The government has said that international travel for holidays won’t resume sooner than May 17 from England, with a government review of how travel might restart due to report in mid-April.
In the government’s lockdown roadmap, international travel for holidays is listed in step 3 (17 May) but it is listed as subject to review. It’s the review date, rather than 17 May when we will get a clearer picture of what is happening with summer holidays.
The review will assess the ‘global and domestic epidemiological picture, the prevalence and location of any Variants of Concern, the progress ofvaccine rollouts here and abroad, and what more the Government has learned about the efficacy of vaccines on variants, and the impact on transmission, hospitalisation and deaths.’
Crucially, the government has indicated that international travel is likely to restart with at least some of the current measures the government uses to manage public health in place, including testing and isolation.
For now, as we don’t know where we can travel and when, Which? advises against booking holidays abroad. Even with the best flexible booking policy, which offer a great deal of cover, there remains a risk you could be left out of pocket. That includes the price of tests to travel abroad, the risk of a hotel quarantine and the fact you may need to be vaccinated.
Hotel quarantine for travellers to UK adds risk to holidays
The new coronavirus variants that have appeared in South Africa and Brazil mean that both those destinations, as well as Portugal, are on a list of 33 high-risk countries. Anybody travelling from those countries to England and Wales will need to book into a quarantine hotel approved by the government for a 10-day stay. In Scotland, travellers from all countries will need to use a hotel to quarantine.
The government has warned that anybody who doesn’t comply with new rules on quarantine could face up to 10 years in prison.
It’s unclear how long the hotel quarantine scheme will remain, but it adds substantial risk to holidays this summer. We know from previous travel restrictions, like the travel corridors in 2020, that government rules can change quickly. Later this year you may legally be able to travel to a country not on the red-list, only to find it has been added while you are abroad. That will add thousands to the cost of a family holiday.
For more independent travel advice, subscribe to Which? Travel.
Compulsory COVID-19 testing
Even if we are able to travel this summer and hotel quarantine has been removed, the cost of tests may be prohibitive for many people.
Most countries now require a negative test before departure, and a follow up on arrival. You’ll need a negative COVID-19 test to return to the UK too, plus tests on day two and eight of quarantine. That’s potentially five tests for each trip, which with PCR private tests costing around £100, may mean £500 is added to the cost of your holiday
Vaccination passport could allow future travel
The fast pace of vaccination in the UK has provided some hope that trips may be able to go ahead in the future. However, there are many caveats.
Trips abroad will depend on levels of vaccination at your destination as well as in the UK.
Trials of ‘vaccine passports’ have begun between Greece and Israel. While Saga became the first holiday company to say that it will require proof of vaccination to book its holidays and cruises. Several airlines have also introduced policies to check the vaccine and test status of passengers.
But it’s still too early to say which countries UK residents may be able to travel to, and what evidence may be required. The UK government has gone back and forth over introducing digital vaccine passports, saying earlier this week that it wouldn’t introduce them but travellers could ask their GP for proof instead.
You can see more on the future of vaccination passports here.
What should I do if I already have a holiday booked this summer?
If your holiday is before 17 May, you should approach your provider for a refund or rebooking. It’s crucial you don’t cancel the holiday, but wait for the provider to do so.
If your holidays is on or after 17 May, the best advice is to wait and see. It’s possible your holiday may be able to go head. The holiday company won’t cancel until the government reports on the resumption (or not) of international travel in mid-April.
If you booked flights and hotels separately then it might be more complicated. Check whether your airline is allowing fee-free changes for your dates. If you do need to change, make sure you do it in time. Some airlines will only allow you to change between seven or 21 day before departure.
Is it safe to book a holiday in the UK?
The government has targeted 12 April for the reopening of self-catering accommodation in England. Scotland is yet to release its roadmap out of lockdown, whilst Wales’ is aiming for Easter to re-open self-catering holiday accommodation. But even the 12 April date is subject to review, so if you do book it’s essential you do so with a company that allows flexible booking. Travel insurance is unlikely to refund you for cancellations caused by a lockdown if you book while the current lockdown is in place.
You can see more on quarantine, testing and how to protect yourself if you book a holiday here.