Q and A
PEOPLE are being warned about the risks of international travel, as airlines and travel firms recorded a surge in demand following Boris Johnson’s road map for how coronavirus restrictions will be eased in England.
The Prime Minister said on Monday that a Government taskforce will produce a report by April 12 recommending how international trips can resume for people in England.
Foreign holidays could be permitted from May 17.
But in Scotland, the First Minister has warned that travel restrictions in Scotland will remain for “some time yet”.
Nicola Sturgeon gave the warning while revealing that the stay-at-home order is expected to be lifted from April 5 under a phased plan to lift lockdown.
She told the Scottish Parliament “if all goes according to plan” the country will move back to the levels system of coronavirus restrictions from April 26, with all council areas moving to Level 3.
Unveiling the revised road map out of lockdown in the Scottish Parliament, the First Minister said it was important that cases of the virus, particularly of new variants of the virus, were not imported into the country.
She said: “We saw over the summer how new cases were imported into Scotland, after the virus had almost been eliminated. We do not want that to happen again.
“In particular we do not want to import new variants of the virus, which could be more resistant to the vaccines that we are currently using.
“And so the strategic framework rightly emphasises the importance of both travel restrictions and test and protect. They will help us to ease restrictions safely.”
Ruth Davidson said the Scottish routemap was more of a “holding document” rather than an exit strategy.
In the hours after the Boris Johnson’s announcement, easyJet said bookings by UK customers for the summer season were more than four times higher compared with the same period during the previous week.
Consumer organisation Which? has issued a warning about booking in anticipation of travel freedom and issued advice for anyone planning ahead. It says the UK government has indicated that international travel is likely to restart with at least some of the current measures the government uses to manage public health in place, including testing and isolation.
So for now, as we don’t know where we can travel and when, Which? has advised against booking holidays abroad.
Even with a flexible booking policy, there remains a risk you could be left out of pocket. That includes the price of tests to travel abroad, the risk of a hotel quarantine and the fact you may need to be vaccinated.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “Holidaymakers who have been waiting for the green light to book some long-awaited travel plans will be very happy with the prospect of international travel resuming this summer. But it’s vital that travellers are advised when booking of the additional costs and risks still involved in planning foreign holidays.
“Some countries may remain closed to UK residents, a scenario for which several of the UK’s largest airlines would refuse a refund for. Travellers will also be liable for the cost of any testing that may be required, which could easily add up to several hundred pounds for a family. But the greatest risk is travelling and finding the country you are in has been added to the red list, meaning hotel quarantine is required on return at a cost of £1,750.
“Our advice remains that anyone considering booking a holiday abroad in the near future should proceed with caution. If you do book, only use providers that offer flexible booking policies, and where appropriate, book a package holiday as these come with stronger consumer protections.”
Which? has issued some advice on travel this year.
Is it safe to book a holiday in the UK?
The UK government has targeted April 12 for the reopening of self-catering accommodation in England. Scotland is yet to release such a detailed roadmap out of lockdown, whilst Wales’ is aiming for Easter to re-open self-catering holiday accommodation.
But even the April 12 date is subject to review, so if you do book it’s essential you do so with a company that allows flexible booking. Travel insurance is unlikely to refund you for cancellations caused by a lockdown if you book while the current lockdown is in place. You can see more on quarantine, testing and how to protect yourself if you book a holiday here.
Will I need a coronavirus vaccine to fly or travel in 2021?
Once more is known about the effect of vaccines on transmission and their efficacy against new variants, the government says it can look to introduce a system to allow those who have been vaccinated to travel more freely internationally.
Qantas and Saga have already said Covid-19 inoculation will be mandatory when flights and holidays restart, with other airlines and destinations likely to follow suit.
Some short-haul European carriers have said they are unlikely to introduce similar measures. Ryanair, easyJet and Aer Lingus will not introduce mandatory vaccinations for passengers, it has been reported, with Aer Lingus instead calling for rapid testing.
But if European countries introduce a requirement to be vaccinated, airlines may be required to check passengers’ right to entry before boarding the plane. This has already happened in 2020 with testing. For some countries, airlines have been required to check if a passenger has taken the required test, before boarding.
For now, testing remains key, as does precautionary measures such as face masks. If the vaccine does stop those who have it spreading coronavirus, it seems likely some countries will ultimately make it mandatory for entry. Similarly, some airlines and cruise companies may only allow passage to those with the vaccine.
Several countries, including Greece are also discussing the idea of a Covid passport for travel. For a period, it’s likely we’ll see a mix of airlines and destinations requiring either testing or vaccine, as the latter becomes more widely available.
Will cruise lines and holiday companies require vaccination?
Saga, the first large holiday company to announce it will require all customers on holidays and cruises to have been vaccinated, took the decision off the back of a customer survey that showed that clients overwhelmingly supported the policy.
Passengers will also need to take a Covid test at the departure terminal. Cruise lines Celebrity and Royal Caribbean said: “Guests must ensure they are medically and physically fit for travel…in many cases inoculations are recommended, but in some circumstances, they are required.”
Will there be vaccine checks at borders?
Some countries already refuse entry to people who can’t prove they’ve been vaccinated for yellow fever, for example, so we could see similar restrictions for people who haven’t had coronavirus jabs.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has already said the jab will be “as mandatory as you can possibly make it” for Australians, so it’s feasible that visitors to Australia will need to prove they’ve been vaccinated in future.
If compulsory vaccinations are introduced at your destination, details should be listed on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) website. It’s not yet known whether producing a negative test result for coronavirus upon arrival will be deemed sufficient for travellers who cannot or will not have a Covid-19 vaccination.
What if I can’t have the vaccine?
If you are unable to be vaccinated against Covid-19, you may want to hold off on booking a holiday for 2021 until the situation is clearer.
Under the Package Travel Regulations, travel companies (including cruise liners) are required by law to tell you about the health and safety requirements at your destination. So they have to inform you if you need to provide proof of COVID-19 inoculation.
But they aren’t required to offer you a refund if you book, and subsequently refuse the vaccine. If there’s a medical reason for doing so and you have evidence of this from your doctor, you may still be allowed into the country.
For yellow fever, for example, GPs can issue a medical exemption form that’s typically accepted. But if you choose not to have the vaccine, whether on medical grounds or for another reason, and decide not to go on the holiday as a result, this is likely to be considered ‘disinclination to travel’, and standard terms and conditions apply if you choose to cancel.
What about travel insurance?
No travel insurance policy covers disinclination to travel, so if vaccines become mandatory at your destination, you won’t be able to claim back the costs of cancelling your holiday if you decide not to go.
Refusing a vaccine could also affect your emergency medical cover. Travel insurance policies sometimes contain exclusions relating to vaccinations. That means if you visit a country without getting the NHS-recommended inoculations, for example, you may not be covered if you end up getting a disease the vaccine would have protected against.
As far as Which was aware, no similar exclusions relating to the coronavirus vaccine have yet been added to travel insurance policies. But it’s something we could see in the coming weeks and months, as many travel insurers do now include cover for catching coronavirus while on holiday.
What about the compulsory Covid-19 testing?
Even if we are able to travel this summer and hotel quarantine has been removed, the cost of tests may be prohibitive for many people. Most countries now require a negative test before departure, and a follow up on arrival.
You’ll need a negative Covid-19 test to return to the UK too, plus tests on day two and eight of quarantine. That’s potentially five tests for each trip, which with PCR private tests costing around £100, may mean £500 is added to the cost of your holiday
Does the hotel quarantine for travellers to UK add risk to holidays?
Yes. The new coronavirus variants that have appeared in South Africa and Brazil mean that both those destinations, as well as Portugal, are on a list of 33 high-risk countries. Anybody travelling from those countries to England and Wales will need to book into a quarantine hotel approved by the government for a 10-day stay.
In Scotland, travellers from all countries will need to use a hotel to quarantine.
The government has warned that anybody who doesn’t comply with new rules on quarantine could face up to 10 years in prison.
It’s unclear how long the hotel quarantine scheme will remain, but it adds substantial risk to holidays this summer.
We know from previous travel restrictions, like the travel corridors in 2020, that government rules can change quickly.
Later this year you may legally be able to travel to a country not on the red-list, only to find it has been added while you are abroad. That will add thousands to the cost of a family holiday.
What should I do if I already have a holiday booked this summer?
If your holiday is before May 17, you should approach your provider for a refund or rebooking. It’s crucial you don’t cancel the holiday, but wait for the provider to do so. If your holidays is on or after May 17, the best advice is to wait and see. It’s possible your holiday may be able to go ahead. The holiday company won’t cancel until the government reports on the resumption (or not) of international travel in mid-April.
If you booked flights and hotels separately then it might be more complicated.
Check whether your airline is allowing fee-free changes for your dates. If you do need to change, make sure you do it in time. Some airlines will only allow you to change between seven or 21 day before departure.