Millions of people living outside the UK will be allowed quarantine-free entry following the most significant lifting of restrictions on international travel in months. Here’s what you need to know:
What is changing?
People fully vaccinated in the US and most of Europe will have their status recognised in the UK from 4am on 2 August.
Only those who have had both doses on the NHS have been able to get a “Covid pass” until now, allowing them to avoid isolation if coming from an amber-list country. This locked out Britons living abroad who were fully vaccinated, much to their frustration.
The change was decided on Wednesday and will affect British citizens based overseas who want to visit family and friends at home, as well as US and European nationals. The European countries included are all but one of the 27 EU member states, as well as Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, plus Lichtenstein, Monaco, Andorra and Vatican City.
France is the only exception because it remains on the “amber plus” list, meaning fully vaccinated travellers from the country are unable to escape quarantine and still have to isolate at home for up to 10 days, or be released after day five under the “test to release” scheme.
What about people leaving the UK?
The announcement only relates to the restrictions on people arriving in the country, it does not affect the hurdles people will face when trying to leave to visit the US or Europe.
The White House said this week that there would be no change to its existing rules which tell US citizens not to travel to the UK and bar everyone else from entering the country if they have been in the UK in the past 14 days.
Despite Boris Johnson and Joe Biden forming a “taskforce” at the G7 last month to try to come to a mutual agreement, there has so far been no breakthrough, so the UK has gone it alone.
Do I still need to get tested?
Those who have been fully vaccinated in the eligible countries will need to test negative before departure and within two days of arrival. They will not have to take a test on day eight.
What about children?
Under-18s are being vaccinated in the US, so may be inoculated, but some coming from Europe may not be. The UK government says that children who normally reside in the US or Europe will be treated the same way as double-vaccinated adults, meaning they will be exempt from quarantine and do not need to take a day-eight test. They will, however, still need to take a pre-departure test and another on day two after their arrival. Those aged between five and 10 will only need to complete a day-two test.
How will people prove their vaccination status?
Europeans will have to produce the EU’s digital Covid certificate as proof of their inoculation. Americans do not have an app, so will instead need to show the CDC card they were given when they were vaccinated.
Why is the UK going ahead with this move?
Ministers are keen to capitalise on the vaccine rollout’s success to help reunite families and friends separated during the Covid pandemic, and also restore business travel to help boost the economy.
Will this affect England or the UK as a whole?
Given that health is a devolved matter, it will be up to the administrations in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh to decide whether to follow the lead of ministers responsible for England. The Guardian has been told they are likely to do so.
What has the reaction been?
Airlines have welcomed the move, but said it had come too late and that the government had been unnecessarily dragging its heels.
Labour called the move reckless and said it could lead to variants similar to Delta being imported into the UK. Prof Christine Pagel of UCL also said that fully vaccinated people could still catch Covid and seed it in countries, and that she was most worried about variants.
What about the red, amber and green lists?
The lists are updated every three weeks and were not due to be reviewed on Wednesday. The next announcement will be on 9 August and should take effect from the following Monday.
Spain is in danger of being added to the “amber plus list”, though some government figures are hopeful France will be removed from it and placed back on the regular amber list.