The concept of air bridges to a select number of low Covid risk countries appears to have been abandoned by government in favour of wider international travel freedoms.
As many as 75 countries are believed to be included in the first quarantine exemption list for British travellers, according to The Telegraph.
The prospect of an easing of quarantine restrictions on a ‘Covid travel list’ of countries, including most of Europe, was reported in this week’s edition of Travel Weekly, with sources welcoming the anticipated scope of the new ‘traffic light’ scheme.
Speaking earlier in the week, one source said: “There will be more countries than we thought. We are hearing 30 to 50 or above. Most of Europe will be in there.”
The Foreign Office ban on non-essential travel imposed in March is now due to be lifted to allow access to nearly all EU destinations, British territories including Bermuda and Gibraltar, plus Turkey, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand, The Telegraph reported.
They have been judged sufficiently low risk destinations for holidaymakers based on the prevalence of Covid-19 that their infection rate is in decline and that their data on the state of the disease can be trusted.
Travellers to the 75 countries will no longer have to quarantine for 14 days on their return to the UK from Monday, although some like Australia and New Zealand are expected to retain border controls and quarantine for the rest of the year.
The government’s traffic light system is expected to include Greece as a low risk ‘green’ country despite it suspending flights from the UK until July 15.
The ban on non-essential travel will continue to countries such as the US, Russia and Brazil, on the ‘red’ list.
The shift in policy, to be published today or on Friday, will come as a welcome relief to the travel sector facing severe constraints due to the widely-opposed UK quarantine regulations.
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency and spokesman for the Quash Quarantine campaign group of 500 travel and hospitality businesses, said: “We have said all along that air bridges were unsustainable in Europe because you can’t restrict people travelling in the EU or Schengen.
“It’s sensible and logical and I wish we could have had it earlier. It begs the question as to why have we gone round in circles.”
He added: “It’s to be welcomed that the government is effectively abandoning travel corridors and blanket quarantine measures, and enabling travel again to such a wide group of countries.
“When confirmed, we will get certainty again in our sector which is badly needed. Each day that goes by without confirmation means fewer bookings and more job losses. It’s time the government levelled with the British people on its travel policy.”
A senior government source told The Telegraph that creating a specific list of countries exempt from quarantine posed a diplomatic nightmare and could be open to legal challenge.
They suggested that to avoid such a fall-out, officials were instead pushing for a more informal system which would merely see the FCO’s travel advice section amended to include a list of high-risk countries where Britons should refrain from travelling to.
Henry Smith, chair of the cross party Future of Aviation group, said: “This has been done in a very piecemeal way and with a degree of uncertainty. I still think the introduction of quarantine was not the right decision but we are where we are.
“We need to get a set of criteria and subsequent list of countries published. Every day of uncertainty translates into more jobs lost.”
Theresa Villiers, the former environment and Northern Ireland secretary, who was transport minister in the Tory/Lib Dem coalition, told the BBC the quarantine policy “hasn’t been worth it”.
“So far this policy has caused damage to the travel industry, and inconvenience for holidaymakers, without any evidence of it working effectively to cut Covid risk,” she said.
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