Portugal, Gibraltar and Israel are among just 12 destinations on the Government’s new green list for travel – with some countries on the list still not accepting tourists.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the removal of the ban on international leisure travel was “necessarily cautious” as he announced the destinations that holidaymakers will be able to visit from May 17 without having to self-isolate on their return to England.
But while Portugal, Gibraltar and Israel are planning to welcome UK tourists, the green list also features several remote British Overseas Territories and destinations where visits are heavily restricted, such as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei and the Faroe Islands.
Industry leaders said the Government’s approach represented an “excess of caution” and demanded greater clarity over the formation of the green list.
Just 6% of passengers who took an international flight from a UK airport in July and August 2019 flew to what is now a green list country, the Airport Operators Association (AOA) calculated.
AOA chief executive Karen Dee said: “Given the success of the UK’s vaccine rollout, it is disappointing that so few countries are on the green list.”
EasyJet boss Johan Lundgren claimed the Government’s refusal to put more European countries in the green tier is “simply not justified by the data” and is “inconsistent with the approach to reopen the domestic economy”.
Brian Strutton, general secretary of pilots’ union Balpa, said: “This excess of caution from the Government is extremely disappointing for everyone who works in the travel sector and the millions of people who are desperate to jet away on holiday or business.
“The huge success of the vaccine rollout in the UK, the ever-growing vaccination rates in Europe and the massive effort from everyone to make travel Covid-safe should have meant a much longer green list than what we’ve got today.”
People returning to England from a green destination from May 17 will not be required to self-isolate and are only required to take one post-arrival coronavirus test.
Mr Shapps also declared that people in England “should not be travelling” to countries on the amber list, which includes Spain, France, Italy and Greece.
Holidaymakers who go against Mr Shapps’ guidance by visiting an amber country must self-isolate at home for 10 days and take two post-arrival tests.
The Cabinet minister told a Downing Street press conference the Government must “make absolutely sure” the countries the UK reconnects with are safe.
He said: “We in this country have managed to construct a fortress against Covid. But the disease is still prevalent in other parts of the world, most notably at the moment in India.
“In fact, more new cases of Covid have been diagnosed around the world in the last seven days than at any time since the pandemic began.”
No plans have been announced by administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but Mr Shapps expects their rules will be “broadly similar” to those for English tourists.
The four UK chief medical officers “have met and agreed the principles” of the traffic light system, he added.
Meanwhile Turkey, the Maldives and Nepal have been added to the red list.
People returning to England from those countries after 4am on Wednesday will be required to stay in a quarantine hotel for 11 nights at a cost of £1,750 for solo travellers.
The decision on Turkey means Manchester City and Chelsea supporters “should not travel” to the Champions League final in Istanbul, Mr Shapps said.
Border Force director general Paul Lincoln warned that wait times to enter the UK are likely to be longer than usual when leisure travel resumes.
He said: “It currently takes a Border Force officer five to 10 minutes to complete all the necessary checks, which means that even for the most compliant passenger, it might take 14 or 15 times longer to process than before, compared to around 25 seconds.
“Where people do not have the correct paperwork, it can and has taken considerably longer, including when we need to serve fixed penalty notices for non-compliance.”
A Heathrow Airport executive recently said passengers are queuing for up to six hours due to coronavirus paperwork being checked.
Mr Shapps also announced that from May 17, people who have had both doses of a coronavirus vaccine will be able to demonstrate their status on the NHS app currently used to book medical appointments and order repeat prescriptions.
People who do not have the app – which is different from the Covid-19 app – will be able to request an NHS letter from that date.