Dominic Raab today denied that the UK is risking a new Covid outbreak by exempting double-jabbed EU and US travellers from quarantine.
The Foreign Secretary admitted there are ‘no guarantees’ that people will not try to game the system and avoid isolation by faking documentation, but stressed there will be tough checks.
And he insisted there will still be the ‘right level of security and assurance’ because only the fully-vaccinated are in line for special treatment from next week, and the government is ‘keeping an eye’ on variants.
He also revealed that more countries have been contacting him demanding the same get-out for their citizens.
The bullish stance comes after ministers defied officials’ concerns about the ‘clear public health risk’ to sign off on the quarantine easing for visitors from the Continent and America.
In a round of interviews this morning, Mr Raab played down the dangers of relaxing controls. ‘We keep an eye on the variants, but because of the 70 per cent double vaccination of our population and because we are insisting only people from the US, the EU and perhaps in due course, as we build up confidence in the system other countries, we proceed on that basis,’ he told Sky News.
‘Because it is people who are double vaccinated we believe we have got the right level of security and assurance against people who might be at risk of a variant coming in from abroad.’
On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Mr Raab said the government ‘cannot guarantee’ that there would not be efforts to use fake documents, but it was ‘highly unlikely’.
‘The point here is that, with both the European countries and the US, we are talking about high-trust countries with whom we have not just an intuitive level of high trust, we have active co-operation, so we know that we can straighten out any discrepancies we might come across pretty quickly,’ he said.
Mr Raab said there is a ‘double lock’ of written certification and proof of US residency for American travellers, which he said could allow ‘further checks if there is any suspicion of fraud’.
He added: ‘Both domestically with our rollout but also internationally we want to open up, we want to move the country forward, but we want to do it irreversibly and we need to take solid, surefooted steps forward.
‘We feel this is a modest opening up of international travel but one that has the reassurances that we can take further steps forward as we build confidence in the system.’
Boris Johnson led the charge yesterday as the powerful ‘Covid O’ group agreed that the self-isolation requirements can be dropped for some of the UK’s major trading partners. Ex-pats who have received jabs abroad are also set to benefit from the dispensation, which takes effect from 4am Monday.
All will still need to get tests in a bid to reduce the risk that they are infected.
Currently Britons are not allowed to enter the US, but Mr Shapps now expects the lifting of travel restrictions to be reciprocated by the Americans – although that might not happen until September.
Mr Raab has raised the issue with his counterpart in America, the Secretary of State Antony Blinken. And the British Ambassador in Washington, Karen Pierce, is also believed to be lobbying for the move in meetings with US officials.
Dominic Raab today denied that the UK is risking a new Covid outbreak by exempting double-jabbed EU and US travellers from quarantine
Starting from Monday, fully vaccinated travellers from the US and EU will be permitted to enter England, Scotland and Wales without having to quarantine for ten days. Pictured, Heathrow airport
Starting from Monday, fully vaccinated travellers from the US and EU will be permitted to enter England, Scotland and Wales without having to quarantine for ten days – a policy which is likely to be expanded as the third wave comes to an end.
But senior officials had warned the Cabinet committee that letting fully vaccinated Europeans come to Britain freely could increase the risk of lower quality vaccines undermining the UK’s coronavirus immunity, according to the Times.
Labour claims that the PM is being ‘reckless’ by going ahead with the changes. Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: ‘The Government’s track record on our borders has been one of recklessness and confusion. They are in danger of continuing this by setting out changes in policy, applying to England only, without the scientific data and criteria we need to make sure we don’t see another Johnson variant run rampant through the country and damage the effort of the British public.’
It came as the UK recorded another 27,734 Covid cases on Wednesday, down 37 per cent in a week for the seventh day in a row. But hospitalisations still rose and deaths increased by a quarter week-on-week.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie meet the US President Joe Biden and the First Lady Jill Biden in Carbis Bay Cornwall ahead of the G7 Summit in June
The UK has a far higher case rate than the US currently – but the countries are on different trajectories
Now ‘amber watch’ list may hit travel
Ministers are considering a new ‘enhanced-risk’ amber category to discourage travel to countries where Covid cases are rising.
The new category – potentially called ‘amber watch’ – would replace ‘amber plus’ which was hastily invented earlier this month for holidaymakers in France.
Unlike ‘amber plus’, under the possible new category people would not need to quarantine upon their return to the UK.
But, crucially, tourists would be warned that the country could be placed on the red list at any time – which would force them to quarantine in hotels when they return at a cost of £1,750 per adult.
It will lead to fears that Spain could be placed on the list, following concerns about the rise of the Beta variant. The idea is being pushed as a mirror to the ‘green watch’ list of countries, where tourists who decide to go abroad know the country could turn amber.
Mr Johnson is said to have been persuaded that the UK risked squandering the benefits of its vaccine rollout if the reopening of international travel was delayed further.
‘Some people will doubtless say we are moving too fast,’ said a government source. ‘But we know the vaccines are effective – if we cannot open up to fully vaccinated travellers then when can we?
‘The EU is already reopening to travellers from the US – why should American tourists be able to go to Paris or Amsterdam, but not London?’
Downing Street has played down suggestions that the end of the pandemic was in sight. ‘No one here is declaring mission accomplished,’ a source said.
The decision was hailed by airlines, who said it was the ‘biggest step forward’ since the lockdown easing on May 17.
It applies to England, but there is an expectation that Scotland and Wales will follow suit. The government said it is working on international vaccine certification that could help expats in other countries except the EU and US.
Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency, told MailOnline: ‘The decision is a welcome and timely boost to helping recovery in the travel sector, especially as it should salvage part of the summer.
‘The government will be hoping that other countries, like Italy, reciprocate and loosen restrictions on UK citizens entering through their borders.
‘But I’m afraid the US is going to take some weeks yet to let UK visitors in, due to its stalling vaccine rollout and high Delta infections.
‘The US can afford to take its time, sadly, as we need them more than they need us.’
The boost for tourism and businesses comes amid a wave of optimism after coronavirus cases tumbled – with ministers privately claiming the crisis is now ‘all over bar the shouting’.
The get-out from quarantine does not apply to France, which is ‘amber plus’ at the moment amid alarm about the Beta strain. But Whitehall sources are increasingly confident that it will be downgraded to ‘amber’ when the categories are reviewed next week.
Meanwhile, holidaymakers could face fresh chaos amid claims Spain is on the verge of being pushed up to the ‘amber plus’ list.
The move – which could leave hundreds of thousands of Britons having to self-isolate unexpectedly on return – is believed to be on the cards amid growing concern about cases of the South African variant.
Mr Johnson said yesterday that dropping self-isolation rules for people who are ‘pinged’ is ‘nailed on’ for August 16. But he is defying furious Tory demands for the date to be brought forward, amid warnings from businesses of food shortages caused by so many staff being off.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the overhaul was an ‘important step forward’ for the travel industry
The UK economy is estimated to be losing as much as £639million every day because of the current limits in place on incoming tourists.
After the fully-vaccinated EU and US travellers, other countries could be added to the quarantine-free travel list at a later date.
Since July 19, double jabbed Britons have been able to travel to and from amber list countries without quarantining upon their return, but the same right was not extended to those who received jabs abroad.
Under the plan, airlines will be expected to approve passengers’ vaccine status before check-in for England-bound flights, to prevent huge queues at passport control.
A trial was carried out by Heathrow, BA and Virgin which found they could overcome 99 per cent of the difficulties in verifying the vaccination status of travellers from the US.
Different states have different paper and digital certificates, but airports and airlines are hoping for the new rules to be smoothly adopted.
Current amber and red list destinations. A review of the UK travel list is expected on Wednesday or Thursday next week