Families are set to get the go-ahead to take summer holidays in some popular European hotspots before the end of the month, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
The Government is expected to announce as early as this week the first countries that Britons can visit without having to quarantine – but the list is only believed to include a handful of destinations.
Sources say the so-called 'green list' will be updated every three weeks, raising the prospect that new countries – including popular destinations in Europe – will be announced before the end of this month. For much of the country, the half-term break starts on May 31.
Under the traffic-light system for foreign travel, those returning from green countries will not need to quarantine but will have to take two Covid tests – one before they return to the UK, which can be either a lateral flow or PCR test, and a PCR test on the second day after they arrive back.
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Families are set to get the go-ahead to take summer holidays in some popular European hotspots before the end of the month, The Mail on Sunday can reveal (Gibraltar pictured)
Sources say the so-called 'green list' will be updated every three weeks, raising the prospect that new countries – including popular destinations in Europe
Those who return from countries designated as either amber or red will still have to quarantine, either at home or in a hotel, and have three compulsory tests. Government officials are debating whether to stick to previous policy plans of having all children under 11 exempt from having to take the tests.
The majority of European countries are expected to be given amber status this week, but there is optimism that some will turn green when the list is next updated.
The ban on overseas holidays will end on May 17, along with the threat of fines for attempting to travel without a permitted reason.
Ahead of the cautious return to international travel, the Government will shortly unveil a new slogan 'Travel Safely, Plan Ahead'. It will replace the current 'Minimise Travel' guidance.
An announcement by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps of which countries have been given which colour is thought to have been pencilled in for Friday, although it could slip to early next week. Ahead of it, the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC), which provides evidence-based analysis to the Government, will assess the latest data from around the world.
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The system is based on four main criteria – the percentage of the population that has been vaccinated, the Covid infection rate, any emerging coronavirus variants and the strength of a country's genomic sequencing that would allow variants to be detected.
It is understood the JBC assessment means only a small number of countries will make the first 'green' list. These are thought to include Malta, Gibraltar and Israel.
Any tests required for travel for green, amber and red countries will have to be paid for privately. Costs, however, have been falling, with some firms charging just £45 per test.
Many countries require tests to be completed before leaving the UK, but Greece recently became the first major European country to announce that vaccinated Britons will not require any to enter. Spain, Portugal and France have also indicated they will follow suit.
Ministers are said to be confident about progressing to the next stage of the roadmap, which earmarks May 17 as the earliest date when international travel could resume.
They hope to move to a traffic light system with countries listed as either green, amber or red.
People travelling to 'green' countries will not need to quarantine on their return unless they test positive for coronavirus, while arrivals from 'amber' countries will need to quarantine for 10 days.
Travellers from 'red list' countries will be required to quarantine at a hotel at their own expense. Most European countries are expected to be on the 'amber list' when the categories are confirmed in the coming days.
Foreign holidays look set to resume this month as the Government prepares to reveal the 'green list' next week. Ministers are poised to decide next week that foreign holidays can resume from May 17, the next stage at which restrictions ease
Countries thought to be heading towards the 'green list' from May 17 include Portugal, Malta and Morocco.
Industry experts also predict Israel, Jamaica, Barbados, Gibraltar and Grenada may be immediately open to holidaymakers after taking into account vaccine rates, infection rates, evidence of variants and data quality.
They added that Iceland, Finland and the Cayman Islands could be among a 24-strong list of 'green' countries. It has been suggested this low-risk list could also include the US.
However, some nations will reportedly stay 'amber' due to growing fears over India's Covid-19 crisis.
Paul Charles, of the PC Agency, said: 'We are concerned by possible #India-related infection increases in #Seychelles #SriLanka and #Maldives so these won’t be green on May 17.'
A Downing Street insider told the Daily Telegraph that ministers believe they can 'keep tight controls in place at the border while taking a significant step forward on international travel.'
However, it is expected that the system may be reviewed at the end of June ahead of the busiest period for holidays. By this time, it is hoped vaccinated Britons may be able to avoid quarantine entirely.
Those returning from 'green list' countries from May 17 may also be fast-tracked through passport control under plans proposed to combat queues at airports, the Times reported.
Ministers are poised to decide next week that foreign holidays can resume from May 17, the next stage at which restrictions ease. Pictured: Paynes Bay, Barbados
Government sources yesterday stressed that no final decisions have been made on which countries will make the 'green list', though industry experts have predicted that the majority of European countries will remain 'amber.' Pictured: Malta, which is predicted to be 'green'
The Home Office is reportedly planning to re-open automated e-passport gates for those entering the UK from the lowest-risk nations. This is in a bid to prevent lengthy wait times, with Heathrow bosses warning passengers could be delayed for up to six hours.
Some airports have already created separate lines for 'red list' passengers, who need to quarantine in a hotel, but this could develop further into 'green' and 'amber' lines when international travel reopens to Britons.
It comes as the UK's hugely-successful vaccine drive - coupled with social distancing rules - has meant just one in 1,000 people in England now have Covid, and the R rate is still below 1.