Simon Calder answers 27 of your summer holiday travel questions
The travel correspondent of The Independent traditionally spends August in Trieste, Italy – making excursions into the Julian Alps of Slovenia before returning to the Caffe Rossini, where the proprietor keeps his usual table free at all times. But he took an hour out of his busy schedule to answer readers’ pressing travel questions.
Traffic light moves
Q: We are due to travel to Turkey on 20 October 2021 for 11 nights. I wanted to ask you how likely it is that Turkey will be on the amber list by 29 September? The latter date is when I have to pay my accommodation by, and can cancel for free anytime before then.
A: As everyone in travel has learnt over the past 18 months, nothing can be predicted with certainty – especially government announcements on toughening or easing travel restrictions. The next announcement is due from the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, on 26 August.
If Turkey doesn’t escape from the hotel quarantine red list on 29 August (when we expected the next round of changes to take effect) it will surely make amber on 19 September, three weeks later.
Q: Does Spain have any chance of avoiding the red list at the travel review? Heading to Mallorca on 27 August
A: I believe there is more chance of me being called up by Crawley Town FC for Saturday’s League Two match than of Spain being placed into the highest risk category.
I am very concerned by the alarm a number of articles are spreading – implying that holidaymakers returning from our favourite foreign country will be told to pay thousands of pounds for 11 nights of hotel quarantine.
The claims rely on NHS Test & Trace figures from some weeks ago. But as the Covid data analyst Tim White points out, the Beta variant is almost extinct in Spain and infection rates are dwindling.
In addition, the hotel quarantine scheme simply could not cope with that surge of arrivals that red-listing Spain would involve. So relax.
Q: Any guidance on the new red/green listings that may come out next week? In particular Montenegro?
A:I haven’t been tracking Montenegro, but I know there are problems across some of the Balkans. Conversely, a number of countries in central and Western Europe should be moved, I believe, to the green list – notably Poland.
Q: Do you think Uganda will be removed from the red list any time soon? I understand their vaccinate rates are low but surely they (and the majority of African countries) cannot be punished for unfair global vaccine distribution? Their Covid cases are significantly low right now. I would love to be able to visit and support their tourism sector.
A: I love Uganda and can’t wait to return there – but regrettably the UK government does not seem to have any respect for the health situation and vaccine programs all the way from Cairo to the Cape. With increasing calls for the government to show its justification, I think we may see a number of significant changes happening early in the autumn.
Q: We have booked a holiday to Corfu leaving on 24 September, we are with TUI and so we can amend up to 14 days before. Do you think Greece could go on the red lilst? Cyprus was our other alternative destination, would this be treated the same as Greece or separate? Do you think Canaries would be a safer bet than Greece?
A: I don’t think any major European holiday destination will be going on the red list. As vaccination rates increase, and the Delta variant drives all other forms of the virus away, any argument for adding Greece (or Spain, or Portugal …) to the red list dissolves. Late September is a great time to be in Corfu. Have a great trip.
Q: We are flying to Corfu next weekend and I am panicking after reading that Greece might go red. From looking at the stats, do you think it will?
A: No. Rates are (thankfully) falling steadily now in Greece. I am booking to travel there at the same time. Have a great trip, and if we meet I promise to buy you a Mythos.
Q: We’re flying to Greece on 31 August. What would your confidence percentage be of Greece remaining on the amber list? Thanks in advance!
A: 99.9 per cent. Have a great trip.
Q: Thoughts on Dominican Republic going amber before 1 October?
A: A very good chance – quite probably on 29 August, if not then surely 19 September.
Q: Travelling to Portugal on Monday, getting married Sunday 29 August (date has been moved three times!). Do you foresee any issues or changes?
A Stressed Out Bride
A: Congratulations to you and your spouse to be. The only possible change I foresee is that Portugal may relax its insistence for even double jabbed travellers to be tested. Best wishes for the long-awaited event.
Q: Multiple questions here. What chance of the govt dropping day 2 and 8 PCR tests anytime soon? And where to buy the cheapest PCR?
If you book a postal day two PCR test, you’re able to fly home because you have that booking reference for your online locator form. Does anyone actually check that you do that test on day two and send it back? What happens if it doesn’t turn up or you don’t do the test? Presumably you are meant to quarantine until the day two test is done and clear?
A: I predict that PCR tests after arrival will start to be withdrawn soon, probably beginning with fully vaccinated arrivals from green list countries. I am not going to suggest where to get the cheapest PCR as I am not convinced of the quality of providers who are at the bottom of the testing market. Can I persuade you to spend about £70 on an at-airport test when you return? Maximum public health benefit and minimal hassle for you.
Anecdotally it appears that there is no significant checking being made on people actually completing their tests and sending them back. I imagine the governments thinking is that you’ve paid for it you’ll jolly well do it.
Regarding post-arrival testing: I do not know what happens if you fail to comply, but you would clearly be breaking the rules. Even though there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the PCR tests for low-risk arrivals from low-risk countries are a complete waste of time, there is some public health benefit if you have the test done by a clinician and therefore any infection is more likely to be picked up. I recommend doing this on arrival at the airport.
There is no need to self-isolate and wait for the test result, if you are arriving from a green list country or fully vaccinated and arriving from an amber country.
Q: Do you think the UK testing requirements imposed by the UK government be relaxed any time soon. Very off-putting for many travellers.
A: I think by autumn they will be eased, particularly for fully vaccinated travellers. A conspiracy theory which I think may have some basis in reality is that the testing regime is seen as a very good way of keeping the number of international arrivals to the UK firmly down. With the main summer season coming to an end in the next couple of weeks, the requirement – as some no doubt see it – to limit arrivals may diminish.
All that will remain are millions of pointless tests and hundreds of millions in credit card bills. But I’m afraid I cannot put exact dates on it.
Q: A telephone advisor at Eurofins [a testing company] told us we weren’t allowed to book our day two test for our arrival date (day zero). Have they given me incorrect information here? I thought it could be anytime before day two?
A: Ridiculous. You can take your test 10 minutes after touching down, as they should know. Day of arrival or either of the two following days. I would avoid any company that doesn’t know these basic rules.
Q: I have been looking to book flights with BA for half term (I’m a teacher) and other than the fully flexible tickets they are saying absolutely no refunds for any cancellation. How do I ensure I can cancel without losing all my money if Covid restrictions prevent me from going.
A: I am not sure what Covid restrictions you are especially concerned about, but if it is that your destination will be put on the red list then I would not worry about that risk. Last time I checked, British Airways was offering penalty free cancellations up to the close of check-in – but with refunds in the form of a voucher. If you think you can use that, then I suggest you go ahead and book.
Red list laundry
Q: Are there any options for my double vaxed mother in law to travel affordably to the UK from S Africa without quarantine. Could she travel via France, Switzerland and spend 10 days there for example? Is there any sign that S Africa could move off the red list – the data suggests it should? Thanks
A: I recommend people legally and responsibly avoiding hotel quarantine in the UK, by following all the rules for travel to a third country and spending 10 full days there. Anywhere that allows people to travel without hassle from South Africa will be a good place for laundering the red list status. I recommend France over Switzerland simply because of cost – but Portugal will beat both hands down.
Q: Have you heard anything at all about a timeframe for U.K. recognising the vaccinations of British citizens administered overseas (beyond the EU. (I’ve now had vaccinations and a booster – and an official online certificate complete with QR code – but am still regarded for travel purposes as unvaccinated.).
A: Infuriating, isn’t it? As with so many aspects of coronavirus and travel, the UK is an outlier. I imagine that once ministers are back from their holidays they will take a look at possibly accepting that Canada, the UAE, etc, are capable of professionally administering vaccines. At the moment it’s all very embarrassing for us – and awkward for prospective visitors.
Q: I had both jabs of AstraZeneca months ago, if I fly to Crete do I need a test as well?
A: No, though you must fill in a passenger locator form before 10pm the night before you are going, though.
Q: I’m due to fly to Canada on 22 September. Do you think there is any chance Canada abandons plans to let double jabbed foreigners in? Also is there any chance of Canada or USA going green soon?
Jimbo R M
A: Canada is due to be opening to all vaccinated visitors from 7 September. While a reversal of that policy can’t be ruled out (and I know that some senior Canadian medical figures are against the idea) I believe changes to that plan are unlikely.
Canada should have been on the green list a couple of months ago. But It’s only a few weeks since the Foreign Office was warning against travel there, claiming entirely incorrectly that Canada was a hotbed of Covid. On the day that useless advice was finally removed, the UK had 10 times as many infections per 1,000,000.
Q: I understand entry is now allowed to Denmark with no tests or quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers with EMA-approved jabs. I have the indian batch of AZ/Vaxzveria. Vaxveria is approved. The indian batch is not, I believe. But they accept the NHS app. So can I go or will I be made to quarantine for 2 weeks?
A: I am afraid I haven’t double checked recently the Danish requirements, but as a proud owner of a Indian made AstraZeneca jab I am tuned into possible problems. Pragmatically, countries are adopted with you that if the NHS says a vaccination course has been completed, then there is no need to work.
So far the only issue has been very brief when Malta, for about 36 hours, refused to recognise the Indian vaccine. So I believe you will be fine.
Q: Can you confirm if I can definitely, definitely use a lateral flow test two days before I come back to the UK from Spain?
A: Yes. Lateral flow is just fine for pre-departure testing when returning to the UK, on the day of return or one of the four following days.
It’s the test after arrival that must be PCR.
Q: I currently have vouchers from British Airways and Virgin Atlantic for cancelled US flights in 2020. Given time that has now elapsed, do I have any rights to demand refunds? Flights were scheduled in April and October 2020.
A: Unfortunately if you clicked to accept vouchers, then you surrender your rights to a cash refund. The only possible avenue for getting your money back that I can see would be if you can prove that somehow you were misled into accepting vouchers and not made aware you could get a refund.
Q: What is your view on the chances of Italy dropping the five-day quarantine rule in the next review at the end of August?
A: I was surprised that Italy extended the effective travel ban on British visitors – requiring five days of quarantine on arrival regardless of vaccination status – from the original expiry date of 30 July. But when it is next reviewed, just ahead of the new date of 30 August, I think it is 50/50 on being dropped. It largely depends on UK figures in the next week or so.
Q: I hope to travel to Matera Italy from Malta via Bari. I will have been in Malta more than 14 days so will there be a need for me to isolate for the 5 days which I would have to do if I was going straight from Uk?
A: There should be no problem at all. Matera is amazing. Enjoy.
Q: We are due to go to the Netherlands on 5 September. They currently require UK folk to quarantine for 10 days. Do you foresee an appetite for this to change in near future or do you think it will stay now our figures are going up again?
A: I think there is a fairly good chance that the Dutch will ease the restrictions.
Q: Our holiday to Florida has been rebooked several times now and we are due to fly late September. It’s unlikely our flights will be cancelled this time since vaccinated Americans can now travel. Do you think we stand any chance of getting there (we are both fully vaccinated)? We were hoping the rules may change as Summer holiday season ends and potentially fewer families will be able to travel.
A: There is no energy at all in the US for welcoming in British visitors, I imagine because domestic tourism is doing pretty well, and there is an awful lot of Covid around in some states – notably Florida and Texas. The promised transatlantic travel taskforce has been notable by its lack of any positive announcements.
Q: I am due to go to Mexico City on 3rd September for 3 months, do you think it will be off the red list by December? Or should I look elsewhere?
A: Yes, I believe Mexico will be looking better by then, but as everyone in travel has learnt over the past 18 months, nothing can be predicted with certainty. If I am wrong, then there are plenty of options for laundering red list status legitimately – most obviously Spain.
Q: I am due to go to Patagonia in Argentina on 4 December. It is for a multi-stage endurance event of biking, running and kayaking. I’m nowhere fit enough to complete it yet and would need to do a lot of training to make it around. The event is making a decision six weeks before it is due to start.
What do you think the chances are of Argentina joining the amber list by mid to late October? I do have the option of postponing it until the following year but would rather go this year if it is an option. There doesn’t seem to be much pressure for the government to take South America off the red list.
A: As you say, all of South America is conveniently (for the government) bundled into the red list and has been for many months. While Argentina isn’t the best performer on the continent – Peru and Chile are doing better – I am fairly confident that Argentina will go amber in time for your event. After all, winter is ending in the “southern cone” and I am expecting infection rates to continue to fall. Good luck.
Q: What would be a realistic estimate on how long it may take to pass Heathrow immigration sometime the first week of Sept? It used to be approximately two hours pre-Covid, and recent new articles mention 4-6 hour queues in July this year.
“To UK from Malaysia”
A: Ten or 20 minutes for British/EU/US visitors. Could be a lot longer for other nationalities, but certainly not six hours.
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