Coronavirus pandemic updates
Sign up to myFT Daily Digest to be the first to know about Coronavirus pandemic news.
Visitors arriving from “amber” list countries who have been fully vaccinated in the US or much of Europe will be permitted to enter England, Scotland and Wales without having to quarantine, it was confirmed on Wednesday.
The new rules will come into effect from 4am on August 2 and will apply specifically to passengers arriving from countries on the UK’s “amber” travel list who have been fully vaccinated in the US, EU member states, European Free Trade Association countries and Andorra, Monaco and Vatican City.
Only travellers who have been double-jabbed with vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Swiss authorities would be eligible to enter England, the Department for Transport said.
Scotland’s devolved administration made a similar announcement shortly afterwards as did, reluctantly, the Welsh government.
“We regret the UK government’s proposals to further remove quarantine requirements,” said Cardiff health minister Eluned Morgan. “However, as we share an open border with England it would be ineffective to introduce separate arrangements for Wales.”
Northern Ireland has yet to make an announcement on its position following this latest planned easing.
The new rules will not mean a full return to transatlantic travel, however, as the US border is closed to non-citizens who have been in the UK or Schengen area in the previous 14 days. Meanwhile, individuals who have been vaccinated in the US will be required to show proof of residency in the country in order to skip self-isolation when arriving in England.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said that visitors from the US and EU would still need to undergo some form of testing. “They’ll still need to do the usual pre-departure test before arrival and take a PCR test on day two of returning to England”, he said on Twitter.
Separate rules will also apply for travellers from France who are required to quarantine for 10 days and undergo coronavirus testing on day two and day eight.
Despite the limitations of the new policy, the move was welcomed by some within the business and travel industry, with British Airways saying that trials had shown it was “quick and easy” to check passengers’ vaccination status at check-in.
“This step will help us reunite loved ones and get global Britain back in business,” BA chief executive Sean Doyle said.
Health secretary Sajid Javid argued that the decision was “sensible” in terms of public health, adding that the country’s high vaccination rate had created a “wall of defence”.
Nigel Huddleston, tourism minister, told the Financial Times that the UK could have an advantage by allowing visitors earlier than many countries since it was viewed as safe.
“International tourism is highly competitive,” he said. “Because of the success of the vaccination programme in the UK we are seen as a desirable destination.”
However, Tom Jenkins, chief executive of ETOA, the European tourism association, argued that the changes had come too late for the sector.
“The UK has left it very late to stop scoring own goals. Eighty per cent of all visits from the US come in the period January-September, of which the peak period is September, during the time around Labor Day,” he said.
“There will be some recovery. Last-minute bookings will come into London. Some of the October business will be salvaged. But the influx of American visitors that is happening in the cities and regions of the EU is not going to occur in the UK in 2021.”
The EU allowed quarantine-free travel from the US from the middle of June.
Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic boss Shai Weiss urged the government to go further and move the US to the “green list” for international travel, and to lobby the Biden administration to more fully reopen the US border.
The carrier said its trials had shown 99 per cent of vaccinated passengers from the EU and US had their documents accepted at check-in.
The north Atlantic is critical to US and European airlines, but with border restrictions in place for more than a year the number of flights operating has stagnated at about a quarter of normal levels.
International cruise sailings can also resume from England, the DfT said, adding that the government and cruise sector had agreed a memorandum of understanding aimed at helping the industry recover and protecting travellers from future disruption.
Additional reporting by Laura Noonan