Travel news latest: Tour operator offers holidaymakers free Covid tests in industry first

Travel company On the Beach has announced that it will offer free Covid tests to holidaymakers returning to the UK, after research found that the cost was proving prohibitive to travel.

In an industry first, the tour operator is providing free antigen and PCR tests for all bookings made in September for holidays in 2021 to Spain, Cyprus and Greece. Customers’ tests will be ordered automatically following their holiday booking and delivered a minimum of 48 hours prior to departure. The company is spending more than a million pounds on the scheme and has partnered with the government-approved testing provider Collinson.

Research conducted by On the Beach found that a third (32 per cent) of people cited the cost of PCR tests as one of the main reasons why they had not booked a holiday for 2021, second only to concerns that the holiday would be cancelled. A quarter of people who are not currently planning holidays this year said that free Covid-19 tests would make them more likely to book. 

Simon Cooper, CEO of On the Beach, said: “We are thrilled to launch this industry-leading offer for our customers and remove the financial burden of PCR testing for holidaymakers as they get to grips with the new normal of holidaying.”    

Other tour operators have previously subsidised the cost of Covid tests for holidaymakers, including Tui, which has offered kits for as low as £20. 

Scroll down for more updates. 

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San Francisco crowned world’s best city for 2021

San Francisco is the greatest city on earth this year, according to Time Out.

The publication’s 2021 World’s Best Cities Index ranked it top of the list, citing ‘high vaccination rates paired with plenty of outdoor dining and quality cannabis’, apparently.

The top five are as follows:

  1. San Francisco
  2. Amsterdam
  3. Manchester
  4. Copenhagen
  5. New York  

Scots should be prepared for curbs if cases keep rising, Sturgeon warns

The rate of increase of Covid-19 cases in Scotland appears to be slowing down, Nicola Sturgeon has said, but she warned Scots must be prepared for “targeted and proportionate action” to keep the country safe. 

In a coronavirus statement at the Scottish Parliament, the First Minister told MSPs an increase of more than 70 per cent in the average new daily cases was recorded between the week to August 22 and the week to August 29.

However, figures for the most recent week, to September 5, show a daily average of 6,304 – an increase of  9 per cent. She said the rises partly reflect that many more tests are being carried out now. 

Ms Sturgeon said:

The data I have just reported, showing what seems to be a slowing in the rate of increase in new cases, gives us more cause for cautious optimism than we have had for a few weeks.

But – and I’m afraid this is the hard part – cases are still rising, week on week, and they are currently at their highest levels since the start of the pandemic.

Nick Trend: Four reforms needed at the UK’s October 1 travel review

According to our consumer expert Nick Trend, there are four key reforms that need to happen at next month’s review in order to rebuild confidence in travel:

  1. Consistency in when and how the announcements are made. That would allow both holidaymakers and the industry the fixed points of reference which have been so sorely missed this summer.
  2. More notice to allow holidaymakers to return. Limiting this to just three or four days puts huge pressure on the industry and is extremely stressful for holidaymakers.
  3. A formal harmonisation between FCDO and DfT advice so there is no risk of future conflicts.
  4. More transparency about the data, so we know exactly why destinations are being rated red.

Read his full analysis here.

Feature: Even in Covid times, a Disney cruise can still cast a magic spell

The line’s safety protocols – and an army of superheroes to entertain son Dexter – helped Joanna Booth and her husband relax on board this UK sailing. She writes:

As I watched Mickey and Minnie jig acrobatically around the lobby of Disney Magic, I resolved never to complain about wearing a mask again.

Adults on the ship currently need to wear face coverings when inside as part of Disney Cruise Line’s anti-Covid measures, but this feels pretty tame when confronted with performers who routinely spend hours with their head inside a costume. 

But hush: for my five-year-old son Dexter, these were characters, not costumes. That was the most important consideration: could this two-night UK voyage, part of the line’s return to sailing following the pandemic’s enforced halt and the inaugural season of UK domestic cruises, deliver on a family-friendly holiday at sea? 

Read the rest here.

A thick curtain divides the cabins in half, creating separate spaces for children to sleep with the lights out

South Korea drawing up plans to get back to normal

South Korea is drawing up a plan on how to live more normally with Covid-19, expecting 80 per cent of adults to be fully vaccinated by late October, health authorities said on Wednesday.

The country is in the middle of its worst wave of infections, but it has kept the number of severely ill cases under control through steadily rising vaccination rates.

“We’ll review measures that will allow us to live more normally, but any such switch will be implemented only when we achieve high vaccination rates and overall (Covid-19) situations stabilise,” Son Young-rae, a senior health ministry official, told a briefing.

The strategy will be implemented in phases to gradually ease restrictions, authorities said. Masks will still be required at least in the initial stage.

It has not yet been revealed whether the country’s tight border restrictions will be loosened as part of the plan.

Hawaii resort mandates Covid vaccines for guests

A Hawaiian resort will become the first in the state to require proof of Covid vaccination for all guests and staff reports AP.

From October 15, ’Alohilani Resort in Waikiki will require its employees and guests to provide evidence that they are fully vaccinated with an approved vaccine . The measure will also apply to the six other Waikiki properties owned or operated by Highgate, a real estate investment and hospitality management company.

Comment: Scrapping the travel traffic light system is only the first step on the way out of this mess

Simplifying into just green and red tiers would be good news, but we also need four other key reforms for travel confidence to rebuild, writes Nick Trend. 

At last it seems that common sense may prevail and we will see a reform of the traffic light system next month. The suggestion is that the green and amber zones will be abolished, but red – requiring passengers landing in the UK so spend 10 days in a quarantine hotel – will be retained.

Essentially, the change would be an acknowledgement that, for fully-vaccinated travellers, there is now no practical difference between visiting an amber or a green destination. In both cases, UK rules require you to take a lateral flow test within two days of arriving back and then a PCR test on day two of your return.

(It’s not clear how a reformed system might apply to the unvaccinated. Currently they can escape quarantine on their return to the UK when visiting one of the currently 43 green-rated destinations, but must self-isolate for 10 days when coming back from an amber one. Presumably, self-isolation rules would apply to all destinations which are not in the red zone).

The new system would put an end to at least some of the confusion and uncertainty which has dogged both holidaymakers and – just as importantly – the travel industry this summer in the successive tweaks to traffic lights which have been announced since foreign travel restarted on May 17.

Read the full story.

Czech Republic reports highest daily Covid cases since May

The amber-listed Czech Republic recorded 588 new Covid infections on  Wednesday, the highest daily tally since May 25.

Reuters reports that the Czech government is not considering a return to national lockdown but some local measures could be enacted.

By the end of August, 63.5 per cent of the adult population had been fully vaccinated.

Switzerland announces Covid pass for restaurants

Covid passes for restaurants will soon be required in Switzerland

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Newly green-listed Switzerland will require people from Monday to show a Covid-status certificate to access indoor spaces like restaurants amid an uptick in infections, the government said.

The Swiss Covid certificate provides proof of vaccination, recovery from infection or a negative test result, unlike the UK’s proposed domestic pass which will only be valid for vaccines. 

“The situation remains unstable with more than 3,500 cases today,” Health Minister Alain Berset told a news conference in Bern on Wednesday. “The alternative is to close everything, and we will do our utmost to avoid that.”

The government last week had held fire on the move – set to last into January 2022 – amid a sharp public debate over whether it was going too far to infringe individuals’ liberty.

Comment: Those breaking travel quarantine are galling – we have a moral imperative to follow it

However flawed post-travel quarantine has felt, we are not going to escape from cycles of Covid-19 re-emergence if we take it upon ourselves to be self-appointed arbiters of what is correct procedure, writes Mark Stratton.

Thirty days. That’s how long I’ve endured home quarantines returning from multiple work trips abroad since our haphazard traffic light system was introduced. Thirty days stuck indoors turning down work and eschewing socially distanced contact with friends or my mother, a widower and alone.

So the news of a Office of National Statistics survey finding 23 per cent of UK travellers broke amber quarantine rules, feels more than galling.

Don’t get me wrong. This was one seriously malfunctioning set of traffic lights destined to lead to a car crash. Its failings have been duly called out. Not least, negligent decisions like the delay downgrading India from amber as the delta variant surfaced. Likewise, enforcement was pathetic and precipitated non-compliance. A few half-baked calls asking if you’re quarantining at home. You’re hardly going to say no.

However, each of the three times I returned to the UK to amber quarantine, I complied with the rules. I travelled to those destinations with my eyes open to the consequences upon return.

Read the full story.

Government plans for domestic Covid passports ‘in line with international travel approach’

Earlier this afternoon, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi was answering questions in the Commons about Government proposals for domestic vaccine passports to access large events.

Responding to a question from Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael about Covid passports, the Vaccines Minister reiterated the position as stated in July, namely that people will have to show they are fully vaccinated “as a condition of entry” to certain venues. 

It is “in line with the approach we have taken on international travel,” said Mr Zahawi.

Responding to a later question from Labour’s Angela Rayner on the details of the plan, he highlighted the “largely successful” approach to travel as a blueprint.

How to get a Covid PCR test for travel and how much they cost

Have a last blast on sun holiday lined up? Here’s everything you need to know about PCR swabs, prices and how many tests you’ll need to travel abroad. Read the full story.


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BA CEO: UK travel rules ‘not fit for purpose’

Watch British Airways CEO Sean Doyle slam the UK’s approach to travel restrictions:

Inspiration: How to explore the ‘Champagne region of Portugal’

The wine harvest is underway in Portugal’s Douro Valley, where locals stick the radio on and tread the grapes to Aretha Franklin. Marianna Hunt writes:

This month the valley transforms. The tranquil escape of Unesco-recognised landscape and quiet farmhouses becomes a hive of activity with visitors and seasonal workers arriving to sing songs and stomp on plump fruits, feasting on Portuguese delicacies and vintage wines by night. 

Despite some modern additions, these harvest traditions span many centuries. The Douro Valley is said to be the oldest demarcated wine region in the world, given its protected status in 1756 – around 180 years before Champagne and Burgundy got their appellations d’origine contrôlée. 

Read the full story here.

The Quinta da Gricha hotel and vineyard in the Douro Valley

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Pedro Ferreira

‘Hotel quarantine is a relic of early Covid’ – travel expert

Commenting on the UK’s continued use of hotel quarantine as part of its red list strategy, Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency, tells us:

Hotel quarantine is a relic of early Covid and there is no place for it in a modern, UK democracy. The government’s own Test and Trace figures show few variants of concern entering the UK, even from red countries, so now is the time to move to a system of self-isolation and daily antigen testing for those arriving in the UK from a red-listed destination. America doesn’t have a hotel quarantine system, and other countries are now abandoning it, so why should we? 

Fears of infection surge in Germany in the coming weeks

Germany could see a “massive momentum” in new Covid cases in autumn if the vaccination rate does not increase, the head of the Robert Koch Institute for infectious disease said on Wednesday.

“It is still in our hands,” Lothar Wieler told a news conference, adding it was very important to intensify the vaccination campaign.

Meanwhile in other developments to the east, a Ukrainian government commission will meet soon to decide whether to tighten lockdown, the country’s prime minister Denys Shmygal told a televised government meeting.

Ukraine lifted lockdown restrictions as cases dropped over the summer but could impose a nationwide “yellow” code, which restricts mass events, and limits the occupancy rates of gyms, cinemas and other culture venues.

“The epidemiological situation in Ukraine is predicted to deteriorate,” said Health Minister Viktor Lyashko, adding the situation was “not critical”. 

Our coronavirus live blog has more.

Reaction: Potential traffic light changes

More tour operators have been reacting to the news that the green and amber traffic light categories could be scrapped next month, with some calling for the Government to go further. 

Alan French, CEO at Thomas Cook, said:

“We welcome all moves to make travel simpler and cheaper for people so they can start looking forward with confidence to revisiting their favourite places or exploring new ones.”

Liddy Pleasants, MD of family adventure specialists Stubborn Mule Travel, said:

We welcome any review of the traffic light system which is currently manifestly unfit for purpose. Any simplification of the process will be a significant step forward but must be accompanied by a detailed review of the colour categorisation of each individual country.

The fact that most of Latin America, Africa and much of Asia remain on the red list, despite in some cases hugely successful vaccination programmes, is unacceptable. Of course there are some countries that should remain on the red list, but many should not. It’s time to look at this in a more nuanced manner and be more transparent on the methodology being used.

Australia working on vaccine certificates system to help restart international travel

The Australian government has confirmed plans to introduce internationally recognised vaccine certificates to help facilitate overseas travel. It is expected the system will be in place within weeks. 

Trade Minister Dan Tehan told reporters: “We’re in the process of planning that [vaccine certificates] so that in the coming weeks we will have a system up and ready so when we hit that 70 per cent or 80 per cent vaccination mark Australians will be able to travel overseas again and also Australians will be able to return home in greater numbers.” 

The vaccine rollout has sped up in recent weeks, with around 64 per cent of the population given a first dose and 38.43 per cent fully vaccinated. 

Which countries are on the green, amber and red lists?

Green and amber traffic light ratings could be scrapped next month, but before that we’ll have a review of the current categories next week. 

Here is how things currently stand. 

New Zealand reconsiders reopening amid delta variant outbreak

The New Zealand government is walking back on its border reopening strategy after dealing with a delta variant outbreak. 

The Government had tentatively planned to reopen in early 2022, with a system that ranked countries according to vaccination and virus rates. However, minister Chris Hipkins told parliament on Tuesday that the plan would have to be completely reworked after an outbreak of the highly contagious delta variant.

Mr Hipkins said: “We were looking at a situation where you could stratify countries based on risk, and I think in the delta environment, we actually have to consider whether, in fact, that’s an appropriate thing to do, recognising that all countries, all people coming into the country at this point, have a degree of risk associated with them.

“Obviously, at the moment, the focus is on responding to the current outbreak, but I think we will have to look again at some of that thinking around particularly the country-risk profiling, because I think Delta has changed the game,” he added.

Affordable, low-carbon-footprint train travel is the future

Lumo is set to transform rail travel in the UK

A new low-cost rail route between London and Edinburgh, rivalling budget airlines, could herald the dawn of a new era for British travel, writes Adrian Bridge.

The new service, set up by the FirstGroup travel conglomerate under the name Lumo, will see starting fares between the two capital cities tumble to below £15. For an initial period, no one-way fare will be above £20; after that, 60 per cent will be £30 or less.

Lumo’s main target audience is the airlines that fly between the two cities (mainly EasyJet and British Airways) and the passengers who would love to be environmentally responsible – but who don’t want to pay through the nose for the privilege.

According to rail aficionado Mark Smith – alias the Man in Seat 61, whose website offers advice and booking information for train journeys worldwide – the move could herald a wider change that will see more people opting for low carbon emission rail travel in the UK over flying.

Read the full story.

Summer self-catering bookings soar 62 per cent, says Sykes Cottages

Sykes Cottages has reported that bookings for next summer are up 62 per cent when compared to pre-pandemic levels.

The news comes as many holiday letting companies have reported booking surges as people seek to secure summer breaks for 2022.  

Graham Donoghue, CEO of Sykes Holiday Cottages, said:

“After more than a year of restrictions and uncertainty, this summer we’ve seen the appetite for holidays at home grow stronger than ever with more than half of Brits choosing UK breaks over foreign trips.

“As we look ahead to next year, many have already started booking their summer 2022 holidays with us, suggesting that the Great British staycation is fast becoming the holiday of choice.”

The race to book a 2022 staycation has begun

It may have been a decidedly soggy summer, but this hasn’t dampened the demand for staycations. In fact, in yet another pandemic shift, self-catering operators are reporting a surge in bookings for holiday lets next summer, with many top spots already full up during the peak months of July and August. 

Take the UK’s holiday capital of Cornwall, where high-end lettings agent Cornish Gems has reported its properties are already 59 per cent full during the summer. And demand has rocketed recently, with an 84 per cent increase in bookings this week compared to the same time last year. Overall, the company says it now has 544 bookings in place for summer 2022a 55 per cent increase on last year. 

Port Isaac in Cornwall is proving popular once again

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It’s a similar story for south west specialist Classic Cottages, which has reported three times more bookings than usual, with spots like Port Isaac and St Ives particularly jam-packed. Elsewhere, glamping expert Canopy & Stars say its sites are nearly at 40 per cent capacity for next summer. One of its most popular spaces, Bowcombe Boathouse, a fairytale waterside cabin in Devon, is already booked from April through to July and has even had a few bookings for 2023.

Read the full story.

Qantas CEO confirms plan to ban unvaccinated travellers

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has restated the airline’s intention to ban unvaccinated travellers once Australia’s borders reopen.

Speaking to the to the Trans-Tasman Business Circle, Mr Joyce said: “Qantas will have a policy that internationally we’ll only be carrying vaccinated passengers, because we think that’s going to be one of the requirements to show that you’re flying safe and getting into those countries. We’re hoping that can happen by Christmas.”

The Australian carrier will also require all crew to be vaccinated by November 15, though there will be allowances for medical exemptions.

“We think everybody should be protecting themselves, but we also have a requirement to protect our colleagues and our passengers. And then there’s also a requirement to protect the community,”Mr Joyce said.

Holidaymakers arrive in Canada following reopening 

Canada reopened to fully vaccinated travellers yesterday and the first images of arriving passengers have emerged from Vancouver.

Not all restrictions are eased, however. Fully vaccinated visitors must still show proof of a recent negative test to enter Canada. 


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Travel to the US: When the UK ban could lift, and latest Covid rules


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As fast as we get a glimmer of hope for the restoration of holiday travel across the Atlantic, along comes another slice of Covid calamity to dash those dreams on the rocky precipice that is the pandemic.

The latest underwhelming news suggests that any end to the ban is unlikely before the big American holiday of Thanksgiving (November 25), despite Britain and the European Union allowing the unrestricted return of fully vaccinated US visitors since August 2, which had been seen as a significant step towards the re-opening of two-way traffic.

Find all the information, here. 

Railcards will be accepted on new low-cost train service

New low-cost train service Lumo has confirmed it will accept railcard discounts when it launches next month.

The operator will run services  on the UK’s East Coast main line from this October, with one-way fares starting at less than £15.

Lumo will initially offer two services a day each direction between London King’s Cross and Edinburgh Waverley, starting October 25.  Services will increase to five daily trips as new trains are delivered.

The trip will take around four-and-a-half hours, with stops in Newcastle and the Northumberland town of Morpeth. Some trains will also call at Stevenage.

UK September sunshine, in pictures

After a soggy summer, the start of September has brought a welcome blast of heat. Here are shots of people enjoying the sunshine around the UK.

Yoga on the beach in the morning light by the Firth of Forth in Portobello, Scotland

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Alamy Live News.

People enjoy the hot weather at Hathersage Swimming Pool in the Hope Valley, Peak District

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A bather cools off at Warleigh Weir on the River Avon in Somerset

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What BA’s ‘carbon-zero’ plan means for your holiday

With greater efficiency comes quieter flights – and the Airbus A320neo produces half the noise of the previous generation of A320s in its fleet

Standing beside a gleaming Airbus A320neo, its livery emblazoned with the pledge ‘Our most important journey yet’, Sean Doyle – CEO of BA – revealed the airline’s plans to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The press conference, held at Heathrow on Tuesday morning, seemed to be experiencing a greenhouse effect of its own. The huge glass-roofed aircraft hangar blazed with unseasonable sunshine, the temperature soaring as engines roared on the runway, just a few hundred metres away. Here at the sharp end of the aviation industry – thought-shatteringly close to the action – one of its biggest players was laying down the gauntlet. 

But how will this impact your BA flight – both now, and in the future? The changes are happening right now; here are the ones you might spot on your next trip. 

Which countries are on the amber list and what are the entry requirements?

Need a reminder of how things currently stand and the entry requirements in top holiday destinations? Here we breakdown everything you need to know when planning a holiday to an amber destination this autumn. 

A clifftop in amber list Greece

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Traffic light changes need to fix ‘broken framework’, urges travel boss 

Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of Advantage Travel Partnership, has urged the Government to take a “holistic” approach to any traffic light changes rather than simply tweaking the current “broken framework”.

She criticises the “meaningless testing” for fully vaccinated returning travellers and the “inhumane” hotel quarantine system

Read her full quote below. 

Any plan to scrap the traffic light system needs to be done so in a manner that takes an holistic view of the process and not just putting a sticky plaster over the current broken framework. The onerous and meaningless testing for fully vaccinated travellers needs to go as does the inhumane imprisonment of travellers in hotel quarantine and replace with self- isolation at final inbound destination.

If ministers are minded to develop a new system they need to firstly take a good look at the data which clearly shows positivity rate from international travel was three times lower than that of the UK [since May] and then reflect on where the risk lies.

Travellers are being forced to pay for expensive PCR tests which are  disproportionate to the risk especially from Green and Amber countries where not a single Very High or High Priority VOCs/VUIs were imported in the last 3 week period of data available.

Given every other economic setting in the domestic roadmap has now fully opened and the government is unwilling to extend furlough or offer dedicated support, the government has a duty to the British public, the travel industry and the millions employed in the sector to now do the right thing and stop this chaotic system which is delivering no demonstrable public health benefit.

New Zealand cases decline 

New Zealand reported a further fall in locally acquired Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, as the largely coronavirus-free nation looks to eradicate an outbreak of the delta variant.

New Zealand reported 15 new locally acquired cases, down from 21 a day earlier, on the first day of an easing of tough restrictions in all regions outside its largest city Auckland.

Daily infections hit a peak of 85 on Aug. 29. All of the latest cases were in Auckland

Reaction: Green and amber travel lists could be scrapped next month

Travel industry insiders have taken to Twitter to discuss the potential scrapping of the amber and green traffic light catergories. 

Among them are Paul Charles, of travel consultancy the PC agency, who describes the possible move as a “relief” and more in line with the US system.

Welcome to Denmark, where Covid is ‘over’

On Friday September 10, Denmark will lift all its last Covid restrictions, with the government having declared the virus “no longer a critical threat to society”, thanks to having vaccinated 72 per cent of the population (the UK is at 62 per cent).

“The epidemic is under control,” the health minister, Magnus Heunicke, announced last week, acknowledging the government’s right to impose special Covid-related powers was coming to an end.

People relaxing in a Copenhagen park 

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Denmark, which on March 11 2020, was the first country in northern Europe to bring in lockdown restrictions, is now becoming the trailblazer in removing them.

And in doing so, the land of Lego could be teaching the rest of the world how to rebuild normality – even though the Danes are not claiming to have vanquished the disease, just to having found a way to live with it.

Read the full story.

Half term holiday update: October firebreak ‘not something we need to consider’, says Health Secretary

Those who are planning a half term holiday will be heartened to hear that the Health Secretary has not thought about a so-called firebreak in October.

Sajid Javid told Sky News: “I don’t think that’s something we need to consider. I haven’t even thought about that as an option at this point.

“I think the decisions that we’ve made in the last few weeks and certainly in the time I’ve been Heath Secretary, I think they’ve turned out to be the right decisions.”

He said no decisions are “risk-free” but insisted the “best defence” against another wave of the virus is the vaccine programme.

Green and amber travel lists could be scrapped next month

The traffic light system for travel could be scrapped under plans being drawn up by ministers to simplify holidays.

Officials have been told to develop a new system based on the vaccination status of travellers rather than the Covid rating of the country they are visiting.

It is likely to mean amber and green will disappear as separate categories, although red will continue with travellers still required to quarantine in hotels on returning from high-risk destinations.

Double-jabbed holidaymakers can already travel to amber countries without having to quarantine on their return after the Government ditched the requirement to self-isolate.

It means that for fully-vaccinated travellers, visiting amber or green countries is exactly the same, requiring only pre-departure tests and then a PCR test within two days of returning to the UK.

Read the full story.

What happened yesterday?

A recap of the top stories

  • Heathrow PCR tests to deliver results in three hours
  • Number of Britons who think holiday tests are necessary has fallen, ONS finds
  • Canada opens to vaccinated Britons
  • No half-term firebreak but ‘last resort’ plans remain in place, says Government 
  • BA unveils plans for ‘net zero carbon emissions’ by 2050

Now, on with today’s travel news.