Holidays to Spain are back on for thousands of British sunseekers, with ministers set to axe the controversial ‘amber-plus’ list, which would have forced even double-jabbed travellers to quarantine on return.
Falling cases of the Beta variant, along with concerns over quarantine hotel room capacity, has nudged officials into avoiding placing Spain on the red list.
An announcement confirming its amber status is expected today, meaning fully-vaccinated holidaymakers won’t have to isolate for 10 days when they come back home.
Furthermore, European destinations including Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Poland are set to be added to the ‘green list’, opening up even more opportunities for a late summer getaway.
A Whitehall source told the Times: ‘Spain won’t be going on the amber watchlist — the only danger is it going red but that’s very unlikely. Cases are coming down. And they haven’t got enough beds to quarantine everybody. So it’s not going to happen.’
Boris Johnson has already vetoed the idea of the ‘amber watch list’, which was approved by ministers last week. The scheme could have seen popular destinations moving to the red list, which would have forced returning tourists to undertake hotel quarantine at a cost of £1,750.
The PM said on Monday that, following criticism of the complex patchwork of travel warnings, he wanted to move to a system that is ‘as simple and user-friendly for people as possible’.
Officials have warned that amber countries could still be placed on the red list in the event of a major outbreak or the emergence of a new variant.
But a Whitehall source said it was almost unthinkable that any major tourist destinations would be turned red this summer.
The source added: ‘The truth is that none of the mass market destinations can really go red at the height of the holiday season.
‘It would cause so much disruption to so many people and we have not got anywhere near enough capacity for hotel quarantine.’
Travel expert Paul Charles, of the PC Agency, said the latest data suggested at least a dozen countries should go green tomorrow, including Canada, Poland and Slovenia, as well as Germany and Austria.
But he urged ministers to move to a simpler red/green list, with the fully-vaccinated allowed to travel freely to any country not rated as red.
The idea was backed by more than 300 travel firms. In a letter to the PM, they said the ‘easy to understand policy would help the UK travel sector recover, build confidence quickly among consumers and still protect our country’s health needs with pre-departure testing.’
The travel sector is also pressing ministers to cut the number and cost of tests required, amid fears that large bills for testing will make it impossible for many families to travel.
Whitehall sources did not rule out a move to a red/green system, but said it was more likely they would retain the amber list to help travellers judge the risk involved.
The Confederation of British Industry has called for a ‘new settlement’ to help the travel industry and the UK economy more broadly ‘live with Covid’, which would mean fewer people flying into the UK would need to isolate on arrival.
John Foster, CBI policy director, said: ‘The international travel sector is in the last chance saloon for the summer season.
‘Restrictions must be relaxed if beleaguered businesses are to salvage any opportunity to trade their way towards recovery this year. The UK’s successful vaccine rollout, coupled with lessons learned throughout the pandemic, offer genuine opportunity for more travel to resume safely.
‘Rebuilding passenger confidence will be key. Establishing simple, consistent rules and communicating them clearly is essential.’
A Department for Transport spokesman said: ‘We recognise this is a challenging period for the sector, as we seek to balance the timely reopening of international travel while safeguarding public health and protecting the vaccine rollout.’
Yesterday, Education Minister Gillian Keegan appeared to hint that changes will be made as she said the Government wants the rules to be ‘simple enough for people to really understand’ and to take decisions ‘based on the system so we have the red list countries, the amber list countries and the green list countries’.
The Prime Minister then intervened to torpedo the ‘amber watchlist’ proposals after they provoked a wave of fury from Cabinet ministers, Tory MPs and the travel industry, with critics blasting the idea of adding a further level of complexity to the already chaotic system amid warnings it would prompt a collapse in bookings.
Travel firms welcomed the U-turn but immediately pressed the PM to go further as they called for the current system to be scrapped completely and replaced with a single ‘red list’ of banned countries.