The travel correspondent of The Independent is usually to be found at the bar of the Zollpackhof in central Berlin, sharing a drink and Cold War story or two with discreet contacts at a range of foreign embassies in the German capital.
But he put down his refreshing glass of Berliner Weisse for an hour to tackle your travel questions.
Travel question of the day for Saturday 14 August
Q: I have a client who was recently in Mexico for 10 days. This was before Mexico went on to the UK red list, but I gather it still has an impact. He left Cancun on 5 August and arrived in the European Union on 6 August. He is due to travel to UK 10 days later on 16 August.
Is that OK or does he need to arrive a day later? The details seem so vague.
A: “To stop the spread of potentially harmful variants into the UK,” the government says, “stricter measures are in place for people who have been in a red list country in the 10 days before they arrive.” The exact test is: on any of the 10 days preceding the day of arrival into the UK, has the traveller been in a country that is currently on the red list? If so, on arrival in the UK they face mandatory hotel quarantine for 11 nights at a cost of £2,285 (£207 per night).
From your client’s perspective, the rules may seem grossly unfair. Like thousands of other British travellers, he was in Mexico at a time when it was on the amber list but left before it became red on 8 August. But while vaccinated holidaymakers who made it back to the UK ahead of the 4am deadline last Sunday were able to go home without self-isolation, anyone who stopped off along the way faces with the harshest form of quarantine.
However, it looks as though your client will avoid that prospect. Even though he did not arrive in the EU until 6 August, he left Mexico to Europe on 5 August (most eastbound transatlantic flights are overnight, giving a bit of extra leeway).
In this case, on 16 August he will be able to say he has spent the previous 10 days (6-15 August inclusive) outside a red list country.
The one possible technicality that I cannot assess fully from the government’s online information: if his flight left Cancun after 7pm on 5 August, that would already be 6 August according to British Summer Time. To be absolutely certain of avoiding hotel quarantine, if it was a later flight it would be wise to add an extra day and return on 17 August.
Q: My timing isn’t great. I am due to fly to the Greek island of Zante on 24 August; you have said the next travel review takes place on 25 August.
I know that cases in Greece have risen over the last few days. I don’t want to change my holiday. However the thought of the country moving from the amber list to the red list, and having to rush straight home fills me with dread. Is this a low chance?
A: Such have been the surprising and unpredictable decisions on travel restrictions that I cannot rule out the possibility completely, but I would happily set off with you to Zante on 24 August and expect to enjoy a full week or two without disturbance.
Raw coronavirus infection rates in Greece have been lower than the UK’s for the past two months. Although the gap is narrowing, the seven-day new infection rate in the UK is still 50 per cent higher than that in Greece. Some of the islands – Santorini and Mykonos at the start of the month, Crete now – have seen very high levels, but these tend to take hold quickly and subside fast.
I would be very surprised if Greece’s infection rates put the country on the red list. And in terms of the other main criterion, variants of concern, the data analyst Tim White has just reported “very good news for tourists heading for Greece”. The Beta variant, which put France on the temporary “amber plus” list with mandatory self-isolation for all arrivals, has declined sharply over the past week.
Add to that my prediction that the UK’s hotel quarantine system cannot possibly cope with large numbers of people coming back from Greece, Spain, Portugal or France and I hope you will share my optimism. There is a non-zero possibility that “amber plus” could be reincarnated but I’d say it’s very unlikely. I might see you in Zante, and promise you a Mythos beer if I do.
Q: Do you think Mallorca will be okay to travel to at the end of September? Or where else do you think would be ideal for a sunny holiday with least risk of going amber plus or even red?
A: Mallorca looks ideal at the end of September, and I think I might even be there too.
Q: Do you see the Maldives coming off the red list soon? Really hoping to go later in the year.
A: The Maldives has an infection rate around half of the UK’s. The government here may be worried about variants of concern. However, I’d say a move to amber is likely in the next review on 25 August or the one after (14 September, unless the system changes completely again).
Q: We are due to fly to Turkey on the first day of Jet2’s flights there, 9 August. Is it likely to have come off the red list by then?
Bored of life
A: I imagine you mean 9 September. I think it is very likely that Turkey will be off the red list by then, but the government may have other ideas.
Q: I’m booked to go to the Dominican Republic in October, I’ve been watching the data closely and cases are now really low – lower than Antigua, which is on the green list. Any thoughts on if I should look to change destination or hold my nerve?
A: Hold your nerve. Either the Dominican Republic will go on to the amber list (which I think is likely) or the trip will be cancelled.
Traffic light changes
Q: Off to Madeira on bank holiday Monday. Do you think it’s likely to stay green?
A: According to data analyst Tim White’s tweets in the past hour, infections in Portugal as a whole are up 5 per cent on last week – with nearly 40 per cent of them in the capital, Lisbon. Levels in Madeira (and the Azores) are much lower.
Personally I would not worry. You are likely to be travelling immediately after the next “traffic light” review takes effect – which will be announced on Wednesday 25 August or Thursday 26 August, I believe.
If I am wrong and Madeira slips from “green watchlist” to “amber list,” you will at least have time to change your destination or postpone your trip if circumstances require.
Q: We are due to travel to Lisbon in September, but can’t find out what will happen if we test positive prior to returning to the UK. The hotel say we contact the authorities but don’t know what happens after that. Could you help please?
A: You should certainly contact the health authorities at which point everything will be taken out of your hands.
I have not checked the exact details for Portugal but I imagine they have a network of quarantine hotels where positive cases are instructed to stay for 10 days. I am not sure who pays.
Afterwards you are free to go – though you must have a negative test-to-fly certificate; note that the UK does not recognise evidence of past infection as an alternative way to show that you present no threat.
Q: I am going to Ibiza at the end of the month and the UK guidelines say you must get a PCR test when returning to the UK. However, I had Covid two months ago and the government also recommends not to take a PCR test within 90 days in case it shows up as positive.
What should I do? I don’t want to risk not being able to return home if I just do a lateral flow test.
A: There is no compulsion about getting a PCR test before coming back from Spain. The government here says 90 per cent of British people returning from Spain choose the more expensive, slower and more stressful PCR test rather than a quick, cheap and easy lateral flow. Heavens knows why.
Furthermore, even though the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, asks Brits to take a PCR test, his Department for Transport (DfT) says: “If you have recently recovered from Covid but are no longer infectious, you should use a lateral flow device (LFD) test. LFD tests have a lower sensitivity than PCR or LAMP tests, so they are less likely to return a positive result from a historic infection.”
Like the DfT, I suggest you take a lateral flow test.
Q: My wife had Covid two weeks ago. We are going to Spain in three weeks. To come home we need a test to board flight and a day two test. However, we are advised not to have a test for 90 days. What is the solution?
A: I agree the government is issuing conflicting advice. The general view from the NHS is that people who have recovered from Covid should not take a test for 90 days – partly because they should have substantial immunity.
But that does not work for the Department for Transport. This part of the government insists on a negative test-to-fly on the way back from Spain and a test within two days of arriving. All you can do is hope that both are negative. Get the PCR test done as late as you can on the second day after the day you arrive to maximise the chances.
Q: In your understanding, what happens if you book a post-arrival test at your UK airport and your plane home is delayed? Do the UK airports make allowances if you miss your booking slot in these circumstances?
A: Testing is organised by a private company, not the airport, but everything I have seen indicates that they are entirely flexible. If your test is booked at 4pm and you turn up at 8pm, that is absolutely fine. I hope.
Q: You previously stated that when flying back from an amber country we only need a lateral flow test and not a PCR test. However, on my flight from Germany, Ryanair check in asked for my PCR test (which I had, luckily). So, just to be sure, when flying from an amber country do I need a PCR or lateral flow test?
SSD from Deutschland
A: In order to board a train, boat or plane to the UK, you need a negative Covid test that matches the UK governments requirements. A lateral flow test conducted by medical professionals in Germany should certainly do that.
If you are properly documented and an airline turned you away, they must pay you compensation.
Having said that, it is an awful time to be an airline and to be conducting detailed health documentation checks under the pressure of check-in deadlines. I imagine that in this case a member of ground staff was over-cautious.
Q: What are the chances something will be done sooner rather than later about the cost of pre- and post-holiday testing? I know others will be in a worse position than me and my family but we have just spent £32 for a fit to fly test for my daughter before travelling to Greece. Then there’s the added unwanted bonus of then spending approx £160 for four “day two” tests, to simply put a reference number on the government locator forms.
A: I predict that the onerous and expensive testing requirements will be eased – probably in early September just as a school children in England and Wales go back after the holidays.
The Competition and Markets Authority will report back to the health secretary about whether excessive profits are being made, and the industry will duly clean up its act – having cleaned up financially through the summer.
Q: I will be coming back from Spain on 28 August. Should I get a test at Heathrow or book one online that is sent to me for self testing?
A: Just to be clear, we are talking here about the poorly named “day two” PCR test that must be taken in the UK on the day you arrive, or one of the two following days. It is in addition to the test-to-fly (which can be lateral flow) that must be taken on the day of your journey to the UK or one of the three preceding days.
I recommend you get the PCR test done at the airport on arrival. With ExpressTest, which has facilities in Terminals 2 and 5, I paid £69 last time.
The test is professionally conducted, which from a public health standpoint is important. The results came through in 25 hours.
Rather than messing around with self testing after you return home it is simply one more piece of airport bureaucracy to complete.
Q: Please can you advise what are the testing requirements for Dubai? I’m quite nervous that we may get re-tested on arrival at the airport. Do you know if this is common? We’ve been double vaxxed and travelling with an 11-year old this month. (I know it’s too hot but it’s booked now.)
A: Do double check close to departure, but at the moment my understanding is that you will need a PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before your departure to Dubai (or Abu Dhabi). You may be required to undergo an additional PCR test on arrival, but this is a random and rare procedure, I believe.
Q: Do we think Portugal might drop the pre-arrival negative tests for double vaccinated travellers from UK like they have for EU covid passport holders before 26 August?
Jay Whay 1
A: I imagine you are heading for Portugal on that day. All I can say is: I really hope they do ease the testing requirements.
Ever since Portugal became one of the very few green list nations in the founding group of low-risk locations on 17 May, it has had tough testing demands (though the island of Madeira has not).
As summer dwindles, and competition increases for the remaining tourists, I imagine this requirement will disappear.
Q: Due to go to France from 23-28 August. Haven’t booked tests yet. How easy is it to arrange a test for return in France? Can I just go to the pharmacy there? Also, how likely is it that the test to return to UK will downgrade from PCR to lateral flow?
A: Who told you that you need a PCR test to return from France? The UK test-to-fly requirement from any foreign country can be met with a lateral flow test, which is much cheaper and easier than PCR.
There are plenty of local pharmacies that will administer the test. The window of dates is comfortably wide: your day of departure from France or any of the three preceding days.
Q: Is it true that only the UK ask for their citizens/residents to take a pre-departure test before returning to their own country? Do the EU ask for this? If not is there any likelihood that this test will be removed in the near future to help free up travel and aid recovery of the travel industry?
A: The UK is an outlier in many aspects of travel in the coronavirus era, and the pre-departure and post-arrival tests constitute an example – no other European country requires this.
Presumably most other European nations want to give their inbound tourism industries some hope. Not the UK.
Q: Do you think Covid testing before returning to UK will ever end for the fully vaccinated? It makes it impossible for us to return to holidaying abroad with our autistic teen.
It is too big a risk to take that, despite all being fully vaccinated, that one of us tests positive. He wouldn’t cope with 10 days isolation in a strange hotel room. It’s been another upsetting school summer holiday at home for him as he absolutely loves going on aeroplanes and being abroad. We could go away in the October school break, but we’re not holding out much hope.
A: You son’s dismal summer is a reminder of the emotional toll that the UK’s current severe testing requirements can take. The government seems very keen on travel restrictions despite the stress and upset they can cause.
I believe they are more onerous regulations than any other European country. As you know, travellers aged 11 or over from all overseas countries except Ireland must take a “test-to-fly” before boarding a plane (or ferry, or train) to the UK. Should this test prove positive, you cannot travel back to the UK must immediately notify the health authorities of the country you are in and follow their instructions – typically to spend 10-14 days in a quarantine hotel.
This rules out a lot of foreign travel for anyone who would find it impossible to go through that experience, whether for emotional or logistical reasons. I think the post-arrival PCR test will be eased before the more understandable test before travel – the one that is of concern to your family.
Yet I can offer a solution that would allow you to take a four-day break with no such risk.
The UK government allows the test-to-fly to be taken on the day of the journey or, crucially, any of the three preceding days. Therefore you can take a morning flight from an airport with testing facilities (just allow an extra hour before departure for a quick and cheap lateral flow test). In the highly unlikely event that one test is positive, you simply don’t board the plane. But assuming it is negative, you are guaranteed to be allowed aboard a flight to the UK on day four – even a late evening departure, which will permit you to maximise your time on holiday.
The other option is simply to holiday in Ireland – the one foreign destination where no testing or quarantine is required for fully vaccinated travellers from the UK. All you need do is complete a simply online passenger locator form for the republic before departure. No further bureaucracy required.
Q: When will the UK join the EU vaccination pass scheme, not for entry into countries, but for use at venues once within a country?
A: The situation is fluid and messy at the moment, with some countries saying that they will accept the NHS app and/or the NHS Covid pass letter (which, incidentally, is available in several languages).
But prompted by your question, I have just checked on my French TousAntiCovid app – as used across France by local people and visitors.
I was delighted to read: “The NHS certificate is now recognised in France. If the venue staff can’t scan it properly, please ask them to force a refresh and update ‘TousAntiCovid Verif’ app on the store.”
Q: Do I need my vaccine certificate through the post for travel to Malta? I’m from Wales. Will the print out from online be OK?
A: The Foreign Office says slightly mysteriously: “If you live in Wales, Malta will accept your NHS letter”. That doesn’t sound like a print-out to me, so I would call 0300 303 5667 without delay and get a copy of the letter.
Q: Any news on when British citizens double vaccinated in Canada (with UK approved vaccines) might be considered exempt from quarantine in the UK
A: At present only NHS, EU and US vaccinations are recognised for the purposes of dodging quarantine on arrival in the UK from “amber list” countries – such as Canada.
I imagine that in two or three weeks time, the UK will fall into line with most of the rest of the world, and accept approved vaccines administered by health authorities that are regarded as trustworthy. This will include jabs given in Canada, the UAE and much of Asia.
But by rights Canada should be on the green list anyway, with no quarantine from any arrivals.
At least the Foreign Office has finally stopped pretending Canada presents a risk because of its coronavirus infection rate. Today, that rate is below 10 per cent of the UK’s.
Foreign Office advice
Q: French Polynesia in October? There’s still a Foreign Office warning against non- essential travel, but it is on the amber list and allowing in vaccinated Brits. The Foreign Office advice doesn’t match the Department for Transport. Any news on when they will align the data please?
A: Personally I cannot envisage a trip to French Polynesia being possible in October, because of access. The main gateways are the US and Chile. The first may well still be off-limits, the second could still be red listed.
There is no compelling reason why the Foreign Office and Department for Transport should align their advice.
The Foreign Office is looking at the overall risk for an individual British traveller. The Department for Transport is looking at the risk to public health in the UK.
A Foreign Office warning against non-essential travel means standard insurance policies are not valid, but there are plenty of specialists who will provide cover for journeys that are against Foreign Office advice.
Q: My friend returns to England from amber list France next week, and being unvaccinated will apparently have to self-isolate for 10 days. He does however have an antibody test which shows that he has had covid previously, and would like to know if this does not exempt him from the self-isolation rule?
(Have looked high and low on gov.uk website and can find no mention of exemption from self-isolation for someone who has previously had covid)
A: There is no interest whatsoever in the government about travellers having recovered from Covid. Only jabs are relevant. This is at odds with most European countries, which recognise that someone who has recently recovered from Covid is extremely unlikely to contract it again imminently and infect others.
Q: When do you think the US will allow travellers from the U.K. in without quarantine or isolation if double jabbed?
We are trying to plan a trip but it’s so uncertain and yet I don’t understand why at all when US Citizens are now coming in to UK.
A: I have asked a number of travel industry chief executives that very question in the past 48 hours, and the answers or predictions range from “September” to “no idea”. While infection rates are high in the US, they are even higher (10 per cent above) in the UK.
The main problems now appear to be inertia (once draconian rules are imposed, they can be slow to remove), combined with an unwillingness in Washington DC to complicate the situation at a time when the Delta variant is running wild across America.
Q: What are the chances of the US opening up to UK residents by 1 October? If “laundering” before entry to US where would you recommend? Finally, does your vaccine status and type of vaccine matter to US on arrival or is it just that you have come from one of their acceptable countries?
A: The obvious place to launder your UK status by staying for two weeks outside the UK remains in Mexico, because it is relatively easy to reach, low-cost and close to America.
It is also on the UK’s red list, so any stay in the US would need to be at least 10 days, in order to launder your Mexican status from the British perspective.
At present the US does not have vaccination requirements for arrivals, as far as I know.
Q: I am due to go to Italy on 11 September. Do you think the Italian government will drop the five-day isolation rule and/or lateral flow testing requirement for double vaccinated Brits?
A: Italy is still concerned about infection rates in the UK, currently about four times higher. Thirty days from now, though, I am pretty sure that the picture will look different. I am expecting an announcement easing the UK arrival rules from the government in Rome in late August.
Q: A friend visiting UK from Netherlands has a British passport but is a Dutch. Does he have to quarantine for 10 days on his return to the Netherlands after a two-week stay in UK?
A: The UK is currently regarded as “a very high-risk area without a virus variant of concern” by the Dutch, which isn’t a great position to be in.
Residency or vaccination count for nothing, from what I can see. The Dutch government says: “You must self-quarantine for 10 days at home or in your accommodation if you travel/return to the Netherlands after staying in an area where the risk of coronavirus infection is very high, including areas where there is a virus variant of concern.
“This requirement applies even if you have proof of vaccination or proof of recovery. If you get tested on day five you might be able to shorten the quarantine period.”
I expect that hard line to be eased soon, so if he can hang on in the UK until the Dutch remove the need to self-isolate, it could pay off.
Q: Is TUI’s Covid Cover sufficient to cover the costs of a hotel and different return flight of you test positive on the pre departure test? If not do you have any recommendations on insurance providers to cover this?
A: The company’s cover, which comes at no extra charge to package holidaymakers, looks admirable – including costs associated with an extended stay if you’re asked to quarantine while on holiday.
Q: I can’t seem to find my previous comment about The Independent’s apparent wish to promote travel and tourism in a “business as usual” way despite the proven climate emergency to which travel and tourism makes such a colossal contribution. What happened to my comment?
A: I don’t know what happened to your comment, I’m afraid. The Independent continues to urge people to consider the environmental impact of their travels, and to recommend ways of reducing the cost to the planet.