The Travel Correspondent of The Independent is never happier than when sipping a Sagres beer in a cheap bar on the Algarve. Unfortunately for him, he is currently confined to barracks.
So every so often we wake him up and make him answer your questions live for an hour.
This is the compilation of the 10 and 13 May sessions.
Green list candidates
Q: Where can I find the confirmed traffic light review dates announced on Friday?
A: The first review of the green list will take place in the first week of June, I am assured by the Department for Transport (DfT). I make that 1-4 June. The changes will take effect a week later.
Q: Gut feel on Crete going on the green list at next review? I’ve heard some Greek islands doing well but not so much Crete?
A: It is a near-certainly that a sprinkling of Greek islands will appear on the next green list; with islands such as Corfu, Rhodes and Kos having infection levels well below those of the UK and Portugal, it is surprising they weren’t immediately added.
But the Joint Biosecurity Centre, which advises the DfT, will be studying each island’s rates carefully before making recommendations.
Q: When do you think Hungary will be on the green list? Possibly the next time they update us? They have a great vaccine roll out and cases are falling.
A: There are many candidates for green listing, and some in the travel industry say that the current selection – which feasibly amounts to only four countries, of which only Portugal is really significant – was chosen because it will limit the number of people going abroad.
In that way risk is limited, and the government can see how a small-scale test programme works. If it is deemed successful, then the green list will be vastly expanded in June or July, and I hope Hungary will be included.
Q: We are booked through Tui for Skiathos 8-18 June. Do you expect that by our return the Greek Islands will be green? We have a backup plan for the Algarve but are desperate to get to Skiathos as it is for our silver wedding anniversary and is fully paid for! Please help!
A: I would be pretty confident that in the first week of June, i.e. sometime between 1-4 June, Greek islands such as Skiathos will find their way onto the green list, taking effect a week later.
Your trip looks very nicely timed – because what counts is the status when you land back in the UK, not the status at the time you went abroad. And happy 25th wedding anniversary! Have a Mythos beer for me.
Q: Many Welsh footie fans will be hoping to travel to Rome on June 19/20 for the Euros(including me). Can you see any amber quarantine rules being relaxed or adapted by then, I feel it might just be a tad too early for Italy to be green country by that date?
A: By around 11 June many more countries will be on the green list, quite possibly Italy. But after last Friday’s performance on the Downing Street pitch by the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, it’s difficult to be certain. Many good candidates were left off the green list.
Q: Where does this leave countries with low Covid cases? I’m thinking Namibia, Botswana.
A: The UK government has had no interest in facilitating travel to Africa since the coronavirus pandemic began, despite evidence in many countries of low risk, and I can’t see that changing any time soon, I’m afraid.
Q: I am flying with Tui to Tenerife in September. But I read that Tui won’t fly to a place if it’s on amber?
A: If you read that Tui won’t fly to a place if it is on amber, I am afraid the source was mistaken: they will be flying to many such places from Monday, when the 19-week-long ban on international travel is finally removed.
As you are not flying until September, I think there is every chance that the Canaries will be on the green list by then.
Q: Since Turkey’s figures have reduced enormously, what do you think the chances of them being added to amber or green by the end of June?
A: Amber: greater than 50-50. Green: less than 50-50. There are still significant official concerns about the reliability of the data in Turkey.
Q: For weeks we were led to believe that Malta was going to be on the green list. Why do you think it was left off, and do you think it will be added to the list in three weeks time?
A: Malta will certainly be added to the green list in early June. The government has not published the data on which it based decisions on amber list countries, so you and I can merely speculate.
Q: I am currently living in Geneva, Switzerland but want to come to the UK to see my family and friends. When do you think it will be on the green list?
A: June or July. Sorry I can’t be more specific.
Navigating the traffic lights
Q: Me and my wife (both vaccinated twice) hope to travel to Belgium next Thursday via Eurotunnel, to literally wave off my daughter and granddaughters as they emigrate to the US. But do you know the procedure out in Belgium and/or France as we will be travelling through France to get there?
A: Brexit has made life more complicated in many unexpected ways, with UK citizens restricted more than EU nationals by coronavirus regulations when travelling in the European Union.
I think Belgium will be tricky. The Foreign Office currently says: “British nationals that are not resident in Belgium or another EU or Schengen country will only be permitted entry to Belgium for essential reasons. Those travelling will need to carry evidence of their essential reason for travel.”
I suggest you urgently contact the Belgian Consulate in London and ask for assistance.
If you can get permission, I believe France will let you through without a problem if you explain that you are simply transiting for an hour to Belgium.
Q: I have booked a ferry berth to Santander at the end of the month. I will be travelling through Spain by car then into Portugal where I have a holiday home. I will have had my two Covid vaccines and a PCR test before travel. I have my Portugese “residentia’” Will this be straightforward?
A: I am not sure how straightforward or otherwise it will be, but I do know there is a fair chance you will be able to sail direct to Porto in Portugal by the end of the month, in which case you will avoid an awful lot of kerfuffle.
If it comes about, Brittany Ferries, which is considering the new link, will doubtless allow you to switch from Santander to on payment of a modest supplement.
Q: Can you provide further guidance on travel to amber list countries from 17 May? The guidance states we should not travel to amber countries for leisure. I am due to travel to an amber list country to see family and provide support with childcare for grandchildren.
Is this allowed and will my travel insurance be valid ?
A: Government advice not to go to amber list countries is just that: advice. You can follow it or not. That is different from the current situation, where you will be fined £5,000 if you travel abroad. Your travel insurance is valid so long as the Foreign Office does not warn against travel to your destination.
Q: A friend needs to get from Dhaka to Heathrow in six weeks. He knows he has to do hotel quarantine in the UK because Bangladesh is on the red list, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to find a way to get there. I think Gulf Air via Bahrain is still an option, or maybe Istanbul. Any suggestions please?
A: As far as I know, Turkish Airlines is continuing to fly from Dakar to Istanbul. And despite Turkey’s red list status I believe there will be inbound flights from there. Otherwise Bahrain is a good alternative.
Q: Can you fly to Russia for the Euro 2020 football tournament in June 2021?
A: I have given up with my plan to be in St Petersburg for the Finland-Belgium match this summer. I do not believe that the Russian authorities are going to be particularly welcoming.
However with your fanID it may be that, as with the World Cup in 2018, President Putin invites you to visit later in the year. In 2018, I went back twice.
Q: Why doesn’t the Transport Secretary’s traffic light system align with the Foreign Office [FDCO] advisory? Specifically there are some amber countries where the FDCO doesn’t advise against travel. But the advice for amber is not to travel for leisure purposes?
This is creating confusion amongst people wanting to book holidays.
A: I appreciate it looks confusing with two branches of government apparently going in different directions, but there are good reasons.
Foreign Office advice is concerned with the overall risk profile for individual British travellers to each country of the world. In some cases there will be a Covid dimension to this, but in many circumstances there will not.
Traffic lights are decided purely on the perceived risk of travellers coming back into the UK with coronavirus, particularly variants of concern. Therefore even though the travel industry would very much like to see convergence between Foreign Office travel advice and “traffic light” status, there is no reason why they should be aligned.
Q: Can a package firm insist you travel to an orange country – or red for that matter ?
A: The exact legal position is that any quarantine you might have to undertake on your return to the UK is legally separate from delivering the holiday that you booked: if the travel firm can deliver that package successfully, then it has fulfilled the contract.
However, given the high personal and financial impact that self-isolation can have, travel firms (and the airlines they work with) normally offer some flexibility. So talk to them.
Q: Will UK residents be allowed into Spain from 1 June? I’ve heard of Brits being turned away at Spanish airports.
A: Sadly there have been many cases of UK residents being turned away from Spanish airports, but in some circumstances this has been related to discrepancies in post-Brexit paperwork.
The fact that I can book a Tui package holiday to Tenerife on 17 May (from Gatwick, a week’s self-catering for £400 if you’re interested) suggest that Britain’s biggest holiday company expects UK travellers to have a relatively smooth welcome.
Q: I was due to travel to Cyprus on 28 May to receive IVF treatment in North Cyprus. I understand that South Cyprus is on amber and I can travel there with my being vaccinated. Ercan airport is now unavailable due to Turkey being “red”. I am struggling to find any information about if I can cross the border to North Cyprus for treatment! Can you help at all?
A: The self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is not recognised by the UK or, as far as I know, any country apart from Turkey. The only way in to that part of the island is via Turkey, now on the red list.
All I can suggest is that you contact the British consulate in Nicosia and ask what rules are in force.
Testing and jabs
Q: I am confused about the testing schedules that I read everywhere. Does a test before departure mean a test before leaving the UK or a test before leaving to return to the UK? Is a test needed to leave the UK regardless of the country of arrival?
A: Okay, let’s see if I can clear up the confusion that many people have. The UK government has exactly nothing to say about testing before you leave the country. However, many destinations are very keen that you have a Covid test in the 72 hours before you leave the UK or before you arrive with them.
Some of them allow people who have been vaccinated to swerve the testing requirement.
Coming back, the UK government insists on a test before you board a train, boat or plane to Britain, which can be more or less any variety as long as it is written in English, French or Spanish, and certified by proper medical practice abroad.
In addition, you must show proof of one or more pre-booked PCR tests for after you arrive in the UK – travellers from green list locations need only one, taken within two days of arrival, while those from amber and red places must pre-book two tests.
Q: Will the government change the non-acceptance of an NHS lateral flow test, taken by an individual prior to return flights? There are potentially huge problems on small islands with perhaps thousands of Brits needing to queue outside a local testing centre, in the heat, for a test that we could all take with us in our bags.
A: The UK government’s onerous testing restrictions even for returning from low-risk country certainly pose many logistical problems. They are in complete contrast to the absence of restrictions from many nations to the UK last summer, before the vaccine had been created.
Q: A government minister has stated they want to bring cost of PCR tests down. Will this happen and if so, when?
A: Travel firms such as Tui and British Airways are driving down the cost of testing, sometimes subsidising it. But the basic problem in the UK is a lack of testing capacity for the demands that the UK government has set for an increasing number of travellers. So don’t hold your breath.
Q: For Greece, how do I get a vaccination certificate’ to prove two jabs at least 14 days before travel, to avoid a PCR test?
A: The UK government promises the vaccination certificate will be ready by 17 May, so if you are lucky enough to have been jabbed you’ll get an internationally agreed proof. That should cut the tests down. But the UK retains very onerous testing requirements regardless of vaccination status.
Q: Is there a UK government policy on returning UK residents, not holidaymakers, with two UK approved vaccinations. There must be quite a few people that are like me stuck in a red country but hope to get vaccinated soon.
A: No. The UK government has no interest in your vaccination status when you (re-) enter the UK, whether or not they were administered in the UK.
Q: Do you think that if you have had both vaccinations that will save you having to pay for tests to go to France? Or will the tests get cheaper?
A: France and many other countries are likely to ease their testing restrictions for vaccinated travellers; the UK is an outlier in not allowing any “credit” for jabs.
Q: What are the rules on children’s Covid tests? The ages seem to vary from 2 to 12.
A: The rules on testing for children are extremely varied. All I can say is that parents need to pay close attention to the requirements. In time I expect these demands to fall away.
Q: Do you anticipate any changes to test requirements to re-enter the UK?
A: I certainly expect the UK’s onerous demands for testing to be eased, probably at the same time as the number of green list countries is greatly expanded – to include Spain, France, Italy, Croatia and Greece.
It may be that the two tests currently required of green list arrivals will be replaced by a single pre-departure test, or at least a quick and simple lateral flow test on arrival that can be carried out as part of the airport process.
I expect that to happen later in June or early July. But I may be wrong.
Q: I am going to Portugal on Monday 17 May for a holiday. Is this still illegal and will I get fined and turned away from travel despite a green list country?
A: You will certainly not be fined. It is perfectly legal to leave the country, now that the unprecedented ban on international leisure travel is to be lifted. The bigger question is whether the Portuguese will let us in.
It is remarkable that we are still not clear about what Portugal will require of visitors from the UK, even though there are only 80 hours left before we are able to travel there.
I think there is a significant chance that they will wish to capitalise on the unprecedented opportunity of being the only significant summer sun destination on the UK green list, and come up with a “jab or test?” formula for letting us in.
Q: Do you think Portugal will accept the NHS digital vaccination passport from May 17, if they allow tourists back in then?
A: I imagine that vaccination will play a part (at least in avoiding testing) and predict the NHS App will be allowed. You can also phone 119 for a paper certificate from 17 May onwards.
Q: If the US travel ban is lifted for the UK do you believe it will be added to the green list here too?
Mark in Chelt
A: Since the coronavirus pandemic began, almost all the international travel decisions have been unilateral: the UK decides the rules it will impose, and other countries make their choices. As in the case of the US and the UK at the moment, they don’t always line up.
Americans and come to the UK and whenever they like, subject to “amber list” travel restrictions. But at present all UK to US travel is banned for non-Americans by presidential proclamation (oddly, unless Donald Trump is president and you happen to be Nigel Farage).
Yet this summer I sense there could be a real bilateral agreement, whereby Joe Biden removes the ban that keeps us out of the US and simultaneously the UK places America on the quarantine-free green list.
There are all kinds of rumours circulating about when this will happen. My guess is that it will be shortly before the US president arrives for the G-7 Summit in Cornwall. I predict a “Disney Dividend”.
Q: I haven’t seen my daughter or granddaughters in the US for 20 months and am desperate to go. What are the chances?
The emotional (and economic) impact of the travel ban is immense. Many people are desperate for the US to be opened up for travel. As I mentioned earlier, I expect this to happen in June or possibly the start of July.
Q: BA have just cancelled my flight to Maldives on 24 July. Do you know why and will it come back online?
Gareth in London
A: I imagine that BA does not believe it will be able to sell many seats on a flight to a nation that is currently on the red list. Although there is every opportunity that the Maldives will be amber or even green by late July, being on the “high risk” register dampens demand for a destination.
And British Airways, like every other airline hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, has no wish to send half-empty planes thousands of miles to the Indian Ocean.
Q: The cessation in air travel over the last year offers a chance for us to do something positive re. climate change. How do you feel about rationing air travel to one flight per year, as a step in the right direction?
A: I am afraid I cannot see this idea, as championed by the Green Party and Liberal Democrats, as a workable proposition. These are the three questions I believe it poses.
First of all, if you are to restrict the environmental impact on a individual level, you need to express limits in terms of the harm caused, surely? For example I have never owned a car and I walk, cycle or hitchhike whenever possible. Therefore my terrestrial transport impact is relatively low, but I fly (or at least used to do) a fair amount. How do you assess my right to fly?
Next, with one flight a year, what do you do about the person who decides they are going to “spend” their annual entitlement on a first class return flight to Sydney, with a massive environmental cost, rather than on a modern fuel efficient jet flying from the UK to Spain?
And, in the absence of complete international agreement, how do you impose this on foreign citizens?
Q: Do you anticipate extending queues at airports because of Covid checks? We are considering Malta in early June.
A: Some people think there may be queues lasting many hours at Britain’s airports, but I think pragmatism will prevail and that there will be an accelerated process.
Q: I had to cancel a trip to New Zealand last Dec because of the pandemic. do you think I should reschedule for this Dec? will their borders be open be then?
A: Sadly, I think Australia and New Zealand will remain off limits to British travellers until 2022.
Common Travel Area
Q: Can you give us a run down on what’s possible with travel to the Common Travel Area? Surely these destinations offer better opportunities than Gibraltar or Iceland. Yet everybody just ignores them as though they’re still on the forbidden list (which I don’t think that are).
A: The UK has, throughout the coronavirus pandemic, been open to all other members of the CTA (Ireland, Isle of Man, Channel Islands). But they have always had rules on incoming visitors from the UK and I expect that to continue for a while.