Sage expert says summer hols in France and Italy will pose ‘no risk’

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Sun-starved Britons may yet be able to head to the continent on holiday this summer, a top scientist said today as Europe continued its charm offence towards UK holidaymakers.

Sage’s Professor Neil Ferguson said that if countries like France and Italy can reduce their infection rates to those seen in the UK within months – as suggested by the EU – they would present ‘no risk’.

His comments came after the European Union revealed plans for dropping its blanket entry ban for non-EU countries with strong vaccine campaigns and low infection rates such as the UK.

A senior EU official singled out Britain’s jabs rollout for praise and confirmed the aim is to drop the ban on Britons visiting for leisure travel from June. 

The move dovetails with Britain’s own plans for green-lighting foreign holidays from May 17, with travellers able to visit a ‘green list’ of countries without having to quarantine when they return. However it is almost certain that many European destinations will be off-limits to start with.

Portugal became the latest country to woo British holidaymakers back to its golden beaches and sun-kissed resorts today, with secretary of state for tourism, Rita Marques, telling the BBC ‘we are ready to welcome you when you are ready to come’.

Prof Ferguson, from Imperial College London, whose modelling work informs Government scientists, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think if for instance, by the summer, infection levels in France and Italy are the same sort of level as they are here, then there’s no risk associated with travelling overseas.

‘The risk comes from going from a place like the UK with very low infection levels and going to a place with much higher infection levels and therefore having the risk of bringing infection back.

‘If the two places are at comparable levels, and that’s what the EU is saying, then there is no particular risks associated with travel.’ 

The government’s ‘green list’ of countries to which people can travel without having to isolate for 14 days on their return is expected to be released this week, although it is understood details are still being finalised.

Boris Johnson last night confirmed ‘some openings up’ of international travel would get under way from May 17.  But he warned that it would be ‘sensible’ to avoid importing fresh waves of coronavirus.

For the first time, the Prime Minister confirmed ‘some openings up’ of international travel would get under way from May 17. A formal announcement will be made later this week

For the first time, the Prime Minister confirmed ‘some openings up’ of international travel would get under way from May 17. A formal announcement will be made later this week

Pictured: Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain, on May 1, 2021

People sit in on a cafe terrace, in the Monastiraki district of Athens, with the Acropolis hill in the background, Monday, May 3, 2021


Travellers could avoid Covid tests on return from ‘green list’ countries to save them hundreds of pounds under new plan being considered by ministers 

Holidaymakers would avoid Covid tests when returning to Britain from ‘green list’ countries under plans being considered by ministers.

Although they would still need to take a test before flying home, they could be allowed to skip having a second one two days after they arrive. 

The move would help make holidays more affordable for families this summer. 

Gold-standard PCR Covid tests can cost as much as £200 per person.

This week the Government will give the go-ahead to restarting holidays from May 17. Countries will be rated red, amber or green according to their Covid risk.

Travellers returning from low-risk green countries will not have to quarantine when they get back. 

But they will have to pay for and take two Covid tests – one up to three days before flying home and another within two days of arrival back in the UK.

Now, however, ministers are considering dropping the second test requirement when a review into the policy takes place on June 28. 

It is unclear if this would apply only to fully vaccinated people or whether it could be extended to unvaccinated Britons.

Officials are also said to be mulling scrapping the ten-day home quarantine requirement for arrivals from amber countries. 

But this would apply only to vaccinated people.

Reports suggested the list could include about a dozen countries, although some newspapers suggested it could be fewer than 10.

One government source told The Times people should be patient before the ‘big bang for summer holidays’ at the start of next month. 

‘June will look a lot more like normal, many of the traditional holiday destinations will be on the list by then,’ the source said.

Senior government sources told The Guardian that the number of destinations that Britons would be able to travel to without the need to quarantine could be in single digits.

One source said that many countries on the list are not likely to be major holiday destinations.

Both The Times and The Guardian said destinations likely to make it onto the list for travel from May 17 include Portugal, Malta and Gibraltar, while the Telegraph said Spain, Greece and France could be added by the end of June.

Ms Marques said Portugal was ‘taking the lead’ at the European Council in negotiations aimed at opening up the European Union to UK holidaymakers.

She told BBC Breakfast: ‘We are really pushing hard to open up to third countries like the UK.

‘I’m not going to tell you how important is the British market to Portugal. I just want to tell you that the British market is really important to all Europe, and in that sense we are ready to welcome you when you are ready to come.’

She added: ‘The rules will be pretty much the same all over Europe.

‘The Portuguese government is expecting what other governments are expecting, so basically you need to prove that you have a vaccine, or that you have an immunisation – so that you are immune to the virus since you have been in contact with it before – or that you have a negative test.

‘That’s pretty much the rules. The rules will be quite simple. At our end, we are working to have an agile process, as simple as possible, in order to provide a seamless experience to everyone that would like to travel to Portugal.’

But International Trade Secretary Liz Truss urged people to wait for an announcement from the UK’s travel taskforce, telling Sky News: ‘I would encourage people to wait until we make that announcement so that we can see exactly what the details are, based on the data, because what we don’t want to be doing is reimporting this virus after we’ve done such an excellent job in getting the levels down in the UK… we need to be cautious and we need to make sure that we’re not simply importing the virus after we’ve successfully dealt with it in Britain.’ 

It comes as Boris Johnson said the approach to foreign travel this summer will be sensible to avoid ‘an influx of disease’.

The Prime Minister said there will be ‘some opening up’ on May 17, the next milestone in the Government’s road map for restrictions to lift, but that things must be done in a way ‘to make sure that we don’t see the virus coming back in’ to the UK. 

However, Mr Johnson yesterday warned that ministers would be ‘cautious’, with only a handful of countries – set to be fewer than ten – likely to be eligible for quarantine-free travel initially.

Most of Europe is not expected to make it on to the green list until at least June, after three-weekly reviews have got under way. One source said would-be holidaymakers will be ‘disappointed when they see the size’ of the list, but stressed that many more destinations could be added by the height of summer.

But the news is still much improved from a few weeks ago, when the resumption of holidays appeared in doubt and much of Europe appeared to be in the grip of a third wave.

It came as industry chiefs wrote an open letter to the PM calling on him to open up a ‘travel corridor’ with the US in time for summer.

The letter was signed by Airlines UK, Heathrow and Gatwick airports and the World Travel and Tourism Council.

It said that reopening the border was ‘essential for both countries’ economic recovery’ and air travel was ‘a critical enabler of trade’.

Mr Johnson finally confirmed the holidays news during a campaign visit to Hartlepool for the forthcoming by-election there.

Asked if people should be planning breaks abroad, he said: ‘I think that there will be some openings up on [May] 17, but we have got to be cautious and we have got to be sensible and we have got to make sure that we don’t see the virus coming back in.

‘We do want to do some opening up on May 17 but I don’t think that the people of this country want to see an influx of disease from anywhere else.

‘I certainly don’t and we have got to be very, very tough, and we have got to be as cautious as we can, whilst we continue to open up.’

The EU aims to make quarantine-free and even testing-free holidays to hotspots such as Portugal, Spain and Greece possible again from early to mid-summer.

The bloc said it was happy to do this because the latest scientific evidence showed people being vaccinated does ‘actually break, or help break, transmission’.

Under plans unveiled by the European Commission, vaccinated Britons will be able to visit holiday hotspots without needing any tests or going into quarantine. 

Unvaccinated visitors will need to show proof of a negative test on arrival.

Striking an upbeat tone, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen tweeted: ‘Time to revive [Europe’s] tourism industry and for cross-border friendships to rekindle – safely. We propose to welcome again vaccinated visitors and those from countries with a good health situation.’

In a further boost, a Commission official said: ‘The figures for the UK are good. Definitely those vaccinated in the UK will be eligible to travel to the EU.’

But it sparked a row with the travel industry, which accused UK ministers of being overly cautious.

They pointed out vaccinated Britons will still have to undergo at least two tests even when returning from low-risk green countries, despite the number of fully inoculated adults here being twice the current European average.

Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK, which represents major carriers, said: ‘The EU should be congratulated for recognising that the success of the vaccine rollout – coupled with sensible vigilance around variants – is a game-changer.

‘It is frustrating that the UK has not gone down the same road.’

But Alan French, boss of online travel agent Thomas Cook, told Radio 4’s Today show: ‘We are expecting Portugal, Spain, Greece, Croatia and so on to be open. It would be nice if Turkey were open.

‘When we look at what’s going on in those countries, both in terms of infection rates and how they’re preparing for holidaymakers, I think there’s great progress being made.’

It will also pile pressure on ministers to ensure that so-called ‘vaccine passports’ are ready in time for summer. However, one Government insider yesterday said they ‘probably’ won’t be available until after the May 17 restart date.

The European Commission said it is proposing ‘to allow entry to the EU for nonessential reasons not only for all persons coming from countries with a good epidemiological situation, but also all people who have received the last recommended dose of an EU-authorised vaccine’.

It was not said which countries would be on its list, but one unnamed EU official said the UK remains a ‘question mark’.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, meanwhile, expressed certainty over a ‘great British summer’ ahead as he confirmed that a total of 50 million Covid-19 jabs have been given out across the UK.

The Government said one further person had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday, bringing the UK total to 127,539.

However, there is always a lag in reporting deaths – greater at weekends and bank holidays – and the latest figures do not mean that only one death has occurred in the past 24 hours.

The Government also said that, as of 9am on Monday, there had been a further 1,649 lab-confirmed cases in the UK.

Some people believe the success of the vaccination roll out and the much lower death figures mean UK restrictions should end sooner, with Robert Syms, the Tory MP for Poole, telling the Daily Mail: ‘We need to push the Government to get on with it.’

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