The travel correspondent of The Independent traditionally starts October with a visit to some of the fine displays of spring flowers in the southwest corner of Western Australia. While Australia remains closed even to connoisseurs of horticulture, though, he has time on his hands to tackle some of your pressing questions (about travel, not on how to flatten flowers).
So as night washed over the Indian Ocean west of Perth, he was instead to be found hunched over a laptop in the departure lounge at Essex’s fashionable Stansted airport.
Q: There is currently a disconnect between the government’s green and amber lists and the Foreign Office guidance. For example, Jamaica is on the amber list, meaning it’s OK to visit, but the Foreign Office “advises against all but essential travel to the whole of Jamaica based on the current assessment of Covid-19 risks”. Why the discrepancy?
A: I agree it is strange that the Foreign Office (FCDO) should issue such a warning. Certainly there have been concerns over the past couple of months about high coronavirus infection rates in Jamaica, but the island’s situation appears to be improving. The Department for Transport (DfT) – which organises inbound travel restrictions to the UK – has kept it on the medium-risk amber list, and I am confident it will avoid the “red list” requiring hotel quarantine.
The FCDO clearly has a different assessment. Its no-go warning has two adverse effects.
The first is that standard travel insurance policies are invalidated if you travel to a location against FCDO advice. That is little more than an expensive irritation, since there is now a wide range of travel insurance policies that offer cover for travel even if the government insists it is too dangerous: Staysure and Battleface are two established providers.
The second, more serious concern is that the vast majority of tour operators do not operate package holidays to locations on the Foreign Office “no go” list. If the warning remains in place for another week or two, expect companies to start cancelling half-term trips soon.
So what is the thinking? Well, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the Foreign Office and the DfT coming up with different views on a single location. The FCDO is looking at the overall risk to the traveller, while the DfT is concerned with the threat to UK public health from arriving passengers.
Divergence is fine on non-coronavirus issues. The Foreign Office has a much wider risk remit, and typically warns against non-essential travel when there is a concern about terrorism. However the all-too-frequent occasions in which the two government departments differ on Covid-19 hazards are difficult to comprehend.
If (as the FCDO states) there is a high risk of a British traveller contracting coronavirus in Jamaica, then surely there is a significant danger that UK visitors will bring back infections?
This conflict simply adds to a general air of complete incoherence on travel restrictions. I hope that your question will add to the pressure to align the advice.
Q: As you have reported, South African scientists and the UK High Commission had a get-together and will be sending their info to the people who determine which countries appear on the red list. The expectation is that SA will be removed … false dawn? Considering that Ireland has done away with the whole red list/hotel quarantine, how will that affect the way the UK is thinking? I’m still hopeful about a trip to South Africa in January 2022.
A: The UK is now in a thoroughly embarrassing position. There was no evidence that I have seen for South Africa to have been kept on the red list at the last announcement two weeks ago, or indeed the one before that.
Effectively the high commission in Pretoria has as good as announced the ending of red list status by citing “the latest science” – which will allow ministers in London to end this preposterous situation while saving some face. I also predict that South African-administered vaccines will magically be approved at the same time – at present SA jabs are among the 150 or so nations not recognised by the UK.
Q: I’m desperate to see my South African parents. We’re planning to meet them in Republic of Ireland for October half-term. Once they’ve been there for 10 days, are they OK to come to Wales (or England). The UK doesn’t currently accept their vaccination certificate, but is it OK coming from Ireland?
A: The rule if you are laundering red list status is to spend 10 full days out of the red list country. However as mentioned earlier, I cannot see the government maintaining its ludicrous pretence that there is a significant risk from South Africa, and it will be off the red list within 10 to 12 days.
Q: Experts have said that the Dominican Republic stands a good chance of coming off the red list on the last three travel updates. But it is still on the red list. Has anything changed which might give it a better chance this time around?
Also does the government talk to airlines and tour operators about destinations possibly coming off the red list? I notice holidays and flights to the DR are still available to book for the October half term less than four weeks away.
James R S
A: I am not surprised that the Dominican Republic is selling well, despite the sometimes challenging October climate it will be a great place to spend half term. While I am not as confident with the DR as I am with South Africa coming off the red list, I will give it an 80 per cent chance.
Q: I am a UK citizen, fully vaccinated with AstraZeneca doses, living in Colombia and have been aching to visit the UK to visit my daughter. Our Covid infection numbers have been declining on a daily basis.
I can’t figure out why Colombia is not, at the very least, on the amber list? The US has confidence in our vaccination programme and doesn’t have so many barriers to visit, unlike the UK.
Is there some hidden agenda with the British government in keeping all South American countries on the red list?
A: Sorry you are separated from your daughter. All sorts of people have speculated about the government’s motivation for keeping more than 50 countries on the red list – a designation that amounts to a travel ban.
Some say it is a political move designed to damage these countries, others that minister simply want to stop people flying as much because of climate concerns.
I believe none of the conspiracy theories, preferring to blame inertia and incompetence.
Q: We are hoping to travel to Phuket in December. Please can you tell us the chances of Thai;and coming off the red list. Also could the red list be scrapped?
A: The red list will, I am sure be scrapped before the end of 2022 – you would like it removed by the end of the year, and so would I. I cannot see Thailand remaining on the red list be on the end of November so at this stage I would be confident – I simply wouldn’t book until I was absolutely certain.
Christmas in Thailand, by the way, is huge fun.
Q: I get my second vaccine on 23 October. I know we need to wait two weeks after our second vaccine before we can really travel, so would it be OK for me travel on the 6 November, bang on two weeks after I get my second vaccine?
Or would it be better to wait to travel until 8 October, for example? I’m hoping to visit family abroad in Turkey and want to go as soon as I can, but also don’t want to risk being refused on a flight.
A: Late October and early November is a lovely time to be on the southern coast of Turkey.
The exact wording from the Turkish authorities is that “minimum 14 days have passed from the last dose”. By “have passed” that means, in extreme interpretation, dose day plus 14 days before travel day. My calculation is that 7 November is the earliest you can travel.
Also note that Turkey has dropped its PCR testing requirement for fully vaccinated Brits with immediate effect. Travellers under 12 are exempt. However unvaccinated (or one-jab) teenagers still need a test. A cheap and easy lateral flow test within 48 hours will be acceptable.
Q: I am due to fly to Portugal on Monday, 4 October 2021. Is it correct that we still have to do antigen tests 48 hours before arrival or will they accept the NHS covid pass yet? I had read somewhere that they were going to start recognising it.
A: Every day, prospective travellers turn up at airports across the UK to be told they will not be allowed aboard a flight to mainland Portugal because they have not provided a test. The online information from the Portuguese government is terribly confusion, and this fuels a lot of speculation and false information online suggesting you do not need a test.
As soon as I know for certain that Portugal has eased its travel restrictions, I will let you know via Twitter: @SimonCalder. Until then, assume you will need a test. Lateral flow within 48 hours of arrival will do.
Q: If you are double jabbed and coming into the UK, could the day two PCR test be used for another trip leaving the UK ?
If not, what is the minimum time I would have to spend in the UK?
A: Yes, you can. I try to maximise the value for jobs at all times. So for example if you were coming back on “day zero”, testing on day two and then flying to Portugal on day four, that would all work well saving costs and hassle. And also be a rare example of the “day two” test being of some use.
Q: We are hoping to travel to Umbria for a week of cycling during half term with our two- and six-year-olds. We know we have to take a test beforehand. We have not booked anything in case requirements change, although given UK rates this seems unlikely. Any thoughts?
A: Sounds a great trip. As things stand you will need lateral flow within 48 hours of arrival to Italy. You are wise not to book anything until a day or two before departure. There is no advantage in doing so and only a substantial potential downside – as travellers to Turkey who paid for now-unnecessary PCR tests have found.
Q: Family of four travelling to Lanzarote in the last week in October. Both adults are fully vaccinated, children aged 12 and 14 both had one vaccine last week.
Will they still need a pre-departure PCR? NHS app will not give QR code due it being only one dose. I cannot find any guidance from airline or gov.uk to confirm if the one dose for children allows them to travel as fully vaccinated.
A: First, please don’t do anything yet. As things stand they will need a test before departure, but a LAMP one (faster and possibly cheaper than a PCR) will do. But again, as Turkey has shown, testing requirements can change – usually for the better – at a moment’s notice. So assume a test, then check back a week before your trip.
Q: I’m headed (hopefully) to Nashville on 26 November. Rescheduled twice. Flying from Edinburgh via Paris and Minneapolis with Air France and Delta, I’ve got my Esta renewed and my vaccine status downloaded. Currently, which tests do I need to take pre-flight, while abroad and on return? Is there anything else I need to do before going to the airport?
A: Just a lateral flow test within three days of your departure going out, coming back only a PCR test on the day of arrival or one of the two following days.
Q: I’m booked to fly to Egypt for a week’s holiday at the end of January 2022. Please advise me: do you think that the FCDO might have come in line by then, and said that travel to Cairo & Alexandria is permissible?
Mick the Bick
A: I commend your timing and choice of destination: January is a lovely month to be in Egypt, with clear, sunny skies by day and cool evening.
I am not sure what do you mean about travel to Cairo and Alexandria being permissible, because I can see no Foreign Office warning against travel to either city.
As has been the case for the past three years, the FCDO warns against all travel to the Sinai Peninsula (apart from the Sharm El Sheikh resort area) and much of the “mainland” apart from the Nile Valley and the Red Sea coast.
Since the “open” areas comprise about 95 per cent of the locations of interest for British travellers, the Foreign Office warnings are not usually relevant. All I can think is that you want to travel by road across no-go terrain.
Q: Having travelled less during Covid times we’ve built up a reasonable holiday fund and we might just about be able to afford a three-week family trip to Japan and Vietnam in August 2022.
From what I’ve been able to gather it seems reasonably likely that both countries will be open to tourists by then – but It’s proving very hard to plan and budget particularly for the return flights and the flight in between the two countries. Any tips on how to budget for flights that don’t currently exist?
Also my wife and teenage daughter would like five days on a beach to unwind after travelling about. It would seem that Vietnam is probably the better option for this given the time of year and the extra cost of travelling around the southern island of Japan. So are we better off getting our main return tickets to Ho Chi Minh , and an internal return to Tokyo, the reverse of this – or a multi city ticket so we could travel London, Tokyo , Hanoi, travel down the cost and fly back to London from Ho Chi Minh City?
A: Sorry to be an old misery, but while it is great to dream, I wouldn’t even begin to start planning a trip like that until approximately June 2022. In particular, I am concerned about a multi-country itinerary. And Japan has some fabulous sub-tropical islands – including Okinawa, which also offers notable Second World War history. So stay there, I recommend.
Budget airlines now mean that all corners of Japan are accessible for a reasonable price.
Q: I see Jet Blue just announced more flights between London and New York. Do you expect more airlines/flights/routes to open up between US and UK in the next few months?
A: The welcome new jetBlue link from Gatwick to New York JFK is a bit of an outliers. I certainly expect the number of flights each day between the UK and the US to increase very significantly from November onwards, because once the Americans open the borders to Brits we will be very, very keen to get there.
However, it will be years before the same frequencies prevail – with a couple of dozen London Heathrow-New York JFK departures each way alone. New routes will be particularly scarce.
Q: Thinking of booking Gran Canaria at Christmas. Do you foresee travel getting harder as we get closer to winter or do you think it’ll stay pretty stable?
A: I think it will get easier. Assuming you are fully vaccinated, I cannot envisage circumstances in which you would not be able to enjoy a fabulous trip there. Just make time to explore Las Palmas – the real capital of the Canary Islands and a fascinating city.
Q: Following your recent trip to Berlin, can I ask about types of acceptable masks there. Are only surgical/FFP2 masks acceptable in Germany (ie not cloth masks)?
A: I’m embarrassed to say that I discovered only after returning from Berlin and a tour around eastern Germany that by taking my cloth masks, I was inadvertently breaching the rules for public transport. Medical style masks are the appropriate face wear.