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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 Unfortunately, the list of countries in each category will not be published until nearer 17th May.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.


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?


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’?


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.


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 (188)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Sam G says:

    Mexico etc have made it extremely easy for people to get the tests needed to get back into the US – usually included in your room rate + free accommodation if you do happen to test positive. I imagine the tour operators and hotels in Greece etc will be setting up to do similar for us

  • ChrisC says:

    Government should offer up the NHS spare capacity and make a reasonable charge to use it for travel purposes.

    Could possibly then be linked to people’s medical records and they also get the samples to analyse for variants.

    • Yuff says:

      That would involve common sense and thinking outside the box…..

      • James says:

        As well as the grift and kickbacks for their mates

        • bafan says:

          This is more like it. Tory donors can’t get their fingers stuck in the till if it’s NHS administered…

    • ChrisW says:

      £50 per test would be a very reasonable charge

      • Sam says:

        I doubt £50 can really cover the cost of running one test given the ‘NHS’ test itself has involved a lot of outsourcing that by nature have nothing to do with NHS at all. If the intention is not to encourage you to make international travel where’s the need of making it cheap and easy?

    • bazza says:

      There is not really any spare capacity in the NHS…..these people already have jobs, this is extra work!

      • TGLoyalty says:

        Test and Trace isn’t actual run by the NHS in England …

    • kitten says:

      It would be a slippery slope towards making things that are core things within the NHS, chargeable.

  • Journeying John says:

    That’s the thing about a pandemic, you can’t predict it’s prevalence in any given destination much in advance…
    No fan or Mr Schapps particularly over his failure to review slots with BAs multiple failings and hostile approach to customers and employees but…

  • Tomasz says:

    Stool the vaccine doesn’t matter in the end, does it? Why would I need all this conditions if I had my vaccine? Ridiculous. How about they just say that they want us to holiday in the UK 😡

    • TGLoyalty says:

      Just in case it’s unclear the vaccine doesn’t stop you catching it it completely and if you do catch it you can still pass it on.

      Test free travel won’t happen until late 2021 / 2022

      • meta says:

        But all vacccines are 100% effective against hospitalisation and death…

        • Rhys says:

          What is particularly galling is that these recommendations have been made on the basis of variants. But assuming that Covid becomes an annual flu-like disease, variants will always exist. At what point do we just drop the charade?

          • Tim says:

            Probably at the point when we have capacity to provide vaccines for the key annual variants to all at significant risk, which couldbethis year. I am no expert but there is already talk of a autumn booster vaccination round for variants and it seems likely that may become a regular thing if we want to get back to relative normality.

          • Rhys says:

            That’s no different to where we are right now. So far all evidence points to the fact that all current vaccines prevent against serious illness and hospitalisation of existing variants!

          • Harry Holden says:

            Being a natural cynic and knowing how the government operates nowadays, I will confidently predict that the system will change for the better just in time for the MP’s summer recess!

            As for pre-departure testing on the return, what do the government think will happen to anyone who has a positive result as they leave for the airport? Do they isolate in place? Will the airline rebook them for free? How about their accompanying family and friends? Or will people just travel knowing they are infected? I think we all know.

            Just another example of this government trying to give the impression they have everything under control because they are acting.

          • GaryC says:

            As I posted in an earlier reply, go check a recent article on the Lancet: Pay particular attention to the penultimate paragraph. Preventing hospitalisation and death is clearly a major factor with the vaccine, but people talk as if it is the only factor, when it is not.

            On a site where everyone seemingly travels in J or F, and manufactures enough spend to stay in IHG and Hilton suites, I can’t think that £100 for a test is going to make or break travel plans… 😉

        • meta says:

          And other countries will be letting vaccinated tourists without any testing or quarantine requirements…

        • TGLoyalty says:

          But not everyone at risk will have had a 2nd dose before July 15th. I think checkpoint 2 will see changes to test requirements and 3 will Probably see the end of hotel quarantine.

          Checkpoint 1: no later than 28 June 2021
          Checkpoint 2: no later than 31 July 2021
          Checkpoint 3: no later than 1 October 2021

          • Chrisasaurus says:

            Yes they will have done – everyone at risk has had their first dose and must have their second within c. 11 weeks…

          • TGLoyalty says:

            Ok argue over a week…. it takes 2-3 weeks for the full effect to kick in anyway.

          • Ottavio Nuccio says:

            Sorry, but now way. Hotel quarantine ath this cost is the best profit. We will all have to live with this. This is the new normality and if there is a political issue between the UK and other countries, well, then these countries will simply be put on the red list. Easily done.
            The Mediterranean countries are on the summer hotel quarantine list, the skiing countries in the winter one. And the majority of the countries on the red list always during UK school holidays.

      • Sam says:

        Exactly. With the current available data, getting vaccinated mitigates the degree you suffer from the virus but there is no cogent evidence showing you won’t pass the virus onto others, nor you won’t get the virus even with the vaccine.

        • Rob says:

          But you are 100% certain not to hospitalised or die. And, like normal flu, this is the only aim now.

        • kitten says:

          Do we know how long the protection lasts after each vaccine?

      • Sam says:

        @TGLoyalty Exactly. With the current available data, getting vaccinated mitigates the degree you suffer from the virus but there is no cogent evidence showing you won’t pass the virus onto others, nor you won’t get the virus even with the vaccine

        • Nathan says:

          Does anyone else find it annoying that the currently available ‘acute symptoms mitigation and extreme event reaction’ treatments, all excellent things BTW, are called vaccines i.e to ‘protect from a disease’?

          The available treatments aren’t by definition, or at least yet the evidence is neither clear no peer reviewed, and, labelling them as such, I think engenders false hope amongst those without an interest in etymology.

  • Anna says:

    So even if we’ve booked summer holidays, we should not be surprised if they’re cancelled due to the lack of certainty and people being put off by the cost of tests!

    • HBommie says:

      That was always going to the the case this year. But the green destinations will be awash with those willing to pay.

      Is your GCM trip on this summer?

  • YC says:

    Do you need a PCR test before outbound flight too? Or are those requirements just dependent on which country you are flying to?

    • TGLoyalty says:

      Dependant on what the destination country wants.

    • Rob says:

      No, unless the country you are entering (or airline you are flying) requires one.

  • Chris Heyes says:

    I Think this is brilliant news, I’d factored in £260 each person for a test in and out.
    Its looking like it will be under that and I thought £260 added to holiday was reasonable in current climate.
    A couple of meals would come to around the same, if it works out cheaper all the better.
    Much rather this than another year without our America trip, just need US to let us in.
    Flights and Hotels booked and paid for, external flights and a Dinner Cruse on Lake Powell all booked and paid for.
    I like to have everything paid before we go.
    So only spends and pesky Hotel taxes to sort

    • Aston100 says:

      Today I learnt that Chris Heyes pays £130 for a meal.

      • TGLoyalty says:

        Don’t we all 👀

      • Chris Heyes says:

        Aston100 Yep Dinner Cruse on lake Powell booked n paid,
        Hotel Boulderado Boulder booked n paid

        • Aston100 says:

          Wagwan fam.
          Dixy Fried Chicken, Coventry Road, Small Heath. £5.99 Sizzler combo box.
          Pengest munch for da mandems, trusttttt.

          • ankomonkey says:


          • Chris Heyes says:

            Aston100 I like it i think there’s a Dixy Fried Chicken in Bognor or something similar never tried it though. £5.99 Sizzler combo box
            sounds like grandkids might like, again never had myself.
            But then again I’ve still never had a pizza, maybe I’m missing something in my life lol

      • Sam says:

        A couple of meals not ‘a’ meal mate…..

    • Chrisasaurus says:

      On which note, the rules on foreign visitors inbound I assume just follow the traffic light system?

      • TGLoyalty says:

        Yes It’ll be applicable to all inbound travellers (apart from government officials on official business and other such exemptions)

  • bafan says:

    I think if I do go somewhere it’ll be for a while, and somewhere I can / travel from – probably within Schengen. I wouldn’t be paying for tests every few weeks to come back here, that is for sure.

    • Pete M says:

      Yup, I am thinking we may need to adopt more of an Australian approach to holidays…!

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