Simon Calder’s expert answers to 20 of your summer holiday travel questions
The travel correspondent of The Independent has latterly been helping his crew mates aboard a cargo ship from the Baltic to Immingham, as part of an effort to address the growing shortages on British supermarket shelves.
But he handed over control of the bridge to a colleague while he tackled readers’ questions for a hour.
Q: When do you think the blanket ban on South America/lower Central America will end? Given vaccine rates and dropping cases it seems nonsensical to continue to punish an entire continent!
“Trying to travel 101”
A: “Nonsensical” sums up well the red list status for almost all of Latin America. I have spent a long time trying to understand the mindset of the officials in the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) who are making all these decisions (at least according to ministers, who say that they are merely rubber-stamping the JBC’s recommendations).
I assume that they have some extraordinarily secret source of information that is more reliable than the globally available data. That is the only way I can understand that an entire continent is consigned to the no-go list, when plainly some nations within it are low risk.
For the avoidance of doubt, along with many other interested individuals I am frequently asking for the data that underlies decisions. While this is relatively easy to find for changes (such as the surprise move of Montenegro and Thailand to the red list yesterday), justifications for keeping things as they are prove less easy to discover.
Closer to home, many prospective visitors to Turkey (staying red) and Poland (staying amber) would like to know why they have not been upgraded to amber and green respectively.
Q: If the next “traffic light” review is due 15 or 16 September, with another around 7 October, is it no coincidence that easyJet – having previously cancelled all flights to Turkey until March 2022 – has now reinstated flights from 9 October. What do they know?
A: One of the reasons that the airlines have been increasingly furious with UK government travel restrictions is the manner of decisions being passed on.
In normal circumstances, you would expect a courtesy call from officials to airline bosses, about what will soon be announced. Instead, they have commonly found out via leaks from government to journalists, or sudden revelations on websites in Scotland or Northern Ireland, rather than any advance knowledge.
But easyJet may be of the mind (shared by many of us) that Turkey cannot surely remain on the red list beyond the next couple of reviews – and hoping it can get some useful last-ditch business for Turkey, particularly over half-term.
Q: Now that Thailand is newly on the red list, how long do you reckon it may be until those restrictions are lifted?
A: Of the many possible candidates for inclusion on the red list, Thailand simply wasn’t one I had envisaged. I imagine that the travel industry and the Thai authorities will be a lobbying intensively for the hotel quarantine obligation to be removed.
In addition, there is growing pressure on the government to reveal the data behind its decisions. But sadly as we have seen once a country is on the red list, kind of inertia seems to set in and it is very difficult to lose the high-risk status.
The best I can hope for is that by October we have a comprehensive re-drawing of the rules with a shorter list of red list locations based on very explicit and measurable criteria.
Q: Why did the Dominican Republic stay on red? And is there an end date for the traffic light system?
A: I have no idea why they Dominican Republic – and for that matter the Maldives – stayed on the UK government red list. And I have equally no idea when the traffic light system may end. There is certainly no appetite that I can see for relaxing the tight control the government has on our movements.
Q: There is a lot of confusion about the time spent in amber countries before entering the UK. If I leave Montenegro before it turns red at 4am on Monday, 30 August and go to Albania (which is still an amber country) and fly back from Albania, would I be OK to enter the UK?
This way my travel history will have Montenegro as amber and Albania as amber for the last 10 days before entering the UK. Or does Montenegro count as a red country on my history as of Monday? I would really appreciate it if you could please clarify this.
A: I am afraid what counts is the status of Montenegro at the moment you enter the UK.
You would need to spend 10 full days in Albania to launder your status.
Q: My family has been stuck in Libya for a few weeks now. Libya itself is amber, but there are no direct flights to the UK. The only indirect flights from Libya to the UK are via Egypt, Tunisia or Turkey. I was really hoping that one of those three countries would be promoted from red to amber.
Do you know of any other way they could come to the UK from Libya without having to hotel-quarantine on arrival? And what are the chances that all these three countries remain stuck in red until mid-October?
A: Sorry about this very difficult situation. I am looking at the FlightRadar24 departures from Tripoli Airport, and while many of them are to red listed Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey, there are also departures to Sudan (red list) and Niamey in Niger (amber list – but on the Foreign Office no-go list because of concerns about violence there). Also just because a flight is on FlightRadar24 doesn’t mean it will actually go.
All I can suggest is waiting for one of those three – Egypt, Tunisia or Turkey – to exit the red list. It won’t be long.
Q: We’re travelling to Portugal next week. Some of our party have only had one vaccination and I can see on Portugal’s travel guidance it states anyone without a full two doses of vaccine they must quarantine for 14 days on arrival. We are only staying for one week, so can those people quarantine in our villa for seven days and fly home after this point? Or will they have no choice but to stay for 14 days?
A: Travel.sef.pt, the website for the Portuguese border force, makes it clear that self-isolation is possible at the traveller’s own property. But while quarantine can end early with departure abroad from the UK, I don’t think it will work for you.
The site stresses that prophylactic isolation for 14 days is mandatory. So I infer that they will not allow early release to leave the country.
Q: I’ve seen reports that Portugal were going to officially accept the Covishield vaccine (Indian-made AstraZeneca). Do you know when that will formally be in place? Are there issues now for people travelling to Portugal with this?
Emma J K
A: My understanding is that Portugal, like all other countries, is being pragmatic. While the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine made in India is still technically not authorised by the European Medicines Agency, a vaccination that is administered and recognised by the NHS is good enough for them.
Q: Does Portugal accept at home antigen tests if double vaccinated?
A: It will certainly not accept tests conducted by people using the free NHS lateral flow devices. Since the test result has to include the date and time the sample was collected the date of the result, and so on, a professionally conducted the test is always going to be the preferred option.
Q: I’m travelling from the UK to Switzerland via Amsterdam Schiphol next week. I’ve had both vaccinations. Am I correct in thinking there is no testing requirement if I’m in transit through Schiphol and when I arrive in Switzerland?
A: The UK is considered “a very high-risk area without a virus variant of concern” by the Netherlands, and therefore you will need to seek advice from the airline (presumably KLM) about the procedure to observe.
Note that because Switzerland is in the Schengen area, you will have to enter that zone at Amsterdam (a flight from the Netherlands to Switzerland is effectively domestic).
Q: Any idea when the US will lift its ban on entry from the UK? I booked flights and a hotel package with BA in January to go to New York and Washington in October. If, as seems likely, I will not be allowed to travel, when would you advise approaching BA about getting the dates moved?
A: You should be in luck. The president, Joe Biden, is in no hurry to remove his presidential proclamation banning UK visitors. But it looks increasingly hard to justify, and will surely have to change sometime soon.
Just as a point of guidance for the future I would not dream of booking an October trip to the US until perhaps a week beforehand. There is always going to be capacity.
Q: Sadly next month it will be two years since we’ve seen our son whom lives in Hong Kong. We’ve really missed our annual trip to Kowloon. Any indication when travel may resume without 21 days quarantine?
A: Hong Kong – and the remainder of China – has been extremely robust in its demands for quarantine from travellers. As vaccination increases, I imagine that countries which are currently being very hard line will gradually ease their restrictions. But I hesitate to put any timeline on it – beyond saying, regrettably, I don’t think it will open up before 2022.
Q: What do you think the chances are of Italy dropping the five-day quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers from the UK and when do you think they’ll update the guidance for Monday?
A: I am very much hoping that the Italian authorities will update us this afternoon to say whether or not they will continue with the mandatory five day quarantine for British visitors to Italy. But if the last extension is anything to go by, we may not learn until Monday morning. Sorry.
Q: I know you’ve been asked about this a lot but the lack of news is concerning, any updates about the UK accepting vaccines administered outside of the UK/US/EU?
I’m planning a visit at the end of September, and even though Kuwait numbers are good, I don’t expect it to go green by then, so I’m more hopeful about getting in quarantine free from the vaccine.
A: Sooner or later the UK government has to explain why it is refusing to accept properly certified evidence of entirely valid vaccinations carried out abroad. Failure to do so places the UK in a category of its own – and causes endless problems for many thousands of people. It also helps the continuing destruction of the inbound UK tourism industry.
My guess is that in September, when ministers return to the office, someone will finally notice the immense damage that is being caused, and perhaps suggest that these inexplicable policies are reversed.
Q: Have there been any reports of travellers having issues boarding coming back from Spain to the UK with lateral flow results, instead of the UK government “preferred” PCR test?
A: None. It is very frustrating that the government added this complication. It also seems highly unnecessary, given that the government claims nine out of 10 British people already take a PCR test before flying from Spain to the UK.
I must be the odd one out – I would always take a much cheaper faster and less stressful lateral flow test.
Q: Can you confirm entry to Spain from UK is NHS vaccination QR code and SPTH form. Then antigen test and passenger locator form on return to uk with pre-booked day two PCR?
A: Yes. You might find this new article handy.
Q: I’ve been trying to find out what the rules are in Mallorca for this, but not finding it. Do you know what the rules are in the event someone tests positive on my flight over there? Thanks
A: I am not sure how a fellow passenger being infectious would be discovered – there is no general requirement for testing on arrival. So I don’t believe there are any rules.
Q: If I land Bristol one day, stay in a hotel overnight and fly out from Bristol the following day do I need to take a “day two PCR test”?
A: Yes. Even though the government likes to call this post-arrival requirement the “day two” test, in fact it is “a day of arrival or either of the two following days” test.
It would be easiest to get it done at the airport on arrival. This will also maximise the public health benefit, because in the highly unlikely event that you are infectious, this would be rapidly picked up and you could act accordingly.
Q: Canada has indicated that it will be open to international leisure travellers from 7 September (US visitors are already allowed in). Various Canadian websites refer to this date as “planned” or “tentative”. My understanding is that the date is dependent on Canada’s domestic epidemiological situation. Given that 7 September is only 10 days away, should we not be expecting confirmation of this date from the Canadian government. Have you heard anything?
A: My understanding is that the date is still planned, but I know there are some vocal Canadian medical experts who say that it is too early.
As we have seen, changes can take place – or not take place, in this case – at very short notice. So I wouldn’t be booking my flight to Toronto just yet.
Q: How do you envisage travel changing following on from the 1 October review? Do you think the red list will be scrapped all together/move to home quarantine? Trying to plan for a career break with limited success!
“Trying to travel 101”
A: I feel your frustration. I have no idea if the October review of international travel rules will result in anything – there was supposed to be one at the end of July which came to nothing.
Furthermore the transatlantic travel task force is not exactly brimming with ideas and optimism.
As a result I am being extremely short-termist in my travel plans, but I recognise that anyone trying to plan a career break is going to want to have longer horizons. In your position I would be looking at a vast and intriguing nation that I could spend a long time exploring, such as India, rather than attempting a multinational expedition.
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