Lockdown conditions are being eased slowly across Britain, and now ministers have begun talks with European countries to permit air bridges between the UK and some “core” locations. This would allow Britons to fly without having to quarantine – and open up the chance for a summer holiday.
The countries which are being discussed in relation to air bridges must have a small enough rate of infection to allow British people to travel there and back without having to undergo 14 days of self-isolation on their return.
Anyone who does not comply can be fined £1,000 in England, and police are permitted to use “reasonable force” to make sure they follow the rules
Currently, any arrivals to the UK must quarantine, giving information to officials when they land detailing where they will be staying.
A Government source said: “[Air bridges are] subject to intense scrutiny and it is a priority matter for the government, there’s no doubt about that.”
Longer-haul destinations will be harder with the potential for flight changes in countries where infection levels may be higher.
However, another potential air bridge option is Australia.
Henry Smith, Conservative chairman of the all-party Future of Aviation group, said the plan for air bridges was a “welcome first step” but urged the Prime Minister to widen the bridges to the whole of the EU.
He told the Telegraph: “EU countries have had a similar, if not better, coronavirus experience than us.
“I think that is the most straightforward and eloquent way to approach it.”
Greece’s tourism minister said on Friday his country hopes to be able to set up an “air bridge” with Britain which would allow British tourists to visit from mid-July.
Britons are among the biggest national groups visiting Greece every year but flights from the UK, which has seen a high rate of COVID-19 infections, are currently barred from Greek airports until at least June 30.
Tourism Minister Harry Theocharis said: “I think that the most realistic prospect is around the middle of July to remove barriers from both sides.”
He adding Greece was also waiting for European Union guidelines on the issue.
Mr Theocharis said: “We will keep looking at the (epidemiological) data and confirm this perhaps a few days before the middle of July.”
Thousands of hopeful holidaymakers have rushed to book trips abroad after the news of air bridges and of no-need to isolate on return to the UK.
In place of the quarantine arrangements, there will be a traffic light system, with officials placing countries into green, amber and red categories based on the prevalence of coronavirus within each nation’s borders.
The news, which is expected to be announced in more detail next week, saw the Eurotunnel website struggle with the surge in demand, and a spokesman confirmed they had more bookings in one day than they have had all year.
Eurotunnel Le Shuttle tweeted to say they had drafted in extra people to answer the “very busy” phone lines, and online bookings had encountered problems because “too many users are trying to make a booking”.
The spokesman told PA they had thousands of people booking trips and the website was slowed down due to the “sheer quantity of people all trying to book at the same time”.
The Foreign Office is also set to lift its caution against all but essential travel for those countries in the green and amber categories to coincide with the announcement, thereby reducing travel insurance premiums.
Travel firm Tui said it had seen a 50 percent spike in bookings this week compared to the previous one, with holidays to Spain and Greece proving popular.
Managing director Andrew Flintham said: “We’re pleased the Government has finally confirmed that holidays overseas will be able to go ahead, and the full list of green and amber destinations will be released on Wednesday.
“It’s a hugely positive step forward for the travel industry and I know our customers will be ecstatic that their summer is saved.”
A Government spokeswoman said: “Our new risk-assessment system will enable us to carefully open a number of safe travel routes around the world – giving people the opportunity for a summer holiday abroad and boosting the UK economy through tourism and business.
“But we will not hesitate to put on the brakes if any risks re-emerge, and this system will enable us to take swift action to reintroduce self-isolation measures if new outbreaks occur overseas.”