International travel from the UK has been given the nod to resume from 17 May, the government has announced. From this date, travel will commence according to a traffic light system, in which countries are assigned green, amber or red, according to their perceived risk of the spread of Covid.
Green countries will carry the lightest restrictions: no quarantine, but arrivals will need to take one pre-departure and one post-arrival test. Arrivals from red list countries must enter hotel quarantine for 11 nights at their own expense.
The countries will be sorted into colours in early May, although the exact date is unknown.
The same colour designation might not apply to the entire country, however. The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has said that an “islands approach”, similar to 2020, will be adopted this summer.
“I want to do that again,” Mr Shapps told an online ConservativeHome event. “I don’t want to go backwards, I want to go forwards.”
So which holiday islands could be green?
What happened in 2020?
A handful of countries in Europe were given an “travel corridor” in July last summer, which didn’t require quarantine or testing on arrival back into the UK.
In September, the approach was modified to classify islands that had a lower rate of infection than their related countries as ‘green’.
Until mandatory quarantine for all arrivals was brought back, it meant visitors to some Spanish, Portuguese and Greek islands did not need to self-isolate on return to the UK.
Which countries are likely to be on the green list this summer?
While the list won’t be revealed until the start of May, but there are some clear frontrunners.
Gibraltar, where most adults have already been vaccinated, is pretty much a certainty.
Directly across the Strait of Gibraltar, Morocco saw its already low case numbers fall sharply from November 2020 to the end of March 2021.
Israel is the major country with the best vaccine roll-out, and partly because of the success of the programme, case numbers have dwindled sharply since a peak in January. It has announced that vaccinated British tourists will be able to visit from late May.
Travel industry expert Paul Charles believes up to 30 countries will be on the green list. He estimated that the following countries could be designated green right from the off: Israel, Barbados, Morocco, Maldives, Seychelles, Grenada, St Lucia, Antigua and the British Overseas Territories of Bermuda, Turks and Caicos, Falkland Islands and St Helena.
Which islands could be on the green list?
Germany’s Robert Koch Institute, which advises the government in Berlin on risk areas, has adopted a granular approach throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Its latest advice excludes the Balearic islands – principally Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza – from the “risk area” status applied to most of Spain.
Case numbers in the Canary Islands, especially Tenerife and Gran Canaria, are higher than in the Balearics but falling – with Lanzarote and Fuerteventura significantly lower.
The outlying island of El Hierro, visited by very few tourists, has seen a surge in cases over the past month.
The Portugal directorate-general of health indicates that parts of Madeira and the main Azores island, Sao Miguel, currently have high levels of coronavirus. The eight other Azores islands are regarded as low risk.
The latest Covid map produced by the Greek government rates several islands as very high risk, including Chios, Evia, Kos, Lesbos, Poros, Thassos and Zakinthos (Zante).
But warnings for Mykonos and Hydra have been eased to high risk, which applies to much of the rest of Greece.
Last autumn, some of the most popular Greek islands, including Corfu, Crete and Rhodes, were awarded quarantine-free status.
What about other European islands?
The Italian islands of Capri, Procida and Ischia could make the green list, thanks to an Italian government plan to create “Covid-free islands”. Authorities plan to vaccinate all residents on the holiday islands in order to tempt tourists back.
The Italian plan prioritises residents of islands – including Sicily, Capri and Elba in Tuscany – to get vaccinated in order to help boost tourism.
The mayor of Capri, Marion Lembo, is also hoping that this could enable a “Covid-free island this summer”.
And how about the Caribbean?
Mr Charles believes that a handful of Caribbean islands could make the green list, including holiday favourites Barbados, Antigua and St Lucia.
Many Caribbean islands have very low levels of infection, thanks to rigorous testing and quarantine requirements.
And even further afield?
The Seychelles had a well-publicised reopening to tourists, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, in mid-March.
Micronesia, in the South Pacific, has recorded just one Covid case, and no deaths, while neighbouring Tahiti has announced it will reopen to tourists from 1 May. The island nation has fewer than 20 Covid cases a week.
The Maldives also have a good shot of being on the green list, travel consultant Paul Charles has previously said.
The country reopened its borders in July 2020 and does not require tourists to quarantine – merely to submit a negative Covid PCR test result issued no more than 96 hours prior to departure. It has also announced plans to offer tourists the opportunity to get vaccinated on arrival as part of its drive to lure back holidaymakers.