England is poised to reopen its borders as soon as next week by allowing fully vaccinated travellers from the EU and US to enter without quarantining.
Ministers are expected to approve the plans today after Boris Johnson is said to have become concerned that the EU is ahead of Britain in enabling international travel.
He is said to believe that Britain risks “squandering its vaccine bonus”, a reference to the advanced state of the domestic coronavirus jabs programme.
Research from the World Travel and Tourism Council suggests the economy is losing £639 million a day because of the squeeze on inbound tourism.
Countries beyond the EU and US could be allowed quarantine-free inbound travel at a later date.
Since July 19, fully vaccinated UK residents have been allowed travel to and from countries on the government’s amber list without quarantining on their return. However, the right was denied to those who were inoculated outside the UK.
Under the new plans, the government will recognise vaccine credentials issued specifically in the EU and US. This includes the EU’s digital Covid-19 certificate. It will initially apply only on entry to England but the devolved administrations are likely to follow. Under the change, airlines will be expected to verify vaccine status at check-in before passengers board UK-bound flights to prevent a bottleneck at passport control.
Ministers believe it will help Britain to strike more deals with foreign countries to enable quarantine-free travel. They are understood to be aiming to introduce the policy as early as next week, although it could take longer.
The government is also poised to add ten countries to the green list next week, allowing quarantine-free travel regardless of vaccination status.
Countries that could be added include Italy, Germany and Canada. France is likely to be moved from the amber plus list, which requires all holidaymakers to quarantine on their return to the UK, to the amber list.
Some cabinet ministers are understood to be uneasy about allowing Americans to enter the UK with only a card as proof of their vaccination status. The US does not have a single, federal digital vaccine passport scheme and there are concerns the cards could be easily forged.
However, Johnson is said to want to make a generous offer to the US. “He’s concerned that we’re lagging behind the EU,” one source said.
The timing of the relaxation of border restrictions has yet to be confirmed, but ministers have told industry chiefs that they want to scrap quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated EU travellers by early August.
An industry source said: “It was described as a way of endearing us to EU capitals in the hope they will relax restrictions for the British in time for the key holiday period of August. They’re more likely to let in Britons in return.”
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have already conducted a ten-day trial in which the vaccination status of up to 250 travellers was checked before flights into Heathrow from the US, Greece and Jamaica. The airlines said certificates could be “authenticated in minutes”.
Last night a senior minister said the pandemic was “all over bar the shouting, but no one has noticed”. Asked whether Britain was at the point of herd immunity, the minister told the Daily Mail: “We are there. It’s just a fact, as around 90 per cent of adults have had a first dose of a vaccine. We are there.”