on Thursday or on June 28, officials said.
Johnson said Monday ministers will be examining how to give more freedom to vaccinated travelers, but warned “this is going to be, whatever happens, a difficult year for travel” with disruption and delays likely to continue.
“The priority has got to be keeping the country safe and to stop the virus coming back in,” he said.
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