The travel correspondent of The Independent is currently on “green list” manoeuvres in southwest Europe and reported to be taking full advantage of the generous happy hour options at the string of waterside bars just south of the airport in Gibraltar.
On the evening of 2 June, though, he interrupted his busy schedule to answer your pressing travel issues live for an hour ahead of the government’s expected review of the “traffic light” categories on 3 June.
This is the compilation of the key questions and answers.
Q: Any chance of Mallorca going green tomorrow?
A: Expect a relatively modest number of additions to the quarantine free list. While the Balearics – Majorca, Menorca and Ibiza – look prime candidates, that is no guarantee that they will make the grade.
I expect a sprinkling of Greek Islands to go green, and if Malta does not make the cut then the Maltese have every right to be Cross.
Follow live: Green list for travel could be reviewed today
Q: What percentage chance of the Canaries being added to the green list at the next review would you give?
A: Ten per cent. The southwestern Spanish archipelago is unlikely to make the cut tomorrow, but I expect the Canary Islands and the rest of Spain to be green by July.
Q: With the ever-decreasing cases and increasing vaccine rollout, what do you think Cyprus’ chances are of making the green list in this update or the next? I am due to fly on 23 June for our wedding on 2 July
A: Congratulations to you and your partner on your impending wedding. Cyprus probably will not make the cut tomorrow, but I would be confident that it will be on the green list by late June/early July. Therefore just make sure you stay out a few days after your marriage.
Q: Any chance of Turkey moving off the red list and been green by 31st July?
A: Off the red list: probably.
On the green list: unlikely.
Q: What are your thoughts about less popular holiday destinations being added to the green list during next list review? I am interested in Baltic states and Poland in particular.
A: Poland looks a likely candidate for green list inclusion in the next but one review, and I hope that the Baltic nations will make it as well.
Q: What are the chances that Albania is added to the green list?
A: I was actually hopeful that Albania might make the very first green list. This fascinating Balkan nation would be a worthy addition to the quarantine free options, and appears to have earned its place.
Q: I have Jamaica booked for 17 June. How likely is it of being added to the green list tomorrow ?
A: Top two Caribbean Islands are strong candidates to be added immediately: Antigua and Barbados.
St Lucia and Grenada are possible.
Jamaica and Cuba are fabulous locations, but I fear they will not make the cut in early June.
Q: We are hoping to visit my husband’s family in Cuba very soon. Any update appreciated especially re quarantine? We fly via Paris. Hopefully recent changes in France wont affect us.
Tracy P A
A: Cuba, as you know has an outstanding health service, and has coped pretty well with the pandemic. It is also running a solid vaccination programme. But as mentioned just now, I sense that the English speaking Caribbean may be higher on the list than Cuba.
There is an important point to be made about changing planes: if you are in an amber country for any length of time – even an hour between flights – then you are liable for the amber rooms, including self-isolation and multiple testing.
Q: In your opinion what is the likelihood of Hungary being put on the green list? I’m booked to go on 2nd July.
A: Unlikely in the imminent review, but entirely possible late June/early July.
Bear in mind that if a country moves from amber to green while you are there, you need not quarantine when you return.
Q: How likely do you think it is that the Greek Island Kos will be added to the green list tomorrow?
My interpretation is as follows for the key islands (from a UK perspective):
- Likely: Kefalonia, Kos, Mykonos, Santorini and Zante.
- Possible: Corfu, Lesbos and Rhodes.
- Unlikely: Crete.
Of course there are many other lovely Greek islands but these are the most significant for British visitors.
Q: Might an air bridge be established with Switzerland? Will it be added to the green list?
A: Switzerland will not “go green” in the imminent review, but it may be on the one after.
May I invite you to forget the concept of air bridges, which a year or so ago was being much trailed by politicians? They give the impression of a two-way reciprocal agreement, whereas what the UK is actually doing is imposing restrictions unilaterally on arrivals from other countries.
Q: Will Bermuda get the green light tomorrow?
A: Entirely possible. The chances of a green list rating are far higher for British overseas territories than any other class of locations. The Falklands, South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands, Tristan da Cunha, Ascension and St Helena are among the Atlantic islands on the no-quarantine register, and there is every chance that Bermuda will join.
Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands are also among the possibilities.
Q: What are the chances of Finland making the green list? We would love to see our family again.
A: There is every chance that Finland will go green tomorrow, but as Europe goes green for us, the UK is looking increasingly red for a number of European nations. The government in Helsinki – and every other EU capital – will be looking closely at coronavirus case figures in the UK and the spread of the so-called “Delta” or “Indian” variant.
Looking for America
Q: Are there any updates on when the US will open up? Looking to get married in Vegas in September. Both of us will be fully vaccinated.
A: Here is the latest prediction on opening up the US to British visitors. When Joe Biden gets to Cornwall for the G7 Summit next week, I expect him to bring the gift of travel – the promise of a Disney dividend if you like. The America ban on arrivals from the UK will end, and the US will join the green list. But possibly not until early July.
Q: It feels like Joe Biden is dragging his feet with opening the US to UK travel. Do you think that’s because he wants to release to all of Europe at the same time and not show any favouritism towards UK, given the EU will catch up by end of June?
Mark in Cheltenham
A: I have heard this theory advanced, but I don’t subscribe to it. The US president is under increasing pressure from tourism representatives to open up. Florida in summer is largely full of mad dogs and Englishmen, and the Sunshine State wants us back.
Q: What are the chances of a corridor between Britain and America being reciprocally opened in June, and will unvaccinated travellers be able to use this corridor as long as they’ve taken a test?
A: There is endless speculation about the US: both countries are actually a good fit due to the success of the vaccination programmes, but after 15 months of closure of normal transatlantic travel it will take a few weeks to gear up for normal service to be resumed.
The UK government has no interest in anyone’s vaccination status for the point of view of arriving here, but it is possible that the Americans – like the Irish and many European nations – will allow proof of having completed a course of jabs to suffice instead of tests or quarantine.
Q: I am planning to travel to the US in order to visit my girlfriend who I have not seen in many months. I have a flight booked with BA to go via Cancun, Mexico for 19 June to get around the current travel ban.
Do you think there will be a likelihood of a US-UK travel corridor opening before then (so I can quickly change my flights)? And if I do have to go through Mexico for 14 days, do I require a PCR test to board the flight?
A: I certainly wouldn’t commit to the Cancun flight until the day before, in case the US opens up; fortunately BA allows cancellations any time up to the close of check in, for a voucher for future travel.
No PCR test required to travel out of the UK – unless the destination wants it, which I don’t believe Mexico does.
Going from green to amber or red
Q: Has the government confirmed their plans for if a country has to be taken off the green list? Will they be giving more notice to avoid the chaotic scenes from last year with people having to book onto extortionate flights home to avoid quarantine?
A: Yes. The government says it hopes to have a “green watchlist” of locations that may go from green to amber, and to give a week or two of warning of status changes that will require quarantine. But there is no guarantee.
For example, on 7 November 2020, fears emerged about a new strain of Covid evolving in Denmark on mink farms. Rules that were close to red list status were imposed immediately. It was the first outright travel ban on arrivals since the coronavirus pandemic began, with non-UK residents from Denmark denied entry.
Q: Which rules will apply if a country changes category whilst a passenger is in the air? That is, if the flight departs before the red/amber/list changes come into force, but arrive afterwards?
A: In that very specific case, it is the rules that apply at the moment you arrive. That is why last August, for example, an overnight ferry from the Netherlands sped across the North Sea to get back to Harwich at 3.30am, because otherwise passengers would face two weeks of quarantine.
Red to amber?
Q: Are there any hopes of Qatar being removed from the red list? Cases are falling and vaccination rates are going up to some of the highest in the world!
A: Little hope, I am afraid: the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, believes key international aviation hubs with a wide range of flight connections must be on the red list.
The only way that there would be substantial change in the near future would be if the government here made a complete U-turn – in which case there would be understandable anger at why the decision was taken in the first place.
New red list candidates
Q: Any possible red list countries to be added to the list?
A: The excellent analyst Robert Boyle predicts that two Gulf states – Bahrain and Kuwait – plus Costa Rica and Trinidad & Tobago are strong candidates for being added to the red list based purely on the very high infection rates.
He also nominates Georgia, Iran and Malaysia as locations where the Delta/Indian variant appears to be gaining ground. And suggests adding Vietnam to the red list “on a precautionary basis”.
Overall, though, I expect the direction of travel to be from red to amber and from amber to green, with most of the important holiday destinations green by September – annoyingly, just when many people have to be back at work/school/university.
Q: Do you have any view about Costa Rica joining the red list?
A: Latin America is having generally a terrible time at present. Panama, next door to Costa Rica, is on the red list. So I wouldn’t bet against it – but I hope that by our autumn/the southern hemisphere spring, Latin America will be stabilised and safer.
Going from green to amber or red
Q: What happens if the country I departed from goes red while I am in transit? Will insurance cover any extra costs?
A: It is very unlikely that this would happen instantly, so most affected travellers will be able to make suitable arrangements before the deadline. Travel insurance will not cover associated costs, I’m afraid, unless you have an astoundingly comprehensive policy.
Q: What test do I need to fly back into the UK? I will be in either Malta or Rhodes. Can I take my own lateral flow test or do I need one done at my hotel?
A: You must have a properly certified test conducted by a medical practitioner. Self-service NHS lateral flow tests cannot be used for the purposes of travel.
Q: Any chance the UK’s demand for PCR testing on return might ease for green countries?
A: Yes it certainly will ease, because it is simply not practical or affordable for mass tourism to happen this summer if everybody coming back to the UK needs at least one PCR test.
I don’t expect significant changes in the imminent review. But I imagine that there will be some easing of the rules, possibly with particular advantage for vaccinated travellers, when the green list expands significantly in late June/early July.
Q: How are the rules on a 72-hour pre-departure test interpreted for a long weekend away to a green country? Leaving the UK on a Saturday evening and returning Tuesday evening?
A: I assume you are talking here about getting a pre-departure test for the UK for your homeward journey? If you are returning on a Tuesday, then a test taken on Saturday, Sunday or Monday is acceptable for the purposes of travel to the UK. So, yes, you could get it done in advance before the trip.
Q: If coming back from an amber country, would I have to book a day eight test if I’m leaving the country again before the eighth day of my quarantine.
A: The government has promised this option will be available, but I have not yet seen proof that this has happened.
Q: How is the testing in Gibraltar? Are there long queues?
A: Free tests are given on arrival, and there can be a queue of up to an hour if a couple of planes land together – but you can return at any time up to 24 hours before touchdown and undergo the lateral flow test, which means that if come back the following day (walk across the runway before any planes have landed) then you can expect zero wait.
Q: Do I need a negative PCR test to depart the UK direct to Cyprus even though Cyprus does not require one for fully vaccinated people
A: The UK and airlines flying from it, make no demands for any kind of testing on departure. The only issue is: what does your destination demand? If Cyprus is happy with proof of vaccination, that is all you need.
Q: Will Portugal allow for those with two vaccines to avoid PCR requirements from July?
A: Possibly. Portugal still insists on PCR test from every British traveller, vaccinated or not. From 1 July the European Union is recommending that completed vaccination is an acceptable alternative to testing.
More pressingly, Portugal may find that its current European dominance as the only major summer sun nation on the green list is about to end, and could decide to relax its expensive and time-consuming stipulation for UL visitors.
Any other business
Q: Now that Russia is open to UK tourists, have they clarified if quarantine on arrival is required for people arriving from the UK? I have a Fan ID for the Euro 2020 matches in St Petersburg.
It gives a six-week window to enter and leave Russia multiple times. But it would somewhat defeat the good news story if you have to sit in your hotel for 14 days every time you arrive in Russia.
A: As far as I know the rule is the same as was introduced on Christmas Eve: a 14-day quarantine for arrivals from the UK. But with flights resuming between Russia and the UK from today, things are warming up – so I would expect to see the Russian rules easing, possibly for vaccinees only, within a week or two.
Russia, though, looks a pretty solid amber bet for the foreseeable future, meaning quarantine when you return to the UK.
Q: I am planning a trip to France in July if restrictions ease. My wife is a French passport holder. Does the minimum six-month expiry date on her passport apply to her given that she is a French citizen?
A: Anyone with an EU passport is unaffected by the onerous rules that the UK has chosen to apply to itself. Brexit has made passport expiry rules for British travellers to the European Union far more complicated. In addition, the maximum stay is 90 days in any 180 in the Schengen Area.
Any passport issued by an EU country, whether French, Irish or Lithuanian is valid up to and including the date of expiry anywhere in the European Union.
But British passport holders can enjoy the pleasure of having a blue passport, like those of EU member Croatia.
Q: Ask me anything you say? Recommendations for dinner in Porto tonight, please.
A: I haven’t been to Porto for a couple of years, but if it is still open in the Palácio da Bolsa (old stock exchange): O Comercial. The tasting menu is/was superb.
Q: Is one able to transit through Heathrow(via the new Terminal 3 “red terminal”) to another non-UK destination, without fear of hotel quarantine? I’m thinking of Nairobi to Malaga via LHR
A: Since February the government has had a red list of countries regarded as high risk because of the prevalence of coronavirus “variants of concern”. Only people with the right of residence in the UK can travel in from them, and anyone arriving from a red list location – and intending to stay in Britain – is obliged to go into 11 nights in hotel quarantine at considerable expense.
On Monday, Heathrow airport reopened one of its dormant terminals specifically for arrivals from four “red list” countries: Bangladesh, India, Kenya and Pakistan. These are the only countries of the 43 on the red list from which direct passenger arrivals are allowed.
After a plane from one of the four countries touches down, it could taxi to Terminal 3 to offload passengers direct. Or it may go to its “normal” terminal – either 2 or 5 – with passengers bussed to Terminal 3 without coming into contact with other travellers.
UK Border Force officials will process passengers and they will be taken by bus direct to their quarantine hotels. But my understanding is that transfer passengers will be separated and allowed to continue their journey as normal. The chances are, assuming you are at British Airways’ Terminal 5, that you will have a fairly straightforward transfer experience, considering the circumstances.