People from England will be able to go to more than 50 countries from 10 July without having to quarantine on return, the government has announced.
The full list of countries will be published later today but ministers have already named France, Germany, Spain and Italy among those exempted from the blanket restrictions.
The announcement met with relief from the travel sector, which has repeatedly warned the government that the quarantine rules risked causing huge economic damage to an already battered sector.
Thousands of jobs have already been lost across the aviation and travel sectors due to the coronavirus pandemic, with airlines especially desperate to try and claw back some of the summer season.
‘The start of a turning point’
Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate welcomed the announcement, saying it sent a clear message that it was now safe to go on holiday.
“Alongside changes to the Government’s official travel advice, this announcement provides a significant boost to consumer confidence and sends a very clear message that it is now safe to take summer holidays abroad, visit family and friends and take international business trips again”, he said.
“We look forward to publication later today of what we hope will be an extensive list of countries that will be exempt from the need to self-isolate on return to the UK and we welcome the fact this will be kept under close review.
“The aviation industry has a long way to go to in its recovery from this pandemic however today’s news will hopefully mark the start of a turning point.”
Travel association ABTA said it “strongly supported” the decision, saying the industry would be “hugely relieved”.
“Travel businesses have been under enormous pressure since the start of the pandemic, and the industry can now start to meet customers’ pent-up appetite for travel”, a spokesperson said.
“Getting the balance of health risk and economic risk is a difficult challenge, and we strongly support the government in taking this initiative”.
Huw Merriman, chair of the transport select committee, which had called for the government to scrap the blanket rules, said the announcement would help restore consumer confidence.
He added that the government should champion the development of global health standards for aviation to build on the developments.
Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye agreed, saying the measures were a “step in the right direction”.
“More work is now needed on the creation of a Common International Standard to facilitate the resumption of trade and travel to countries deemed to still pose a risk”, he added.
“The trials at Heathrow for screening and testing will help accelerate this.”
London ‘damaged for no reason’
The 14-day quarantine rule had met with dismay from the wider business community, with many warning that it would effectively shut the UK off from global trade.
Although he also welcomed today’s scrapping of the measure, London Chamber of Commerce chief executive Richard Burge said that “London’s role as a global city had been damaged for no reason” by the quarantine.
“International business travel, and tourism, are vital to many sectors of the UK economy, so it’s welcome that our country is effectively once again open for business”, he said.
“But this is the approach that should have been taken at the outset, not the absurd blanket quarantine.
“Britain’s participation in world trade was unnecessarily delayed and London’s role as a global city has been damaged for no reason”.
British Chambers of Commerce director general Adam Marshall agreed, saying the list had taken “far too long to appear” and warning that the job was “not yet done”.
“It’s taken far too long for the exemption list to appear, and the fact that it does not initially apply to all four nations of the UK will put regional connectivity and regional economies at risk.
“Neither the process nor the outcome inspire confidence, either here at home or with our partners globally”, he said.
“While these changes will give some businesses a fighting chance to make up for months of lost income, the job is not yet done. This isn’t just about summer holidays.
He finished: “Ministers need to focus on restoring connections and confidence with key trading partners all across the world”.
Dale Keller of the Board of Airline Representatives said that the UK should look to ape the EU’s approach and open to a similar number of countries.
“Every day that overseas markets are closed is costing the UK heavily in lost jobs, collapsing trade and negative social impacts, and we urge the UK Government to continually review and expand the list countries as soon as the criteria is met”, he warned.
‘A more practical solution’
The Business Travel Association, which had been pushing for ‘business travel corridors’ to key corporate destinations around the world, said that it “cautiously” welcomed the step.
“The BTA has never supported quashing quarantine completely”, it said.
“Safety must remain paramount, and the traffic-light system is a more practical solution to the evolving global situation”.