The travel correspondent of The Independent is occasionally called upon by his Hollywood contacts to scout locations for forthcoming movies.
This weekend found Simon Calder exploring the Hisma Desert that extends for many hundreds of miles across the Arabian peninsula – though he flew back from Riyadh in time to take top travel questions for an hour.
Q: We have cancelled our planned summer trip to California in both 2020 and 2021. We have now re-arranged for 2022. However, we are worried that the US may be one of the countries that will view vaccines given long ago as expired.
My husband and I should be fine as we will be due boosters at the end of this year, but my 16-year-old had his second jab in early August so it will be a year (plus a few days) since that jab when we go to the US.
Do you think US will allow a PCR test as alternative? And what about access to theme parks that require vaccination proof?
A: To everyone’s huge relief, the US is due to open up to fully vaccinated British travellers – and visitors from the rest of Europe – on 8 November. Details of what will be required of us just 19 days ahead is still frustratingly sketchy. My presumption is that we will face the current rules as they apply to the very large number of nations from which travel to the US is possible.
Under 18s are welcome with vaccinated adults though they require a Covid test within three calendar days of arriving in America. Lateral flow will do – a slow and expensive PCR is unnecessary. Adults will need that test, too, as well as evidence of vaccination.
Evidence of recovery from Covid in the past three months is an alternative.
Predicting less than three weeks ahead is tricky – and what the rules might be for travel to the US 10 months from now is anybody’s guess. Given that the tourism industry in California and elsewhere will be desperate to welcome Brits back I’m sure there will be a fairly low bar on requirements.
By summer 2022, of course. we will also know more about the efficacy and the longevity of vaccines.
Increasingly, tourist attractions in the US are dropping their stipulations about proof of vaccination. But right now the future is another country …
Q: Are you aware of any movement in the US in respect of exemptions for children travelling from 8 November? Particularly for children over 12 as only one dose is being offered here in the UK. And the lateral flow tests for the US, do these need to be supervised rather than the home kits?
A: The baffling lack of communication by the US after the splendid news of the reopening is most infuriating.
My presumption is that we will face the current rules as they apply to the very large number of nations from which travel to the US is possible: under 18s are welcome with vaccinated adults though they require a Covid test (lateral flow will do) within three calendar days of arriving in America.
And if I can get my retaliation in early on jabs: any vaccination recognised by the World Health Organisation will do, too.
On testing, I am pretty sure the US will require a properly medically supervised test, such as those performed at airports. The DIY tests allowed by the UK are regarded internationally as a bit of a joke.
Q: Do we know what format of vaccine passport the US will allow from 8 November yet?
A: Nothing certain yet, but standard NHS certificate is a pretty good guess. Always worth getting a paper one: for England the link is here.
Q: I’m booked to go to New York for Christmas and only there for five days. Will we still need to do a test when we’re there and what will this consist of? Do we take tests with us or do it there?
A: There are still no clarity: it is possible that a second test on day 3, 4 or 5 after arrival will be required, or it may simply be advisory. My view with all these “and another test X days after you arrive” rules: If you are leaving the country by the deadline, you need not take a test.
If a test does turn out to be mandatory, do not assume that a UK-bought test will count. The rule is likely to require a properly medically administered test.
Q: We are looking to get some Christmas sunshine in California for Christmas with family. Have you heard anything on what the situation is for children under 12 (unvaccinated) entering the US?
A: As answered just now, nothing definite but presumption is just a lateral flow test before departure.
Red list rumours
Q: What are the chances of the Dominican Republic coming off the red list by the December holidays? Why does it remain on the list?
A: To answer your questions in reverse order: it is very difficult to see why the Dominican Republic should still be on the red list, one of the seven countries from which hotel quarantine is still mandatory.
I imagine there was some politics going on, with the UK government wanting to avoid scrapping the red list altogether overnight (as Ireland has done) to avoid the impression that the whole thing has been a damaging waste of time, money and emotion for months.
Therefore to answer your other question: I think it is odds-on that the Dom Rep will be removed from the red list as part of the next changes due on 28 October, taking effect on 1 or 2 November. If I am wrong, there is another opportunity on 18 November.
Q: With more countries accepting proof of vaccination in place of PCR tests, what do you think the prospects are for multi-destination backpacking travel in late 2022 and in to 2023?
A: I hope things will have eased up through Europe by next year. But multinational trips beyond Europe are going to be tricky, I fear, for a while.
I have just been from the UK to Turkey to Jordan to Saudi Arabia, and I have a sheaf of tests and permits to prove it. All the individual nations’ requirements were significantly different, and costly in terms of time and testing.
For a while when long-haul travel starts in earnest I will be doing mainly single-country backpacking. India – with such miraculous diversity – looks the most obvious location. Right now there are strict quarantine rules, and I think that may prevail for the rest of this year.
But I do hope that I am wrong – and that barriers between countries collapse just as quickly as they were applied in March 2020.
Q: Do you know why there are queues now at Heathrow? Previously it was easy to go through the e-gates but now everyone is put in the same queue till it branches off? And are they planning to increase number of e-gates?
A: When I arrived at the start of the morning peak today there was no significant queue (there had been only a couple of arrivals, though). Time taken through e-gates: less than one minute. UK Border Force has outsourced Covid checks to the airlines, which means that only identity verification is needed.
Q: I’m flying into Edinburgh from Lanzarote on 31 October. Once in Edinburgh I’ll be driving home to England. For my day two test do I follow the English rules which allow for cheap lateral-flow tests or Scottish rules, which currently is expensive PCR test. Thank you
A: Live in England and travelling straight home from a Scottish airport? It’s English rules. Have a great trip.
Q: I am travelling to Austria on 31 October. Do I need to have a “fit to fly” test or complete any pre-travel checks? I am double vaccinated.
A: Austria is now one of the more liberal countries vis-à-vis UK travellers, given the extraordinarily high Covid rates here. Just turn up with your proof of vaccination. No need to fill in a passenger locator form in advance.
Q: If I am on a trial vaccine which EU countries can I travel to without an NHS app international vaccine passport?
Jonny L M
A: Broadly, if the NHS says you’re good to go, then most EU countries will accept that. But for people who have taken part in trials, the news from the NHS isn’t great: “You’ll be able to get an NHS Covid Pass for travel soon. Some people already can, it depends if your clinical trial site has put your vaccination information on the NHS vaccine database.
”If you cannot get an NHS Covid Pass, contact your clinical trial site.“
It also adds, helpfully, ”Check the entry requirements for the country you’re visiting.“
The one clear message is that you are regarded as fully vaccinated for returning to the UK, if that is any consolation.
Q: Is UK going to accept Argentina´s vaccine certificate this next review on 28 October?
A: I can’t say. The UK is unique, as far as I can tell in regarding vaccines from more than half the countries in the world as inadequate or somehow suspect.
The reason for this unusual view is one of the many things I will be seeking during the review into the way that travel has been so badly damaged by a series of inexplicable decisions by ministers.
Q: Do you have any further info about the vaccine expiry issue? Does this mean we will have to have a booster every six months in future?
A: We really don’t know at this stage. I imagine that once we reach the point at which double vaccinated people will have had the second jab over a year ago, individual countries – or better still the world collectively – will take a view on what else might be needed. That will start happening early in the New Year.
Q: I’ve had my booster 19 days ago but doesn’t show on the NHS Covid passport. Will this be updated?
A: At present I am unaware of boosters being required or appreciated by destination countries. That is probably just as well because I understand boosters are not showing up. “The sell-by date” to which you refer is simply a privacy precaution – the NHS doesn’t want to give you a long-dated QR code in case it falls into the wrong hands.
Every time you ask the NHS app for a certificate/QR code for travel, it is automatically valid for a month.
Q: According to the Foreign Office, the South African authorities require the following information on a PCR test certificate: “It should be conducted by a certified medical practitioner, and should have the name and signature of the practitioner who conducted the test marked clearly on it, as well as the time at which the sample was taken.”
Do you know any testing companies that provide this information on the test certificate please?
A: Any reputable, medically run testing centre will provide this information as a matter of course. I tend to use Collinson at airports (booking with the code BA20OFF to get a one-fifth discount) and have never had a problem.
I have just checked the latest, and it includes the time to the minute the sample was taken, a certification of accreditation from the UK authorities and the signature and stamp of the global medical director – Dr Simon Worrell. Although he didn’t personally take the sample, I have never encountered any problems with the official status of the test.
Q: We are planning on travelling to mainland Spain for Christmas and then continuing on to the Canaries. Our daughter turns 12 in December (before our trip) and wondered if there is any guidance on unvaccinated children travelling within Spain?
We may be able to get one vaccine before travel to Spain but we think she may nevertheless need a PCR test before departure to Spain.
I wondered also if there are rules about travelling within the Spanish territories after being in the mainland.
A: The UK’s “one jab for teens” policy is incompatible with the rules for getting into a large number of countries, including Spain, without too much formality.
Unfortunately because your daughter will no longer be 11 when she arrives in Spain, she will need a test: either PCR or Lamp. The latter is much faster but also harder to find.
Regional governments in Spain retain legal powers to ease or tighten restrictions on travel/testing, and these have been deployed over the past 18 months. The Canary Islands are clearly in a strong position to enforce its own rules – but at present I am unaware of any intra-Spanish restrictions.
Q: A 12-year-old and a 14-year-old will be travelling together – but without an adult – from UK to France over half term. They have only have one vaccination each and so are not “fully vaccinated” and cannot access the digital Covid pass. Do they need two lateral flow tests, pre and on return? Can they access the French pass sanitaire to enable entry to public venues?
A: I can give some basic advice, but I suggest you liaise with the helpful French embassy in London to ensure that you have the right strategy organised for unaccompanied minors.
Getting in: they must each present a negative lateral flow test result taken no more than 48 hours before arrival in France.
For the TousAntiCovid pass, they will need – as things – stand to be tested every 72 hours. The French embassy says: “Three types of proof are accepted: proof of full vaccination, proof of a test less than 72 hours old or proof of recovery from Covid-19 more than 11 days ago and less than 180 days ago.
”Verification is carried out by QR code, which may be presented in digital or paper format.“
Q: Even though UK is opening up for travel, where can we realistically go? Are parts of South East Asia open?
A: My understanding is that Thailand will be opening much more widely to UK visitors (and other nationalities) on 1 November. The country has suffered extreme hardship due to the absence of significant numbers of tourists.
If you are longing for South East Asia before that, then Singapore has just included the UK on its latest list of permitted arrivals (alongside Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain and the US.
Stringent pre- and post-travel testing rules apply, and you must fly on designated “vaccinated passengers only” flights.
Q: Any thoughts on China lifting restrictions? Haven’t seen my son in two years.
A: I have seen no sign of China’s hardline stance changing. It may be that your son would be able to get to the UK rather than you going there. But I know a number of expatriates who’ve come back to the UK who have encountered horrendous problems going back into the People’s Republic, so that may not be a welcome option for him. Sorry I can’t be more optimistic.
Q: Do you think bars and restaurants in Phuket will be open by January?
A: Yes – although it’s a few years since I was on that wonderful island, so I hesitate to give you any specific recommendations.
Q: I am waiting for a refund from Truly Travel for a cancelled holiday in June 2020. Do you think it is likely that the Consumer Watchdog (CMA) will get me my money back?
A: I hope so. Truly Travel is the company that trades as Teletext Holidays. The Competition and Markets Authority said on Monday: “After reviewing Truly Holdings’s final report on progress with repayments, the CMA wrote to Truly Holdings on 16 September stating it would take the company to court unless it took urgent action to improve how it handles refunds to package holiday customers.
”The CMA does not consider that Truly Holdings has done enough to provide refunds to package holiday customers with outstanding claims, including recent cancellations, or to make sure that it pays all future refunds that are due within the 14 days required by law.
“The CMA has therefore filed proceedings requesting a court order that outstanding refunds be immediately repaid.”
The trouble is, there is no date for the court case. In addition, in some of these kinds of cases the company under investigation goes out of business – leaving customers who are owed refunds as unsecured creditors. Sorry I can’t be more optimistic.