People in England can start thinking about booking foreign holidays again this summer, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said.
But he said the cost of the Covid tests required needed to be driven down, amid criticism from the travel industry.
Mr Shapps has also given more detail on the traffic light system which will see countries graded on their risk.
Passengers will have to take the tests before leaving and on returning – even from low-risk “green” countries.
There will be a watch list for countries that could go from green to amber.
Announcing the findings of the Global Travel Taskforce set up by the government to examine how leisure travel could be reopened safely after lockdown, Mr Shapps said foreign holidays would resume on 17 May at the earliest.
He said for the first time in months he was not advising against booking foreign trips.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is the first time I’m able to come on and say I’m not advising against booking foreign holidays.
“Yes, you’ll want to check what the situation is in two or three weeks’ time when that list – the green, amber, red, is produced – you’ll want to know that you’ve got good holiday insurance and flexible flights and the rest of it.
“But for the first time I think there is light at the end of the tunnel and we’ll be able to restart international travel, including cruises by the way, in a safe and secure way, knowing about the vaccinations, everything we know about the disease this year, and of course that abundance of caution – having the tests in place.”
The traffic light system will grade foreign destinations as being:
Green: Passengers will not need to quarantine on return, but must take a pre-departure test, as well as a PCR test on return to the UK
Amber: Travellers will need to quarantine for 10 days, as well as taking a pre-departure test and two PCR tests
Red: Passengers will have to pay for a 10-day stay in a managed quarantine hotel, as well as a pre-departure test and two PCR tests
Mr Shapps told BBC Breakfast the use of PCR tests – those needing to be sent to a lab – enabled scientists to detect potential variants of concern.
But he said he was “concerned” about the cost of the tests, adding that the government was committed to driving down the price of these by working with the private sector.
The transport secretary said the government was also looking at the possibility of allowing people to take cheaper lateral flow tests before travelling.
The government has not yet said which countries will be green, amber or red – but said it would do so by early May.
Mr Shapps said countries would be categorised based on level of infections and vaccinations, variants of concern and the quality of their genetic sequencing.
He said this list would be kept under constant review and that he was hopeful European countries would be upgraded as their vaccination rates improve.
Nearly 40 countries are currently on the UK government’s current red list of countries from which travel is banned, except for British and Irish nationals and those with residence rights in the UK.
The rules will be reviewed at the end of June to see whether any measures can be rolled back, the government said.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the government had not outlined the traffic light system in detail and criticised the release of the plans while the House of Commons was not sitting.
He told BBC Breakfast: “The government has spoken about factors like vaccination rates, infection rates, the position with variants and also about the level of genomic sequencing. But I’ve no idea what the levels of each of those are for the government to place countries into, whether it’s the green category, amber or red.”
The first ministers of Scotland and Wales have both already argued that 17 May will be too early for foreign holidays to resume.
Northern Ireland has not yet announced its plans, but its chief medical officer has said it would be “premature” to book a foreign summer trip.
At the moment, almost anyone seeking to travel to England must first take a coronavirus testbefore departure and then two tests when they arrive, bought through a private provider. Children under 11 are exempt.
However, the government said it would work with airlines, travel firms and the test providers to see whether prices can be reduced. That could involve cheaper tests, or the government providing the pre-departure tests.
Today’s report is not the grand reopening many in the travel industry wanted.
There is real worry, particularly among lower cost carriers, that around £100 per person for a test will dissuade travellers from booking, with many paying more for it than for their flights.
But there are suggestions that the government has tried to address some of the concerns too.
The introduction of a green watch list, to flag any countries potentially about to move from green to amber, is an attempt to avoid some of last year’s confusion, as people rushed back to the UK before countries required quarantine.
Nothing is guaranteed yet, but the government now says it will confirm whether or not international travel will restart on 17 May early next month.
How early is the next question.
What is the travel industry saying?
The government’s plans have been met with mixed reaction from the travel industry.
Heathrow Airport chief executive officer John Holland-Kaye expressed concern about the requirement for PCR testing, adding “we need to make sure that travel is something anyone can do and is not just something for the wealthy”
Industry body Airlines UK said that the proposed framework “does not represent a reopening of travel as promised by ministers”
Mark Tanzer, boss of travel trade organisation Abta, said permitting the use of lateral flow tests would “make international travel more accessible and affordable”
Jet2.com has extended the suspension of its flights and holidays up to 23 June following the government’s announcement
Thursday’s daily government figures showed a further 53 people had died with coronavirus within 28 days of a positive test, while another 3,030 confirmed cases were reported.
DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ryanair on Wednesday said it expected to post a smaller than expected loss in the year to the end of March and said the Irish airline expected to be “close to breakeven” in its current financial year.
Europe’s largest low-cost carrier said it expected a net loss of between 800 million euros and 850 million euros ($949 million-$1.01 billion) in the year to March 31 compared to previous guidance of 850 million to 950 million.
It said it expected traffic for the 12 months to the end of March 2022 to be towards the lower end of its previously guided range of 80 million to 120 million passengers, due to the slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the European Union.
Ryanair is due to publish its annual results on May 17.
The boss of EasyJet has said testing requirements under a proposed “traffic light” system for international travel would be too expensive.
Under the system, no isolation would be necessary on return to the UK from so-called “green” countries.
But pre-departure and post-arrival tests would be required, potentially costing up to £200 each.
Johan Lundgren said: “You wouldn’t open up international travel for everyone, but only those who can afford it.”
Mr Lundgren told the BBC’s Today programme that the cost of getting the tests would exceed a typical EasyJet fare.
On Sunday, plans for a risk-based system to restart foreign travel were outlined, in which countries would be classified as “green”, “amber” or “red” based on their infection rates and vaccination coverage.
However, while the prime minister said he was “hopeful” that non-essential foreign travel could begin again on 17 May, he added that more data was needed before a firm decision could be taken.
Mr Lundgren said: “If you are ticking all of those boxes to become a green destination… [Multiple tests] don’t make sense to me and it would add to cost and complexities.”
He said that the testing requirement for those countries was “concerning”, but added that he still expected holidays in the summer months of July and August would be able to go ahead.
Scientists and ministers recently warned that holidays to destinations such as France, where Covid cases are rising, are “unlikely”. But Mr Lundgren said: “There’s a huge amount of pressure building up now in these countries to get going and make sure they can follow the example of the UK in its vaccine rollout.”
The Business Travel Association said the announcement was “beyond disappointing” and called for “a clear pathway to international travel and trade”.
Its chief executive, Clive Wratten, said moves to open borders had “once again been kicked down the road”.
“The business travel industry continues to be crippled by today’s lack of movement,” he added.
The boss of travel firm Thomas Cook, Alan French, also told the BBC’s Wake Up to Money that a lack of clarity around what type of tests might be required for passengers and when they would need to be taken was a let-down.
He said that overall, there were “glimmers of good news”, in that the earliest date for travel resuming on 17 May was not pushed back. “But actually, the details were missing and that was disappointing,” he said.
On Monday, Mr Johnson said he did not want to see coronavirus re-imported from abroad and urged people to wait for a report from the Global Travel Taskforce on 12 April.
But Gemma Antrobus, owner of independent travel company Haslemere Travel, warned that business owners like herself faced a difficult path.
“Disappointed is putting it mildly. Where we hoped confidence would start to pick up, and more people would be interested in booking holidays… that just won’t come this week.”
She added that some customers had now moved bookings for holidays five times now amid changing restrictions.
“Every week we don’t have that confidence from consumers, business owners like myself just wonder what lies ahead.”
LONDON (Reuters) – The chief executive of British Airways said he is optimistic that international travel can resume from May 17 despite Britain warning on Monday that it was too soon to say whether holidays could restart.
“We are optimistic that travel can resume on the 17th of May, and the British public should not lose hope, and we remain optimistic that this will happen,” BA CEO Sean Doyle told an online briefing.
PARIS (Reuters) – Industrial partners including Airbus and Dassault Aviation have reached a tentative deal on the European FCAS fighter project after weeks of deadlock over workshare and other topics, a person close to the matter said on Friday.
The agreement, first reported by La Tribune, paves the way for talks to resume at a political level among the project’s three government backers, France, Germany and Spain, the source said.
Airbus and Dassault both declined to comment.
The Future Combat Air System (FCAS) is designed to replace the German-Spanish Eurofighter and Dassault’s Rafale with a combination of manned and unmanned aircraft from 2040.
First floated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in 2017, the programme has been dogged by political differences as well as corporate disagreements.
It is also up against the rival BAE Systems-led Tempest fighter project involving Britain, Sweden and Italy.
A joint proposal from European defence group Airbus and Dassault still faces outstanding issues, including intellectual property matters, Dassault Chief Executive Eric Trappier said last month.
Dassault had accepted that Airbus will receive a larger overall share of FCAS work but remained ready to pursue a “Plan B” alternative if the talks failed, Trappier also said.
The industrial partners in the aircraft programme are Airbus on behalf of Germany, France’s Dassault and Indra of Spain.
Separate negotiations have been taking place with engine suppliers Safran of France, MTU Aero in Germany and ITP, a Spanish subsidiary of Rolls Royce.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – American Airlines said on Thursday that it strongly opposes legislation passed by the Texas state Senate to limit voting access.
“We must stand up for the rights of our team members and customers who call Texas home, and honor the sacrifices made by generations of Americans to protect and expand the right to vote,” the Texas-based airline said in a statement.
The legislation, which the state Senate passed early on Thursday and is now set to come before the state House of Representatives, would eliminate drive-through voting, limit polling site hours and give partisan poll watchers more autonomy.