Many travelers are confused by changes to safe travel lists and self-isolation rules
On 7 September, it was announced that seven Greek islands had been removed from England’s ‘travel corridor’ list.
This means that from 4am on 9 September, all passengers arriving into England from Crete, Lesvos, Mykonos, Santorini, Serifos, Tinos or Zakynthos (also known as Zante) will have to self-isolate for two weeks.
The announcement was made by Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, as part of the introduction of a more targeted approach to travel corridors in England, which will allow the separation of some islands from mainland countries.
While this is, generally, seen as a positive move, self-isolation rules for Greece and its islands are now different for those traveling to England, Scotland and Wales.
And, with travel corridor changes being made regularly since their introduction in July, many holidaymakers are understandably confused and worried about future trips.
The provision of just 48 hours’ notice of the need to enter self-isolation has also caused havoc, with people already abroad scrambling to get back before the deadline.
Whether you’ve got a holiday booked and can’t keep up with the latest travel advice, or are considering booking one, here we outline what you need to know, from which popular travel destinations are still on the travel corridors lists to flexible booking policies and travel insurance.
What are travel corridors?
In June, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, a 14-day self-isolation, or quarantine, policy was introduced for travelers arriving into the UK.
This was alongside advice against all but essential travel by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (now known as the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office or FCDO).
This was relaxed on 10 July with the introduction of ‘travel corridors’, which are links to countries and territories the government considers low-risk enough to return from without self-isolation.
The countries on the list for England were put together by the Joint Biosecurity Centre, Public Health England and the Chief Medical Officer.
… and why does the list keep changing?
However, the list is subject to change, with the government warning that countries can be taken off the list at any time if the public health risk becomes too high.
This has happened with popular holiday destinations including Spain, France, Jamaica, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Croatia, Austria, the Netherlands and Malta since the list was introduced.
And, while the travel corridor lists are broadly the same, there are differences between the lists for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, so always check the list for your country of arrival.
What is the new regionalised system?
Until now, travel corridors have been country-based. But Grant Shapps says that the government now has “the data and capacity to add or remove specific islands from quarantine, whilst providing maximum protection to UK public health.”
This means that, depending on public health risk to UK travelers, islands, as has happened with Greece, can now be added or removed from travel corridors, rather than the whole country being removed.
Talking about the change, Shapps said: “Our top priority has always been to keep domestic infection rates down, and today we’re taking the next step in our approach. Through the use of enhanced data we will now be able to pinpoint risk in some of the most popular islands, providing increased flexibility to add or remove them – distinct from the mainland – as infection rates change.
“This development will help boost the UK’s travel industry while continuing to maintain maximum protection to public health, keeping the travelling public safe.”
What are the differences between the lists in the UK?
Before Grant Shapps made the announcement regarding the removal of the seven Greek islands from England’s travel corridor list, Wales removed six Greek islands from its travel corridor list, with effect from 4 September. These islands are Mykonos, Zakynthos, Lesvos, Paros and Antiparos, and Crete.
While Mykonos, Zakynthos, Lesvos and rete match those removed from the English list, Paros and Antiparos have not been removed from the English list. Plus, Tinos, Santorini and Serifos have been removed from England’s list but not that of Wales.
And, for Scotland, Greece as a whole was removed from the travel corridor list on 3 September.
In its announcement, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, Gregor Smith, explained Scotland’s decision, saying: “The flow of travel between Scotland and Greece, and the behaviour we have seen from some of those travelers, means that on public health grounds there is a strong case – supported by public health directors – to remove Greece from the exemption list.”
Another popular destination, Portugal, remains on England and Northern Ireland’s travel corridor lists but was removed from Scotland’s on 5 September, and from Wales’ list on 4 September, with the exception of the Azores and Madeira for Wales.
Which holiday destinations are on the lists?
At the time of writing, popular holiday destinations such as Italy, Cyprus, Germany, Slovenia and Turkey are on the safe travel corridors list for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
And, Portugal is included on England and Northern Ireland’s lists, while mainland Greece and some of its islands are still included on all lists with the exception of Scotland’s.
It’s important to remember, though, that these lists are reviewed regularly and can be changed if case numbers increase. If you are considering booking a holiday, it may also be worth taking a look at the current figures in the destination you are researching using a site such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control or Worldometer.
What about the advice from the FCDO?
In March, the Foreign Office advised against all but essential international travel as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
On 4 July, it introduced a list of exemptions from this advice, made up of countries and territories “no longer presenting an unacceptably high risk to British people travelling abroad.” You can see this here.
As with the travel corridors lists, this list is subject to change and is under constant review.
The FCDO advice is important as, if you travel against it, your travel insurance policy is highly likely to be invalid.
If you have booked a package holiday and the FCDO advises against all but essential travel to your destination, your travel company should cancel your holiday, offering a full refund or other options if you are happy to accept them.
Following the announcement of the removal of the seven Greek islands from England’s travel corridor list, TUI, as an example, cancelled all holidays to Santorini, Zakynthos (Zante), Crete (Chania and Heraklion) and Mykonos, offering customers the option to amend their booking or receive a full cash refund.
Should I check anything else before travelling?
As well as checking what the rules are in the country you are travelling from, it’s essential that you check what the rules are in the country you are travelling to, as well as any entry requirements for British travelers.
The FCDO travel advice pages are a good place to start your research.
All arrivals into Greece, as an example, have to fill in a Passenger Locator Form at least 24 hours before arrival and you may be asked to complete a coronavirus test on arrival too.
You can find out more about Greece’s entry requirements here.
Some countries on the travel corridors lists may also not allow Brits entry yet, as is the case with Australia.
How are travel companies and airlines responding?
When booking holidays, you’ll have the most financial protection if you book a package holiday with a bonded tour operator as, if your holiday is cancelled due to a change in FCDO advice, you’ll legally be entitled to a refund.
With flights or hotels booked separately, you are not automatically entitled to a refund following a change in government advice if they are still running or open.
However, as a result of the uncertainty around travel due to the coronavirus pandemic, many travel companies and airlines have introduced more flexible policies.
Following the latest change in advice for Greece, easyJet issued the following statement for customers:
“We understand that some customers may need to alter their plans if travelling to quarantine affected destinations from the UK. To provide our customers with some certainty and flexibility now that Mykonos, Santorini, Crete and Zante have been removed from the list of quarantine exempt destinations, all passengers due to travel to and from these destinations can now transfer their flights without a change fee.
“Passengers travelling within the next 14 days who wish to change their flights can do so without a change fee via our contact centre within seven days of the government decision. Any passengers travelling outside of 14 days are able to change their flights without a change fee online via Manage Bookings in line with our current policy.”
Find out more on easyJet’s current change policy here.
Flexible policies with other travel companies include:
British Airways (BA)
While BA continues to run flights to some countries where the FCDO is advising against all but essential travel, it does allow you to claim a voucher for future travel if you no longer wish to fly. Find out more here.
It also introduced a Travel With Confidence policy as a reaction to the coronavirus pandemic. This means you can change the dates and destination of bookings made between 3 March and 30 September without incurring a change fee (you will have to pay any difference in price).
This applies to journeys that are due to have been completed by 31 August 2021. For the same date ranges, it will allow you to cancel your booking and receive a voucher to the same value for a future booking. Find out more here.
TUI is offering free amends for new package holiday bookings flying with TUI Airways made between 23 July and 30 September. This applies to package holidays with departure dates between 20 August 2020 and 30 April 2021.
It is also offering Covid cover, called Holiday to Home cover, to passengers traveling on its package holidays or with flight-only bookings until the end of the year.
Provided by AXA Insurance, this includes overseas medical assistance should you contract Covid-19, any testing costs, an extended stay if you’re asked to quarantine while you’re away and the option to amend your holiday for free if you contract Covid-19 before you travel.
It is keen to stress, however, that this is not a substitute for comprehensive travel insurance. Find out more here.
Ryanair removed its change fee for all new bookings made for travel in July, August and September. It is allowing customers who booked after 16 July for travel in September to change flights free of charge to any date before 31 December, but any increase in fare will need to be paid.
Flight change fees will need to be paid for bookings that were made as part of its 1m €5 flights sale promotion, held on 1 and 2 September. Find out more here.
What about travel insurance?
Some insurers stopped selling travel insurance at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. There are now a number of policies back on sale that include some level of coronavirus cover, but policies differ – so it’s important to find out what you’re covered for before taking a policy out.
Our recent article has some tips on what to look out for.
A limited number of insurers will now cover you if you travel against FCDO advice but make sure the rest of the policy is comprehensive enough for your needs