Like so many changes to the UK’s Covid rules over the past 14 months, the new traffic light system for international travel came into force this week amid confusion, frustration and dismay. After a five-month foreign holiday ban, British holidaymakers were legally allowed to travel for leisure to destinations on the green list from 17 May, though in practice only three of the 12 “green” countries and territories were free of entry restrictions: Portugal, Madeira and Gibraltar.
Travellers to Portugal are still required to present a negative PCR test result on arrival, among other paperwork, as Guardian Travel writer Kevin Rushby discovered when he travelled to Faro on assignment this week.
Travel companies and airlines have spent the week pressurising the government to add more European countries to the green list. On Thursday, easyJet CEO Johan Lundgren accused the government of sowing confusion and said it was clearly out of step with the rest of Europe: this week the EU updated its recommendations to advise that fully vaccinated travellers will be allowed to enter EU countries, though there is some doubt over whether that will apply to travellers from the UK. The government spent the week reiterating that people should not visit amber list countries.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) currently advises against all but essential travel to the popular amber-listed countries listed below (with a few exceptions), but it is not illegal to travel them. Travellers returning from amber countries must take a Covid-19 test before their arrival in England and are required to quarantine for 10 days on their return, taking a test on or before days two and eight. Airlines continue to fly to them and travel companies are selling holidays to key summer destinations from June, in the hope that the FCDO advice will change and the green list will be extended, despite health secretary Matt Hancock warning that the government was not likely to add to it any time soon. Meanwhile, health advisers and scientists have publicly disagreed with the government’s approach, warning against any overseas travel this summer.
In the meantime, European countries are lifting national restrictions and preparing to welcome visitors back, in the hope that the battered tourism industry can begin to recover. The five popular holiday destinations listed here are all on the amber list – it is not illegal to travel to them, but the government says travel should be for “essential” purposes only – and you have to quarantine at home on your return. We look at what restrictions remain in place in each country and when they hope to open to visitors.
Vaccination rate: 1st dose: 34% 2nd dose: 16%
Daily cases: 119 per million
Spain is no longer in the high-risk category. Death rates have fallen sharply, as has pressure on intensive care units. On 19 May, 6,080 new cases were recorded, 400 fewer than the previous week, with 66 deaths, compared with 108 the previous week.
The country is returning to something like normality, after the six-month state of emergency was lifted on 10 May. Since then, Covid restrictions have been in the hands of regional governments and there is considerable variation, although the 11/12pm–6am curfew has been lifted everywhere except Navarra and the Valencia region, where it may remain in force into next month.
Masks are obligatory indoors and out, except for sporting activities, which includes jogging and cycling. Legally, masks have to be worn on the beach, but the measure is largely ignored and rarely enforced. The health department said earlier this week that masks would soon cease to be mandatory outdoors.
Bars and restaurants are open indoors and out until 11pm or 1am, depending on the region, except in the Balearic Isles, where you can only eat and drink in outdoor areas. In Madrid and Andalucía there are no restrictions on how many people can meet together; in the Canary Islands the limit is 15, in Valencia 10 and in Catalonia and the Balearics six.
The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the Spanish economy, especially on the Mediterranean, which is heavily dependent on tourism. Large resorts such as Benidorm are virtual ghost towns, and in Barcelona 70% of hotels remain closed, while 30-40% of bars and restaurants have gone out of business.
The UK accounts for more than 20% of Spain’s tourist industry, with visitors spending £1.7m an hour, according to government statistics.
When can I go?
As of this week the Spanish government says Britons are welcome to visit, and do not need proof of a negative PCR test orof vaccination.
The FCDO advises against all but essential travel to Spain, excluding the Canary islands. Travel companies such as Tui are selling holidays to Spain from June, in the hope that the FCDO will lift its non-essential ban and that Spain will move onto the green list. It is reported that this week alone there have been 69 flights to the popular tourist area of Alicante. However, there are also reports of visitors from the UK being refused entry.
Vaccination rate: 1st dose: 28.5% 2nd dose: 16%
Daily cases: 192 per million
Under an accelerated vaccination drive, residents on Aegean islands, including frontline workers in the tourist industry, are being given the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. More than 100,000 jabs are being administered daily, with epidemiologists hoping to achieve herd immunity by the summer.
Greece has fared better than most other countries in Europe, registering a total of 383,558 confirmed cases and 11,587 deaths linked to the virus, although fatality rates are thought to be higher due to limited testing.
Curbs enforced when Greece went into a second “hard lockdown” in November began to be eased earlier this month.
Although masks are still required in public, they’re not essential in outdoor restaurants, tavernas and bars allowed to reopen, on condition that music that would encourage people to huddle isn’t played and tables are placed at a safe distance from one another.
Travel between regions has been permitted, with ferries once again plying routes to islands. The relaxation of restrictions also applies to the mainland. Museums and shops have reopened, along with archaeological sites, while popular open-air cinemas are due to open their doors with a viewing capacity of 75% as of Friday.
Although gatherings remain limited as part of efforts to rein in transmission rates, an obligatory SMS system notifying authorities of movements has been dropped and a night-time curfew narrowed from 12:30am–5am.
Hugely dependent on tourism, the Greek economy was hammered by the pandemic last year. Arrivals dropped by almost 80% compared with the record 33.1 million tourists who visited the country in 2019. Revenues that normally account for over 20% of GDP fell from €18bn to €4bn in 2020.
By prolonging the season, industry figures hope to recoup the losses with up to 50% of pre-pandemic arrivals this year. Optimism has been buoyed by operators such as TUI predicting that Greece and Spain will be favourite destinations this summer, along with the news of a record number of direct Athens-US flights. “This year our ambition is for autumn to be the strong three-month period and not the traditional July-August slot,” says Yiannis Retsos at SETE, the Greek Tourism Confederation.
When can I go?
After dropping quarantine restrictions for EU nationals and five other countries, including the UK, in April, Greece formally reopened to all tourists on 15 May. Visitors are required to complete a passenger locator form and are granted entry if they can prove they’ve been fully vaccinated or possess a negative Covid-19 test. Athens has championed the creation of a vaccine passport and is counting on rapid testing and warmer weather to ensure safe travel. Charter flights have begun landing on islands such as Mykonos and Crete, with the first plane carrying 180 UK holidaymakers arriving in Rhodes on Wednesday despite Greece still being on London’s amber list. Passengers were quoted as saying they were prepared to quarantine back home rather than lose out on a holiday on their favourite island. The FCDO advises against all but essential travel to Greece, except the islands of Rhodes, Kos, Corfu, Crete and Zakynthos.
Vaccination rate: 1st dose: 31% 2nd dose: 14%
Daily cases: 204 per million
France is in “Phase 2” of a staggered end to restrictions. There are no domestic travel restrictions, but there is a nationwide curfew from 9pm–6am. Anyone out during curfew hours should have a sworn attestation justifying their reason. Restaurants, bars and cafes reopened for outdoor drinking and dining on 19 May, with a maximum of six people allowed per table (a maximum of 10 people are allowed together in public spaces). There is no limit on gatherings in private homes, but health officials strongly advise a maximum of six adults. All shops, museums, theatres and cinemas are open and outdoor sporting activities are allowed. Indoor gyms and discos remain closed. Masks must be worn in all indoor public spaces and outside in larger towns and cities. Health minister Olivier Véran has suggested that an end to compulsory mask wearing is in sight, but has not indicated when. From 9 June, restaurants, bars and cafes will be able to open inside and outside and the curfew will run from 11pm–6am.
Economically, French industries have seen a jump in demand to the highest level in two years. Businesses hit by the lockdown closures, including non-essential shops and service industries, as well as those in tourism, are struggling. The government hopes the estimated €160bn savings accumulated by the French over the past year will boost the economy once consumers start spending again.
France’s tourist sector lost €61bn last year – a drop of 41%. To compensate, the French government has given the tourist industry a bailout package of around €16bn and pledged that financial support will continue for as long as it is needed.
When can I go?
Travellers from the UK – as well as from EU countries – can enter France with a negative PCR test done 72 hours before leaving. UK arrivals do not need to justify an essential reason to enter France, but do need to complete a “sworn declaration” that has legal weight stating they are not suffering from symptoms associated with coronavirus and have not been in contact with confirmed cases in the preceding fortnight. Arrivals from the UK must also self-isolate for seven days on arrival, before taking another PCR test. They should only leave self-isolation with a negative test result. Clément Beaune, European Affairs minister, has said PCR tests will be free to tourists visiting France after the end of June.
Vaccination rate: 1st dose: 33% 2nd dose: 15%
Daily cases: 98 per million
Italy began a gradual easing of lockdown measures on 26 April, with all but one (Aosta Valley) of the country’s 20 regions currently in the low-risk “yellow zone”. People can travel freely between yellow zone regions, where bars and restaurants can currently serve customers for lunch and dinner at outside tables. All shops, theatres, cinemas and museums are open in the yellow zone. Covid-19 deaths, infections and hospitalisations have fallen in recent weeks as Italy ramped up its vaccination campaign. All Italian regions are expected to be in either the yellow zone or lowest (white) zone by the end of the first week of June.
Italy has also shortened its nightly curfew, which now begins at 11pm and ends at 5am. The curfew will be pushed back until midnight from 7 June and scrapped altogether on 21 June. From 1 June, indoor dining will be allowed at restaurants until 6pm. Face masks are, for now, still obligatory outside. In yellow zones, people can invite up to four people into their homes, and there are no restrictions on numbers gathering outside.
Mountain lifts will reopen on 22 May. Tourism is crucial to Italy’s economy, accounting for 14% of GDP. Over half a million jobs have been lost in the hospitality industry since the pandemic began, according to a report this week. However, despite the late start to the season in 2020, many places, especially small towns and islands, enjoyed a busy summer. The research institute Demoskopika also painted an optimistic picture for this summer, estimating that at least 39 million foreign and domestic tourists would take trips in Italy, up 12% on last year.
When can I go?
On 16 May, Italy dropped Covid-19 quarantine measures for tourists arriving from EU and Schengen area countries, as well as the UK and Israel. The quarantine has also been removed for visitors travelling from the US, Canada, Japan and the United Arab Emirates on board Covid-tested flights. All tourists will need to provide evidence of having been fully vaccinated with an EU-approved Covid-19 vaccine, of having recovered from the virus or tested negative 48 hours prior to travelling.
Italy implemented its travel rules before the June launch of the EU’s vaccine passport, to try to salvage its tourism industry. Italian prime minister Mario Draghi said in early May: “The pandemic forced us to close, but Italy is ready to welcome back the world. I have no doubts that tourism to and within Italy will re-emerge stronger than before.”
The FCDO currently advises against all but essential travel to Italy.
Vaccination rate: 1st dose: 27% 2nd dose: 8%
Daily cases: 171 per million
The semi-lockdown of winter 2020-21 (when cafes, restaurants and entertainment venues were closed) came to an end in March. Since then a set of strict but manageable restrictions has been in place. Partying and festival-going may well be off the agenda, but there is nothing to prevent you from enjoying a holiday.
Masks must be worn in indoor areas, in busy outdoor areas (such as markets and bus stops) and on all public transport. Shops, museums, galleries and the outdoor terraces of cafes and restaurants are open (although there’s no alcohol after 10pm); cultural events are taking place, providing they have an audience of no more than 25. You can eat inside hotel restaurants if you are resident in the hotel. Masks do not have to be worn on cafe-restaurant terraces or on beaches, although you are expected to observe standard distancing rules wherever you are. There are tentative plans to open up clubs and concert venues to the vaccinated, although how this might work in practice remains under discussion. Further relaxations are possible before summer, but precise stages are yet to be decided.
Croatia’s vaccination programme got off to a sluggish start, but with over 36,000 doses now being administered each day (in a population of just over four million) the jab coverage will change dramatically over the next two months.
Tourism accounts for 11.5% of the Croatian economy, but international arrivals were down 55% in 2020, and 2021 will be a make-or-break year for small businesses. With flights from UK airports to the Adriatic coast slowly being restored, many Croats are hoping that vaccinated Brits will come to their rescue this summer.
When can I go?
While Croatia will sign up to any new EU measures regarding fully vaccinated visitors, it already has its own, slightly more flexible, rules in place. Arrivals in Croatia need to show either a vaccination certificate showing that the final dose was taken more than 14 days ago, or a negative PCR or antigen test taken 24 hours before arrival. Travellers who arrive without these things can still enter the country, although they will be required to either quarantine for 10 days or pay for a test and remain in self-isolation until the results come through. One important catch: visitors from outside the EU will have to show that they have paid for their accommodation in advance.
The Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to Croatia.