Fully-vaccinated travellers coming from the United States and the European Union will be exempt from having to quarantine on arrival in England, ministers have announced.
The policy change was agreed at a top-level ministerial Covid meeting on Wednesday afternoon, and will apply from 4am on Monday 2 August 2021.
Boris Johnson reportedly pushed for the change because he is concerned that the EU is enabling international travel faster than the UK, and that Britain is “squandering its vaccine bonus”.
But Labour accused the government of recklessness and potentially letting new Covid variants into the UK.
Under existing rules, people who have been fully vaccinated in the UK do not need to isolate when travelling back from amber list countries – with the exception of France.
But this exemption for vaccinated people does not apply to people who have been jabbed abroad under other countries’ programmes. As a result, people arriving in the UK have to quarantine on arrival.
This has limited the appeal of international tourism to the UK, but also impacted British nationals living abroad who want to visit their families back in their home country.
The decision by ministers on Wednesday applies only to England, with the other devolved nations of the UK able to make their own decisions on the matter.
In a statement released following the meeting, transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “We’ve taken great strides on our journey to reopen international travel and today is another important step forward. Whether you are a family reuniting for the first time since the start of the pandemic or a business benefiting from increased trade – this is progress we can all enjoy.
“We will of course continue to be guided by the latest scientific data but thanks to our world-leading domestic vaccination programme, we’re able to look to the future and start to rebuild key transatlantic routes with the US while further cementing ties with our European neighbours.”
Health secretary Sajid Javid added that the governmnet was “taking another step on the road to normality which will reunite friends and families and give UK businesses a boost”.
But Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said the plan was “reckless”, and said it could end up with new variants arriving in the UK.
“At the moment, everybody wants to go on holiday and get back to normal as quickly as possible, but this is reckless,” she told Sky News,
“We know that the Delta variant came into this country and delayed the lifting of some of the restrictions and caused infections here. We need to make sure that we’ve got proper data-driven analysis, and that we look at an international passport for vaccines.
“And we also know that people who have had the vaccine, of course, can still get the virus, so a testing regime is very important and crucial as well.”
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The Department for Transport said in a statement that passengers would have to be jabbed with vaccines autorised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) or Swiss vaccination programme, or in the USA with vaccines authorised by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Visitors will still need to take a pre-departure test before arriving in England, as well as a PCR test or or before day two after arrival.
On top of the UK travel restrictions, each country has its own set of rules on people arriving from abroad, with some requiring stringent quarantine rules for UK arrivals – often on the basis of Britain being a hotspot for new variants.
Transport Secretary Mr Shapps said he expected other countries to become more relaxed about allowing people from the UK to visit “in time”.
Asked by broadcasters whether he was confident the US and Europe would reciprocate in allowing fully vaccinated travellers to come to England without needing to quarantine, Mr Shapps said: “It will depend. We can only set the rules at our end, and that has always been the case. People should always check the rules on the other side.
“I’ve just spoken to my US counterpart today and in the US they still have an executive order which prevents travel from the UK, from Europe, from several other countries to the US.
“So we’re saying, ‘You can come here, you can come visit, you can come see friends, you can come as a tourist if you’ve been double vaccinated and follow the rules without quarantine’.
“We can’t change that on the other side but we do expect that in time they will release that executive order, which was actually signed by the previous president, and bans inward travel.”