Britain reopens travel from May 17 to limited destinations

By Sarah Young

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain will allow people in England to resume international travel from May 17 but is limiting the number of destinations open for quarantine-free holidays to just a handful of countries as it cautiously emerges from lockdown restrictions.

Portugal, Israel, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore all made the green list for travel in a system that will be reviewed every three weeks, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said. Popular destinations such as France, Spain and Greece did not.

Airlines, holiday companies and tourist hotspots in southern Europe have been waiting for over four months for big-spending Britons to start travelling again, but they will have to wait a few months longer for a full rebound to take off.

Left off the list were Spain, France, Italy and the United States, the top four most visited countries by UK residents in 2019, which all sit in the amber category, requiring self-isolation on return to the UK.

Trade bodies for pilots and airlines said Britain was being excessively cautious and that such a limited reopening would continue to drag on an industry which is battling for survival.

Before the announcement, the chief executive of British Airways-owner IAG had called on the UK and the U.S. to open a travel corridor given their high vaccination rates.

“Today marks the first step in our cautious return to international travel, with measures designed above all else to protect public health and ensure we don’t throw away the hard-fought gains we’ve all strived to earn this year,” Shapps said.

The travel industry had argued that Britain’s rapid vaccination program should enable the country to open up more quickly but the government has prioritized efforts to prevent variances of the coronavirus from entering the country.

Despite the limitations, permitting travel abroad is still a welcome boost for the beleaguered sector and should prompt bookings. Britons have been banned from going abroad without an essential reason since early January, a blow for leisure travel and also splitting families who live across different countries.

British Airways, easyJet, Ryanair, TUI and others will now likely have to wait until next month for the larger scale re-opening they need to repair their COVID-19 battered finances.

Experts have warned that prices could shoot up for bookings to the few countries on the green list and Shapps said airports could also see longer delays as passengers have to show negative test results.

Green list travel will involve people taking two COVID-19 tests, one before arrival back into the UK and one within two days of returning.

Countries where Britons might want to travel will still have their own rules for entry. For example, Britons are currently banned from going to the U.S.

($1 = 0.7208 pounds)

(Reporting by Sarah YoungEditing by Keith Weir and Kate Holton)