This year will be a “difficult” one for international travel “whatever happens” with coronavirus, the prime minister has said.
Boris Johnson confirmed the government is “looking at” possibly exempting those who have been fully vaccinated from having to quarantine after returning from amber list countries.
“I think it’s very important that we look at the opportunities for all of us over the coming months from two jabs, we’re one of the most vaccinated countries in the world now,” he said.
But Mr Johnson played down suggestions a widespread relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions on international travel was in the offing.
“I want to stress that this is going to be – whatever happens – a difficult year for travel,” the PM said.
“There will be hassle, there will be delays, I am afraid, because the priority has got to be to keep the country safe and stop the virus coming back in.”
Mr Johnson’s comments are likely to go down badly with the travel industry, which has criticised the government’s policy on international travel throughout the pandemic.
For some, ministers have been too cautious with allowing leisure trips to resume, with too few destinations on the green list for quarantine-free travel.
In the latest criticism, pilots said the “ludicrously cautious” restrictions meant the UK’s aviation industry was “the hardest hit in Europe”.
The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) accused ministers of appearing to “deliberately attack” the sector with the measures they have imposed.
The union is calling on the government to “get its act together” and open “the US routes and European holiday travel destinations” it has blocked with “no published evidence”.
BALPA members will join colleagues from across the aviation and travel industry as part of a nationwide Travel Day of Action on Wednesday, which is designed to put pressure on the UK government to support a “safe return to international travel in time for the peak summer period”.
Meanwhile, Ryanair and Manchester Airports Group – which owns Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands airports – are readying to launch legal action against the government.
They want more transparency from the government over how it decides which countries are given a green, amber and red designation.
Analysis of NHS Test and Trace figures by The Times found that fewer than one in 200 travellers who returned to the UK from an amber list country between 20 May and 9 June tested positive for the virus.
The next review of the traffic light system is due on 28 June.
But Paul Charles, chief executive of the PC Agency travel consultancy, said he thinks there will be “very few” changes and “caution is going to continue from the government”.
“You may see maybe somewhere like Turkey move from red to amber, you may see a couple of greens added,” he said.
“But they’ve got to re-instil confidence in people about the traffic light system.”
“The system is shot to pieces at the moment, because of the way that they treated Portugal two weeks ago [moving it to the amber list three weeks after it was on the green list],” he added.
“They’ve either got to reinvigorate the traffic light system, or they’ve got to outline how they’re going to enable fully jabbed citizens to travel with more freedom and not have to quarantine when they return from an amber country.”
But a government minister defended its travel policy on Sky News on Sunday, saying foreign holidays as normal this summer “was never going to be the case”.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told Trevor Phillips on Sunday that “significant trade-offs” have had to be made to ensure COVID cases are kept down, with international travel restricted to “prevent inadvertent spread of new variants of concern”.