An official review yesterday concluded that coronavirus infection rates are falling rapidly enough in many countries to allow border measures to be dropped for passengers returning from low-risk destinations. Spain, Greece and France are expected to be among the first holiday destinations from where travellers will be exempt from having to isolate for 14 days on return.
Ministers are to introduce a “red, amber, green” alert system to designate risk levels in each country.
Only travellers coming back from “red” level countries will have to observe compulsory quarantine under the shake up.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has agreed official Foreign Office travel advice can be revised to end the ban on “non-essential” travel abroad from July 6.
Today’s announcement is expected to be a huge relief for travel firms and the aviation industry as well as cheering stir crazy families dreaming of a foreign trip after weeks of being stuck at home.
A Government spokeswoman said: “Our public health measures at the border were put in place to manage the risk of imported cases and help prevent a second wave of the virus, and will continue to support our fight against coronavirus.
“Our new risk-assessment system will enable us to carefully open a number of safe travel routes around the world – giving people the opportunity for a summer holiday abroad and boosting the UK economy through tourism and business.
“But we will not hesitate to put on the brakes if any risks re-emerge, and this system will enable us to take swift action to re-introduce self-isolation measures if new outbreaks occur overseas.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel imposed the tough border measures three weeks ago to reduce the threat of travellers from overseas potentially driving up the coronavirus infection rate.
Yesterday’s review decided to only keep the measures in place for passengers returning from countries where the epidemic is still out of control.
The Government’s Joint Biodiversity Centre is drawing up the new Covid travel list in consultation with Public Health England.
Details of which countries will be regarded as safe for travel are expected to be released next week.
Under the alert system, countries where coronavirus has been largely stamped out and where the authorities have a reliable system for keeping track of infections will be given the “green” alert level.
Anyone returning from “green” labelled destinations will not be expected to go into self isolation.
They will still be required to complete a form setting out contact details before being allowed back into the UK however.
Other countries with a slightly higher prevalence of the virus will be marked with an “amber” alert level. Again, passengers returning from these destinations will not have to quarantine but anyone thinking of travelling to them will be advised to consider the risks.
But returning from a high-risk country with a “red” alert level will require full 14 days of self-isolation on return with fines in force for those caught failing to comply.
Officials insist ministers will not hesitate to reimpose quarantine rules should the coronavirus risk rise in the UK or in destination countries.
They insist a “strict handbrake mechanism” is ready to reimpose border measures if necessary.
Foreign Office ministers are understood to be discussing travel arrangements with officials in a string of countries including France, Greece and Spain.
Passengers will be required by law to wear facing coverings while travelling on all planes, ferries and Eurotunnel trains arriving at UK ports.
Environment Secretary George Eustice yesterday confirmed the new travel rules were being worked out.
“I know that Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, is giving this a lot of consideration so that the quarantine provisions that we have got in place can perhaps start to be relaxed with certain countries where the risk is low,” Mr Eustice said in a BBC interview.
“I don’t know exactly when further information will be announced but I know that it is something the government is working on. I know it is being considered.”