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Holidays to go ahead this summer… but where and at what cost?

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

The government has set out plans for international travel to restart, but holidaymakers will need to pay at least £120 each for testing.

The government’s Global Travel Taskforce has set out a framework to gets Brits traveling again. Its recommendations include the launch of a new traffic light system and the introduction of travel certification.

The framework has been set out by transport secretary Grant Shapps and shows how travel could potentially resume from 17 May at the earliest.

A traffic light system will categorise countries based on risk alongside the restrictions required for travel.

Key factors in country classification will include the percentage of the population that have been vaccinated, the rate of infection, the prevalence of variants of concern, and the country’s access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing.

However, the government is yet to announce which countries fall into which category, as well as confirming whether international travel can resume from 17 May 2021 as per the roadmap. This makes booking holidays now virtually impossible.

The framework includes the removal of the permission to travel form – meaning passengers would no longer need to prove they have a valid reason to leave the country.

Restrictions for inbound passengers will apply to people differently depending on whether the destination visited is categorised as ‘green’, ‘amber’ or ‘red’.

Green countries

Travelers arriving in the UK from ‘green’ countries will need to take a pre-departure test as well as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test on or before day two of their arrival back into the UK.

However, they won’t need to quarantine on return unless they receive a positive result, or take any additional tests.

Amber countries

Travelers arriving in the UK from ‘amber’ countries will need to quarantine for a period of 10 days and take a pre-departure test, and a PCR test on day two and day eight. They will have the option to Test to Release on day five to end self-isolation early.

Red countries

Arrivals from ‘red’ countries will be subject to restrictions currently in place for ‘red list’ countries which include a 10-day stay in a managed quarantine hotel, pre-departure testing and PCR testing on day two and eight.

Planning ahead

The government says testing remains an essential part of protecting public health as restrictions begin to ease – with all arrivals who are not exempt required to book a pre-departure, day two and day eight test before travelling.

Arrivals travelling from ‘red list’ countries need to book a quarantine package before departure, and arrivals from ‘amber’ and ‘green’ countries will be required to book test packages before travelling from one of the government’s approved list of providers.

The cost of testing

Travellers who visit countries on the green list will still be expected to pay for PCR tests on their return to the UK at about £120 each. This adds up to £500 for a family of four.

People who have been fully vaccinated will still be required to take the tests due to fears about new Covid variants.

Travellers from amber countries will need to pay for two UK PCR tests at £120 each – so £240 per person.

Hotel quarantine for red country arrivals currently costs £1,750 for 10 days including testing.

The government says it’s working with the travel industry and private testing providers to see how it can reduce the cost of travel.

One option is to eliminate the need for more expensive PCR tests when passengers return home and replacing them with rapid, lateral flow tests (LFTs), which the government could provide for free.

What does the government say?

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “The framework announced today will help allow us to reopen travel safely and sustainably, ensure we protect our hard-won achievements on the vaccine roll out, and offer peace of mind to both passengers and industry as we begin to take trips abroad once again.

“The UK will also play a leading role in the development of international standards around a digital travel certification system. The Department for Transport is working across government to consider the role certification could play in facilitating outbound travel, for those countries which have systems in place. Work also continues to develop a system that would facilitate travel certification for inbound international travel.”

To give passengers more certainty when travelling, a ‘green watchlist’ will be introduced to help identify countries most at risk of moving from ‘green’ to ‘amber’. The watchlist will provide greater assurance for those who wish to travel abroad.

However, there’s still the possibility that countries could be moved to different risk ratings with little notice.

People ‘priced out of taking a holiday’

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “This is an important step towards resuming international travel. The report correctly identifies some of the key barriers facing travellers, but it falls short in providing solutions.

“Holidaymakers will still face the eye-watering costs of Covid tests, which are currently much more expensive in the UK than in many other European countries, and risk pricing people out of taking a holiday.

“There is also little detail on reassurances that destinations won’t suddenly be moved from green to amber or red, putting travellers at risk of last-minute changes and unaffordable quarantine costs.”