Boris Johnson has confirmed that fully vaccinated people could face fewer travel restrictions, as the government prepares to announce the addition of Malta and the Balearic islands to England’s green list.
Speaking hours before a meeting where the changes are due to be signed off, the prime minister said this summer would be different from usual for those who want to take trips abroad – but did not rule out taking a foreign holiday himself.
Changes to England’s traffic light system, which classifies countries according to their number of Covid cases and their vaccine and variant situations, are expected to be announced at about 5pm on Thursday afternoon and come into force from next Wednesday.
Travellers were stung at the last review point, three weeks ago, when the health secretary, Matt Hancock, vetoed the addition of Malta to the green list, which would have meant that anyone arriving from the country and testing negative for Covid would not have been required to self-isolate, while Portugal was moved straight to the amber list.
That came as a devastating blow to the aviation and tourism industries, as well as those who had already booked their flights, given the official government advice that people should not travel to amber list countries, and that anyone who travels from them to England must isolate for up to 10 days at home, or use the test-to-release system from day six.
Johnson sounded optimistic about the prospect of more countries being added to the green list and hinted that people who have had both Covid jabs may be able to avoid quarantine if returning from an amber country.
“I think that the real opportunity we all have now is to open up travel through the double jab,” he said on Thursday, the day after more than 16,000 new cases were recorded in the UK – one of the highest daily figures since the beginning of February.
“If you look at it … more than 60% of our population have now had two jabs. I think 83% have had one jab – we’re really getting through it now.
“The crucial thing is come forward and get your second jab.”
Johnson said his own summer holiday plans were “at the unformed stage”. When pressed on whether he would be taking an overseas break, he said: “I’m certainly not ruling it in or ruling it out.”
Despite the expected easing of restrictions for travellers entering England, people planning to go abroad could still face tough quarantine requirements at their destinations.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said other EU countries should follow her lead in placing quarantine requirements on British visitors, given the sharp rise in cases of the Delta variant across the UK.
Asked what Johnson thought, his spokesperson said earlier: “Currently it is down to individual EU member states to decide on the rules governing their borders.
“We are moving at speed through our vaccination programme to help us curb this latest variant and that will allow us to move to step four, and we are confident that over time it will bring cases down, and that’s the approach we are taking.
“We will continue to have discussions with our European partners on the reopening of international travel, but we’re very confident that our vaccination programme is providing a good way forward.”