Mass vaccination against coronavirus is underway in the UK, raising hopes of going on holiday later in 2021 without the need for travel corridors or quarantine.
But before that can happen, several questions about the vaccine rollout need to be answered. Once more is known about the effect of vaccines on transmission and their efficacy against new variants, the government says it can look to introduce a system to allow those who have been vaccinated to travel more freely internationally.
The UK government doesn’t want a vaccine passport system to disadvantage people who haven’t yet been offered the vaccine, so this is unlikely to be rolled out quickly. It is also not currently known how the digital passport or certificate would work and the idea has its critics. Read more about vaccine passports.
For now, testing remains key, as do precautionary measures such as face masks.
If the vaccine does stop those who have it spreading coronavirus, it seems likely some countries will ultimately make it mandatory for entry. Similarly, some airlines and cruise companies may only allow passage to those with the vaccine.
Saga has already said it will require customers on its holidays and cruises to have the vaccination. It will offer refunds to those that won’t. Qantas has also said that passengers can only travel with it if they have had the vaccine when it restarts international flights.
Several countries, including Greece are also discussing the idea of a COVID passport for travel. For a period, it’s likely we’ll see a mix of airlines and destinations requiring either testing or vaccine, as the latter becomes more widely available.
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Will airlines require vaccination to board a flight?
Some are likely to, yes. Australian airline Qantas, for example, has already said it will be changing its terms and conditions to make this a requirement for all international passengers.
However, some short-haul European carriers have said they are unlikely to introduce similar measures. Ryanair, easyJet and Aer Lingus will not introduce mandatory vaccinations for passengers, it has been reported, with Aer Lingus instead calling for rapid testing.
However, if European countries introduce a requirement to be vaccinated, airlines may be required to check passengers’ right to entry before boarding the plane. This has already happened in 2020 with testing. For some countries, airlines have been required to check if a passenger has taken the required test, before boarding.
Will cruise lines and holiday companies require vaccination?
Saga is the first large holiday company to announce it will require all customers on holidays and cruises to have been vaccinated. It has taken the decision off the back of a customer survey that showed that clients overwhelmingly supported the policy. Passengers will also need to take a COVID test at the departure terminal.
Cruise lines Celebrity and Royal Caribbean told us: ‘Guests must ensure they are medically and physically fit for travel…in many cases inoculations are recommended, but in some circumstances, they are required.’
That’s not definitive, but does suggest that mandatory vaccines are possible. Cruises that have restarted have already insisted passengers take a test before boarding and once on board.
Vaccine checks at borders
Some countries already refuse entry to people who can’t prove they’ve been vaccinated for yellow fever, for example, so we could see similar restrictions for people who haven’t had coronavirus jabs.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has already said the jab will be ‘as mandatory as you can possibly make it’ for Australians, so it’s feasible that visitors to Australia will need to prove they’ve been vaccinated in future.
If compulsory vaccinations are introduced at your destination, details should be listed on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) website. It’s not yet known whether producing a negative test result for coronavirus upon arrival will be deemed sufficient for travellers who cannot or will not have a COVID-19 vaccination.
What if I can’t have the vaccine?
Under the Package Travel Regulations, travel companies (including cruise liners) are required by law to tell you about the health and safety requirements at your destination. So they have to inform you if you need to provide proof of COVID-19 inoculation. But they aren’t required to offer you a refund if you book, and subsequently refuse the vaccine.
If there’s a medical reason for doing so and you have evidence of this from your doctor, you may still be allowed into the country. For yellow fever, for example, GPs can issue a medical exemption form that’s typically accepted.
But if you choose not to have the vaccine, whether on medical grounds or for another reason, and decide not to go on the holiday as a result, this is likely to be considered ‘disinclination to travel’, and standard terms and conditions apply if you choose to cancel.
So if you’re unable to be vaccinated against COVID-19, you may want to hold off on booking a holiday for 2021 until the situation is clearer.
Vaccines and travel insurance
No travel insurance policy covers disinclination to travel, so if vaccines become mandatory at your destination, you won’t be able to claim back the costs of cancelling your holiday if you decide not to go.
Refusing a vaccine could also affect your emergency medical cover. Travel insurance policies sometimes contain exclusions relating to vaccinations. That means if you visit a country without getting the NHS-recommended inoculations, for example, you may not be covered if you end up getting a disease the vaccine would have protected against.
As far as we’re aware, no similar exclusions relating to the coronavirus vaccine have yet been added to travel insurance policies. But it’s something we could see in the coming weeks and months, as many travel insurers do now include cover for catching coronavirus while on holiday.