British holidaymakers will have to pay hundreds of pounds for Covid tests if they want to take a trip abroad this summer under plans announced by the Government on Friday.
Travellers who want to visit countries on the safe “green list” will still be expected to pay for gold standard PCR tests on their return to the UK at around £120 each – an extra cost of almost £500 for a family of four.
People who have been fully vaccinated will still be required to take the PCR tests on or before the second day of their arrival back in the UK because of Government concerns that “green list” countries could still harbour new Covid variants.
Holidaymakers arriving from those countries will not have to spend any time in quarantine under the new traffic light system, which is expected to replace the current ban on foreign travel from May 17.
Ministers say the plan will halve the cost for travellers from “green list” countries by removing the requirement for a second PCR test in the UK. They also plan to provide people with free lateral flow tests to take on holiday to use when they have to carry out pre-departure tests within 72 hours of their return flight.
They will attempt to head off criticism by promising a review of the scheme on June 28 that could ease restrictions and reduce the tests in time for the peak summer holiday season in July and August.
Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said: “The framework will help allow us to reopen travel safely and sustainably, ensure we protect our hard-won achievements on the vaccine rollout and offer peace of mind to both passengers and industry as we begin to take trips abroad once again.”
However, on Thursday night they faced a backlash over the costs of tests from the travel industry and Tory MPs, who warned that they would still be prohibitively expensive for many families and mean only the wealthier could go on holiday.
Henry Smith, the Tory chairman of the all-party Future of Aviation Group, which represents more than 100 MPs and peers, said: “I remain concerned that this is unduly burdensome and costly for the average passenger.
“It won’t provide confidence for travellers to book up holidays from May 17. I think this will seriously impinge upon an aviation and travel revival, certainly for this spring and probably into summer.”
Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of Airlines UK, said: “This does not represent a reopening of travel as promised by ministers, and the insistence on expensive and unnecessary PCR testing rather than rapid testing – even for low-risk countries – will pose an unsustainable burden on passengers, making travel unviable and unaffordable for many people.
“It is also a further setback for an industry on its knees and the UK’s wider economic recovery, with many businesses and exporters reliant upon our domestic and international connectivity and a thriving aviation sector.”
The announcement came as it emerged that a Government-approved Covid testing laboratory has left hundreds of travellers in the lurch after becoming “overwhelmed” with orders.
The company, 001Doctor.uk, was at the top of a government list of firms offering compulsory home testing kits for all international arrivals into the UK, but many of the kits have failed to be delivered.
The Government aims to introduce the new traffic light system from May 17. Countries will be categorised according to risk based on their vaccination rates, the prevalence of Covid and its variants and their capability to sequence the genome of the virus.
Only holidaymakers and travellers coming from “green list” countries will be exempt from quarantine, with those from amber countries required to self-isolate at home for 10 days, with tests they pay for on days two and eight. They can be released if they take a test with a negative result on day five.
Hotel quarantine will be required for “red list” countries at a cost of up to £1,750 per person, with tests on days two and eight included in the price. Every traveller coming into the UK will be required to have a further negative test within 72 hours before their departure to Britain.
Ministers are only likely to announce which countries are on the “green list” in the first week of May, when they also decide whether to go ahead with the new traffic light system.
Officials have played down the prospect of more than a handful of countries with high vaccination rates and low prevalence of Covid – potentially in single figures – being included in the first wave of “green list” destinations.
Earlier this week, Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, hinted that they could include Israel, the US and Bahrain, which – like Gibraltar, Malta and some British territories – have led the way on vaccinations.
Ministers are also proposing a new “early warning” system for holidaymakers to avoid a repeat of the chaos during last summer’s “travel corridors”, when countries such as Spain were added to the banned list with only hours’ notice. They intend to create a green watch list, where safe countries at risk of being moved to amber are flagged to holidaymakers so they can avoid them or take account of a potential change in their travel plans.
A government source said: “The ‘green list’ is going to be so secure that I would hope there would not be movements between categories so that the watch list is not needed that much.”
The source said there would a review of the three lists on June 28 to determine “whether the measures and mitigations on each list will need to stay and whether travel could be made easier for passengers and the industry”.
“Before international travel resumes in full we are going to work with the travel industry and private testing providers to see how we can further reduce the cost of travel,” the source added.
The Government is also in talks with other countries to establish a potential vaccine certification system that could enable travellers to sidestep tests and quarantine if they are fully inoculated.