British holidaymakers could be allowed to take trips abroad this year under a traffic light system for destinations expected to be announced by Boris Johnson next week.
Newspaper reports claim the prime minister is preparing plans to permit foreign holidays, with countries being designated as red, amber or green based on Covid infection rates, vaccination levels and the prevalence of variants.Those who've had both coronavirus vaccine doses could avoid quarantine measures upon their return under the plans to restart international travel, according to reports.
Under the PM's lockdown roadmap for England, May 17 will be the earliest date international holidays can resume, with the Global Travel Taskforce currently working on measures to allow a restart.
But domestic holidays within the UK could be allowed as early as April 12, with travel firms seeing a significant boost in bookings from hopeful holidaymakers.
Holiday home firm Cottages.com said two-thirds of its properties in coastal locations or with hot tubs have been booked for the week commencing April 12.
Simon Altham, group chief commercial officer at parent company Awaze, told the PA news agency there is “no doubt” that continued uncertainty about foreign travel has led to a rise in staycation bookings.Feather Down, which offers luxury camping on farms across Britain, is “nearly sold out” for several weeks from April 12, according to co-founder Mark Gordon.Bookings for this summer are more than double what they were at the same point last year, and more than 70% higher than in 2019.
Meanwhile, a number of outdoor visitor attractions such as theme parks and zoos are also preparing to reopen.
Bernard Donoghue, director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, said customers’ appetite to return to their favourite venues from April 12 is “absolutely enormous”.
While plans are still unconfirmed, self-contained accommodation providers and outdoor visitor attractions could be permitted to welcome back customers by mid-April, if England sticks to its lockdown roadmap.
Self-contained holiday accommodation reopened in Wales on March 27 for people living within the country.
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No date has been announced for when holiday accommodation could be used in Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Overseas holidays are currently banned due to the UK’s coronavirus lockdown measures, but Boris Johnson plans to make an announcement on Easter Monday about lifting restrictions in England.
The Telegraph reported those returning to the UK will be expected to have pre-departure Covid tests regardless of their vaccination status, according to plans from the Government’s global travel taskforce.
But travellers who have received both jabs could need fewer tests after returning from low-risk countries and may not have to quarantine for 10 days following stays in medium-risk countries, the paper added.
It comes after the Times reported on Friday that travel to and from red-list countries will be banned, although the Sun newspaper said at the time those arriving back in the UK from such destinations will have to pay to stay at quarantine hotels, as is the current set-up for the worst affected countries.
Both newspapers said green-listed countries would be exempt from quarantine measures.
Hesitancy towards the vaccine across parts of mainland Europe may mean that traditionally favoured continental destinations among British holidaymakers are deemed more high-risk than the likes of the US and Israel, where vaccination rates are good.
Any restrictions could put further pressure on Britons to shun international travel in favour of a domestic holiday, amid concerns leaving the UK could increase the risk of introducing mutant coronavirus strains.
Scientific experts have repeatedly said summer staycations should be encouraged over foreign holidays this year.
Professor Robin Shattock, head of mucosal infection and immunity at Imperial College London’s department of medicine, said an ideal scenario would be for people to quarantine when they return from any country – though this was unlikely to be seen as a practical option.
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He said the traffic-light system is “one approach but it’s going to be leaky”, owing to the risk of importing variants of concern that may affect vaccines.
“There are always possibilities of getting around that type of system. It might be a way of starting to release some travel, but it will need to be monitored very carefully.”
He said the ideal scenario would be people quarantining when they fly in from any country.
“I think that would be the ideal scenario but whether that’s practical and whether people will accept that … because it requires the legislation to say ‘that’s what you’ve got to do’. But people have to adhere to it, otherwise it’s ineffective.”
However, he said border controls “do definitely make a difference”, adding: “If you completely opened up travel tomorrow and everyone could come in and out of the country, we’d be in a much worse situation.
“So, with everything it’s a fine balance. If you were purely being risk averse, you would keep everything very, very restricted. But that’s not necessarily acceptable or practical.”