Hopes that holidays to popular tourist destinations could soon restart have been boosted after the government scrapped advice that said people should avoid all but essential travel to areas including mainland Portugal and Spain’s Canary Islands.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said the updates meant the level of Covid risk in some places was no longer “unacceptably high”, prompting speculation about which countries will be put on the “green list” when international travel is allowed again.
Ministers are putting the finishing touches to their traffic light system, that will grade countries green, amber or red, determining whether travellers returning from those countries need to quarantine at home, in a hotel or not at all. The final lists are expected to be signed off on Thursday and announced on Friday.
The Foreign Office’s update this week appeared to give a glimpse at which countries could be on the green list – meaning people will not need to quarantine when they arrive in the UK from them. The advice against all but essential travel was lifted for countries including Malta and Israel, as well as several Greek islands, including Rhodes, Kos, Zakynthos, Corfu and Crete.
While the government said it would give seven days notice for allowing foreign trips again so the aviation and tourism industries can have enough time to prepare, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, could give them a few days’ extra notice by making the announcement on Friday, when the green list should be unveiled, instead of next Monday.
Department for Transport sources stressed the Foreign Office advice was drawn up separately and not indicative of which countries would be on the green list. They added islands were unlikely to be included on the green list to start with, but could be “separated out as the summer proceeds”.
There may only be around a dozen countries on the green list when it is released, but it is understood that those are likely to include very small nations not many people travel to from the UK. Government insiders stressed the initial list would be “cautious” and “limited” and could be bolstered with more popular destinations at the review points every three weeks.
Meanwhile, concerns were raised about digital vaccine passports being developed by the NHS not being fully ready for 17 May.
Henk van Klaveren, head of public affairs at the Airport Operators Association, said he believed the app being developed did not include proof of a traveller’s negative test result, that countries may require to let people skip quarantine.
He added that the passenger locator form – used to monitor where arrivals say they will be staying and quarantining in the UK – also needs digitising quickly, to avoid people potentially spreading Covid while they wait for the documents to be manually checked.
“We see queues out on to the tarmac in certain airports because Border Force is simply not able to cope with the limited resources that they are putting at the border and the lack of e-passport gates,” van Klaveren explained.
He said the government is only planning to open its e-passport gates in the autumn, which was a “preposterous deadline” and instead needs to be done “really rapidly, because the queues at the moment are unacceptable”.
Earlier this week, the prime minister, Boris Johnson, said “there will be some openings up” on 17 May, but said: “We have got to be cautious and we have got to be sensible and we have got to make sure that we don’t see the virus coming back in.”