Daily Mail Online: LONDON, England – Spain, Portugal and Greece will throw open their borders to vaccinated Britons from June as ministers rush through their plans to launch covid passports in time for the start of non-essential foreign travel on May 17, it was revealed today.
The European Union‘s ban on visitors is not expected to apply to the UK because of its world-leading jab programme that has seen more than 33million get one dose and 10million of those receive both doses already.
Spanish Tourism Secretary, Fernando Valdés, said today his country is “ready” for UK holidaymakers to travel to Spain and “restart holidays”, adding: “We are desperate to welcome you this summer. We’ve been having constant conversations with UK authorities’.”
The EU’s plans, code named ‘gettogether’ in Brussels, should allow vaccinated travellers to travel freely and avoid tests and quarantine, bringing hope to millions desperate to go abroad on holiday or to see family this summer for the first time in more than a year.
Officials from the EU’s 27 member states held their first meeting this week to discuss the plans but are already said to have decided that vaccination rates will be the key metric when deciding who can visit the bloc.
Insiders say Britain will “certainly” be among the first to be allowed in through the vaccine passport scheme, with June touted as a start date. The country’s case was helped further yesterday when it fell out of the 20 worst-hit countries for excess deaths during the coronavirus pandemic, for the first time.
In tandem with EU countries opening up for all vaccinated British travellers in around six weeks’ time, UK travel industry sources claim they have been told Covid passports are expected to be brought in from next month as Michael Gove was sent to Israel to study their ‘green pass’ app as a potential model.
Greece has already dropped its quarantine rules for travellers from more than 30 nations if they have been vaccinated or tested negative for Covid-19 from May 15 – two days before Brits can travel again. More than 20 other countries, including Spain, Croatia, Turkey, Portugal and Cyprus, have suggested that they may ask arrivals for vaccination proof.
Industry figures were given the update in a call with government officials yesterday, the Daily Telegraph reported.
A government official on the call, between members of the Tourism Industry Emergency Response Group, reportedly said: “We aim to give people the ability to prove their vaccine status by the time international travel restarts where other countries require it. The earliest that will restart is May 17.”
DfT sources have confirmed that they are working “rapidly” to ensure the passports are ready by next month, adding that May 17 is “the absolute earliest it will be”.
A DfT spokesman said: “We are working on a solution to enable residents to prove their Covid-19 status, including vaccination status, to other countries on the outbound leg. We are working on this as a priority and intend to have the solution ready as soon as possible.”
The government is deciding on the best way to distribute the COVID vaccine certificate, which could come in either digital or physical form.
It came as MPs warned the planned restart of international travel on May 17 is in jeopardy because of the Government’s ‘vague and costly’ plans.
Meanwhile Britain on Wednesday fell out of the 20 worst-hit countries for excess deaths during the coronavirus pandemic.
UK residents are currently banned from leaving the country unless for essential reasons but this is expected to change from May 17.
There are fears even when this restriction is removed under the PM’s roadmap sunseekers may still be barred from the Continent.
But hotspots such as Spain, Portugal and Greece could reportedly defy the EU and allow visitors.
Representatives from the 27 member states met on Monday to plan a way out of the travel ban – with the jabs rollout set to play a key part.
A document seen by the Sun said tourists from the UK, Israel and UAE could be allowed in due to their successful vaccination programmes.
The report said scientific evidence and data “support updating the approach for the safe lifting of restrictions on non-essential travel into the EU”.
One EU diplomat told the newspaper: ‘There’s a discussion over whether incidence rate should be the defining factor, or if vaccination rates should also be looked at.
“That would all still be in the framework of the list.”
But other Brussels sources were split over whether the Bloc is shifting towards allowing visitors this summer.
One hinted the vaccine success in some countries has stirred diplomats towards opening borders while another said some members are still ‘very cautious’.
A third said the meeting on Monday was a ‘first discussion’ and a timetable had not been created.
The COVID vaccination pilot scheme will begin after work on an updated NHS COVID app, that will show a person’s coronavirus status.
COVID passports are set to be trialled at sports events under Government plans to ramp up attendances in time for Euro 2020 and the great summer of sport.
Sportsmail understands that officials are working on a “Covid certification” scheme, which will be used in the second phase of test events due to start at the end of May or early June.
It will record whether a person has had a vaccine, the result of an antibody test to prove immunity, or the result of a COVID test to show they do not have the virus.
Sports bodies, including the Football Association and England and Wales Cricket Board, said earlier this month that achieving capacity crowds by the end of June was ‘credible’, if Covid passports were tested and introduced at sporting events.
The inclusion of passports in the second phase of test events raises the exciting prospect of full houses later this summer.
England compete in football at the Euros, take on Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India in the cricket, Silverstone will host a Formula One Grand Prix and not to mention Wimbledon, The Open Golf and Betfred Rugby League Challenge Cup Final.
And passports should secure full stadiums for the beginning of the next Premier League, EFL and rugby seasons, provided the virus remains firmly under control.
Major sporting bodies, including the football, both rugby codes, motorsport, cricket and tennis wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and opposition party leaders on April 8, urging them to urgently agree to testing COVID passports in order to return capacity crowds this summer.
Their letter was titled: “Sports support COVID certification (testing and vaccination) review as a credible option to enable full venues from 21 June onwards.”
A call between government officials and travel industry figures confirmed the plans were in progress.
The Tourism Industry Emergency Response Group held the talks yesterday afternoon, according to the Telegraph.
The newspaper reported an official on the call as saying: “We aim to give people the ability to prove their vaccine status by the time international travel restarts where other countries require it. The earliest that will restart is May 17.”
The comment was backed up by two industry sources and the Department for Transport did not shoot it down.
Britons are expecting to be free to take jaunts abroad from May 17 as lockdown easing continues, but Downing Street is yet to confirm the date.
The government is expected to make their final assessments on opening up further at the start of May.
Ahead of the next stage of the roadmap, MPs argued ministers should debate giving Britons travelling abroad free or reduced COVID tests on the NHS.
They said the planned restart of international travel is in jeopardy with “vague and costly” proposals not enough to reboot the aviation and tourism sectors.
The Transport Select Committee said international trips have had their “wings clipped” by the “cautious” Government Global Travel Taskforce report.
The committee said the report gave “insufficient” detail to allow businesses and travellers to prepare for the safe resumption of international travel as planned on May 17.
It also said that, where detail was provided, the costs could be “disproportionate to the risk” and could add £500 for a family of four travelling to the ‘safest’ parts of the globe where vaccine rollout is comparable to the UK.
The lack of clarity does not offer confidence to industry or consumers to plan, invest or recover from the pandemic and puts the planned restart of international travel at risk, the committee added.
Its chair, Huw Merriman, said the Government had failed to provide the certainty the industry craved.
He added: “The aviation and travel sectors were crying out for a functional report, setting out clear rules and offering certainty. This is not it.
“For UK citizens seeking to travel to the parts of the globe where the vaccine has been delivered as rapidly as the UK, the cost to families from testing could be greater than the cost of the flights.”
In its analysis, published on Thursday, the committee called for the Government to place destination countries into the traffic-light framework by May 1 and announce the details in a statement to Parliament.
Its also recommended explaining the criteria and mechanism by which countries will move between risk categories and offering an “affordable” testing regime by maximising the use of lateral flow tests and providing of “affordable” PCR tests.
The committee said the price of tests was a barrier to restarting international travel and suggested that some of the UK’s enhanced testing capacity could be reallocated for resuming travel.
It also called on the Government to act immediately to reduce queues and waiting times at the UK border.
This includes working with other countries to agree the mutual recognition of travel health certification, deploying more staff, processing passenger locator forms before they arrive in the UK and establishing a system based on an app to process health certification.
Mr Merriman said: “This is a missed opportunity for the Government to capitalise on the UK’s world-leading vaccine dividend.
“How can it be right that hauliers, arriving from parts of the globe where the vaccine rollout is slow, are able to use cheaper lateral flow testing whilst a trip back from Israel requires a PCR test which is four times as expensive.
“This was an opportunity to provide a global lead with standardised rules on international health certification and promoting app-based technology, making the processes at borders more secure and less time consuming.
“The urgent situation facing the aviation and travel sectors warrants a clear action plan to green light our travel – and the Government must urgently set it out.”
Top Feature Photo: SPAIN – Brits desperate for some sun in Europe are set for good news as countries including on the Costa Blanca (pictured) plans to welcome vaccinated travellers from the UK from June