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“Feel free to book holidays” (but we won’t tell you where) says Grant Shapps

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The Government published its report into the re-opening foreign travel today. You can read it here.

The good news is that holidays are still on track to be allowed from 17th May – but the lack of clarity on where or how this can happen means that there is little that you can do in practice.

The bad news is that everyone will need to take a PCR test – often priced above £100 – within two days of returning to the UK.

The reaction of low-cost airline Jet2 tells you all you need to know about this move. It immediately cancelled all flights until at least 23rd June. How many people will want to pay more for a PCR test then they did for the flights themselves?

The Government confirmed the reports which have been leaked over recent days. Destinations will be grouped into three categories – Green, Amber or Red. Unfortunately, the list of countries in each category will not be published until nearer 17th May.

Note that everything written below applies only to England. Both the Scottish and Welsh assemblies have implied that they will continue to restrict travel beyond 17th May.

How will each category be treated?

This is what each category will require from 17th May:

Green (potentially US, Caribbean, Malta, UAE, Israel)

Test required before your return flight and a PCR test within two days of returning to the UK. No quarantine required.

Amber (potentially Europe)

Test required before your return flight. 10 days of home quarantine required. A PCR test must be taken on Day 2 and Day 8 – you can be released from home quarantine early, on Day 5, if you take an additional PCR test.

Red

Test required before your return flight. 10 days of hotel quarantine required, to include two PCR tests. No early release possible.

Can I use NHS PCR testing?

No. The Global Travel Taskforce findings specifically state that “NHS tests at no cost for those with symptoms will not be permitted for use in international travel.”

This is ironic, given that NHS PCR testing is currently running at less than 50% of capacity, according to this graph from the government data dashboard. The grey line is capacity whilst the blue is tests conducted (click to enlarge):

NHS PCR testing capacity

Other questions answered

Will a ‘declaration of travel’ form be required to leave the UK?

No. These will be scrapped on 17th May.

Will the cheaper lateral flow tests be accepted before a return flight?

It seems so. This would include the Qured test that British Airways is promoting and which we tested out.

However, you will still need to complete a PCR test within two days of arriving in the UK.

Will I still need to fill in a ‘Passenger Locator Form’ before I return to the UK?

Yes.

Do I really need to pay £100+ per person for a PCR test when I return from a Green country?

At present, yes. The Government seems keen to stick to this. Including the pre-departure lateral flow tests, a family of four would still face a £500+ testing bill.

Additional costs will be required if the country you are visiting has any testing requirements of its own, which is highly likely.

Is there any firm decision on the introduction of ‘vaccine passports’?

No.

It is certain that some countries will insist on proof of vaccination before you can enter. It not certain if the UK Government is willing to provide such proof although the signs are good.

Will countries still move between categories at short notice?

Hopefully not. There is discussion of a ‘Green watchlist’ category being introduced which would give early warning of countries which could be moved. The notice period may also be extended to 7-14 days.

Since a key factor in category assignment will be the level of vaccination, however, it is less likely than in Summer 2020 that countries will move to a more restrictive category.

How will airports cope, given that waits of 6+ hours at immigration are already happening?

The current ‘passenger locator form’ is not automatically checked on submission. This means that, when it is not complete, it has to be manually filled in by an immigration official.

The website will be changed so that incomplete forms cannot be submitted. They will also be linked to passport numbers so that those arriving from Green countries can begin to use e-gates again.

When will the rules be reviewed again?

Fresh reviews are set for 28th June, 31st July and 1st October.

These reviews would decide if the testing requirements could be changed so that, for example, home quarantine was no longer required for visits to an ‘Amber’ country.

Reviews of which countries sit on the Green, Amber and Red lists will be ongoing.

Conclusion

The immediate feedback from the travel industry to the report has been dismay at the lack of clarity offered. Airlines and tour operators are being expected to put schedules together with potentially less than 14 days notice from the publication of the initial Green, Amber and Red lists.

Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK which represents British Airways amongst others, said it was “a further setback for an industry on its knees”.

The requirement for PCR testing on the return is another blow. Whilst the Government is formally sticking to its 17th May re-opening date, in reality it is putting up significant hurdles for travellers, particularly for more price-sensitive travellers. The issue would be alleviated if NHS tests are accepted, although this is extremely unlikely.

You can read the full Government report here (PDF).

Comments (189)

  • Michael C says:

    Another question (sorry!) about BA hols, which I’ve never done!
    So if I book flights / hotel, pay the minimum deposit…do I immediately get a flight reservation code with which I can b) reserve seats, but, more importantly, a) upgrade with Avios straight away?!

    Thanks in advance and see you on a terrace on Monday!

    • Adam says:

      Yes to both.

    • kitten says:

      @MichaelC always ensure avios seats are available in the higher class you want to upgrade to, imnediately before you book and upgrade

      Same avios seat inventory is used for outright avios bookings at the higher level and for upgradea to the higher level.

      Sorry if it’s obvious but it’s easy to forget.

  • BrianFDQ says:

    What would happen if you fail the pre-departure test in the resort country? Can you still fly home? Or Would you have to pay to quarantine in the resort country? Thanks

  • Dawn says:

    Re the Passenger Locator Form. I’m flying to Turkey 20th May – 25th July as we have a home there. I’m expecting Turkey to be amber but if it moves to Red in July we could re-locate to Greece (or another location) for a couple of weeks in a home exchange there. However, what info would we need to put on the locator form? I can’t seem to access it to see what I’ll be asked.

    • kitten says:

      locator form is for your address on return to the UK, not for your outward journey

      • Dawn says:

        @kitten
        Oh, thank you. I assumed it was to ask us which country we had come from.

        • DeB20 says:

          Dawn,

          The passenger locator form has a specific question on the second page that asks you to list the country or countries that you have been in the ten days before arrival into the UK.

          • Dawn says:

            @DeB20
            Thank you. I’d be happy to sit out 10 days in the green country to avoid quarantine in the uk if the government suddenly changes things to red in Turkey at the last minute

  • Ross says:

    Animosity against restrictions on travel is to be expected on a website that is about travel.

    I’m struggling to understand why so many people come on here to chastise those wanting to travel. Its a pointless foray, this is a travel focused website!

  • Luca R says:

    While I look forward to the holidays, I would be wary of using Qured for their tests. The process is a total shamble. Late delivery, late results, no reply to customer service. I have booked the day 2+8 test package and nothing went according to plan.

    Rob, I know you have run a previous article on their services, but if you Google the feedback, it doesn’t match the experience of many people. British Airways should stop recommending this company.

    Has anyone else experienced similar issues? Has anyone found out how to raise a formal complaint? As it is impossible to have a reply from them, should it be raised with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman?

  • Kevin Hart says:

    I do regular 2 day (1 night) trips into Europe.
    How do i stand for testing at the moment?
    I need to go to Belgium and The Netherlands soon as.

  • Js says:

    Flying into UK for 15 hours. What’s the use of having a day 2 test if iv left? Do I still need to buy the test set? Is there any leeway for short term/transit passengers?

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