Britain is to open up to visitors from more countries in a huge boost to the battered tourism industry in London and other regions, Dominic Raab signalled on Thursday.
The Foreign Secretary stressed the “whole tide, whether its domestic restrictions, international, is going in the right direction of opening up”.
He told how he had been contacted by other foreign ministers on Wednesday night after the Government announced that double-jabbed visitors from the EU and US would be allowed into the UK from Monday without having to quarantine.
Mr Raab told Sky News: “Personally, it feels like the momentum forward is positive because the double vaccination reaching 70 per cent of the adult population in this country.
“We have done the job we had to do domestically, and as we see other countries catch up, if you like, I think we are increasingly confident that more countries will go either on amber or onto green.”
Mr Raab stressed Britain was likely to strike travel agreements with other countries where there was a “high trust” in their vaccination systems.
He also defended the decision to open up visits from the US and European Union despite warnings of some public health risks.
“We keep an eye on the variants, but because of the 70 per cent double vaccination of our population and because we are insisting only people from the US, the EU and perhaps in due course, as we build up confidence in the system other countries, we proceed on that basis,” he said.
“Because it is people who are double vaccinated we believe we have got the right level of security and assurance against people who might be at risk of a variant coming in from abroad.”
The Cabinet minister defended the decision not to bring forward the August 16 date when the double-vaccinated in England will no longer have to self-isolate when “pinged” by the NHS App, instead having to do tests, possibly only if they have symptoms.
“The whole tide, whether its domestic restrictions, international, is going in the right direction of opening up,” he explained.
”But we do need to just be careful, make sure we do it at the right time.”
Senior officials reportedly warned Cabinet ministers on Wednesday of the risks of opening up the UK to visitors from the EU and America, including over possible concerns about some vaccines, such as the Chinese Sinopharm jab used in Hungary, and that paper innoculation certificates used in the US could be faked.
The new travel rules will be in place from 4am on Monday, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps expressing hopes that the US will become more relaxed about allowing Britons to visit “in time”.
But following an encouraging few days in which Covid-19 case numbers in the UK have fallen from above 50,000 on July 17 to 27,734 by 9am on Wednesday, Labour sounded warnings over the impact of the travel changes.
Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: “The Government’s track record on our borders has been one of recklessness and confusion.
“They are in danger of continuing this by setting out changes in policy, applying to England only, without the scientific data and criteria we need to make sure we don’t see another Johnson variant run rampant through the country and damage the effort of the British public.”
The Scottish Government also announced the rule change will apply to fully vaccinated EU and US visitors to Scotland from Monday.
The Welsh Government said it “regrets” the move to remove the quarantine requirement in England, but added it would be “ineffective” to have different rules for Wales.
Ministers in Northern Ireland will consider their position on the charge at Thursday’s meeting of the powersharing executive.
Currently, only travellers who have received two doses of a vaccine in the UK are permitted to enter from an amber country – such as the US and most of the EU – without self-isolating for 10 days, except those returning from France.
Professor Christina Pagel, director of the clinical operational research unit at UCL, said she was worried about variants that are better at infecting people who are already vaccinated given that those who are fully vaccinated could still catch and pass on the virus.
She said a “worrying new variant could emerge” in the US or Europe – or “a variant that emerges anywhere will spread everywhere” if travel were less inhibited between those places and the UK.
Hailing the policy change, Mr Shapps said: “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.”
Asked whether he was confident the US and Europe would reciprocate in allowing fully vaccinated travellers from England without needing to quarantine, Mr Shapps said: “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.”
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