HomeTravelTravel expert Simon Calder answers six questions about your next holiday

Travel expert Simon Calder answers six questions about your next holiday

The travel correspondent of The Independent is normally to be found poolside at his hideaway in western Jamaica.

Concerns that the beautiful Caribbean island might join the UK’s red list imminently have led him to make a fast escape from Negril.

But while the helicopter was summoned, he took a few minutes to answer the latest batch of travel questions.

Rules review

Q: Is there going to be a travel update this week or has it been delayed until the 1 October?

A: The government is not exactly providing the clarity that many of us would cherish. Thursday 16 September was the day that, according to the now-traditional timetable, the three-weekly “traffic light review” is due – in which countries are shuffled between the green, amber and red lists.

But we are also approaching a “checkpoint,” 1 October, by which time the whole system is to be reassessed (two previous checkpoints, incidentally, passed without a word).

All the indications are that a much more wide-ranging announcement will be made by the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, on Friday.

Turkish flight

Q: We are due to fly to red list Turkey on 28 September with a return on 8 October. Is it likely that the major red list reduction will be announced prior to my departure? And secondly, will it include Turkey?

A: Just days before your trip, and there is still huge uncertainty about whether one of our most popular holiday destinations will become open for British travellers – and allow visits for what remains of the summer and autumn.

The travel industry is expecting significant changes within the next 24 hours, but whether that will include Turkey finally being moved from the red list – requiring 11 nights of hotel quarantine – remains uncertain.

If the government decides significantly to shorten the red list, then Turkey is certainly a prime contender to escape the highest risk category.

I asked Covid experts to evaluate the chances of a dozen red list nations to be moved in the imminent reshuffle. Turkey was given joint second place (alongside Pakistan and behind the Maldives).

But government decisions have proved to be highly unpredictable.

If Turkey stays red, a middle way may emerge where self-isolation can happen at home, drastically reducing the cost and discomfort for returning travellers. But as a holiday destination – rather than for journeys reconnecting with family or a partner – Turkey will still be off limits for many.

American attitude

Q: I shall shortly be travelling to the US to see my daughter. Because there is still no entry allowed to passengers travelling direct from the UK to the US, I shall “laundering” my UK status for 15 days in another (non-proscribed) country en route.

I am double-vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine. Since the US has only given formal recognition to the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, will US immigration regard me as vaccinated or non-vaccinated?

I have my NHS vaccine certification, but a fat lot of good it will do me if the Astra Zeneca vaccine doesn’t count. And if I’m categorised as ‘non-vaccinated’, what quarantine/self-isolation rules will apply to me on arrival in the US?

A: America is off limits to people travelling direct from the UK and most of the rest of Europe until further notice. Yet there appears little concern about travellers coming in from other parts of the world. As with many other nations, you have to take a test before travel – or produce evidence of having recovered from coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control says: “All air passengers coming to the United States, including US citizens and fully vaccinated people, are required to have a negative Covid-19 test result no more than three days before travel or documentation of recovery from Covid-19 in the past three months before they board a flight to the United States.” It also advises that you should have a second test three, four or five days after arrival.

People who are fully vaccinated need not quarantine. As you say, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Fortunately, the Foreign Office points out that it can also be a World Health Organisation (WHO)-approved vaccine.Anecdotal evidence suggests US Customs & Border Protection are not overly interested in visitors’ vaccination status.

You also need to be wary of individual state requirements or recommendations. For example, the Hawaii Tourism Authority says: “We are strongly advising visitors that now is not the right time to travel, and they should postpone their trips through the end of October.”

Finally, if you are laundering your status in Mexico, be warned you must spend at least 10 days away from this red list country (eg in the amber list US) before returning to the UK.

Mexican move?

Q: We are hoping to travel to Cancun, Mexico on 24 October this year. Will Mexico have any chance of being removed from the dreaded red list?

A: There is some chance – particularly if, as previously mentioned the red list shrinks significantly. But two things are running against Mexico. The first is that it was added to the red list only six weeks ago, and generally once a nation makes the highest-risk category it tends to stay there for a long while.

The other is its Covid record. The analyst Robert Boyle says that Mexico has had the Mu and Gamma variants. Its test positivity rate still very high. And there is limited testing and genomic sequencing.

Mexico’s best chance of leaving the despised red list, requiring hotel quarantine from all arrivals, is if the expected cull of highest-risk nations goes really deep.

Gulf jabs

Q: I am a British expatriate working in the UAE and double vaccinated with Pfitzer. Yet under the rules of the UK I have to home-quarantine for 10 days while fellow passengers who may be on vacation here from the UK, for example, and who have had the same vaccinations administered in the UK do not.

It just does not make sense. Why is the same vaccines administered abroad not recognised, and when will this change?

A: Agreed. The UK remains an outlier in failing to accept that vaccinations administered in places other than Europe and the US might actually be as effective as our own.

At present, people who have had Covid jabs in nations from Canada to Dubai and Singapore are being treated as unvaccinated in the UK – typifying what is widely seen as a “keep out” attitude that is demolishing inbound tourism and making life unjustifiably complicated for travellers.

I hope that we will hear more about wider recognition imminently. It will be unforgivable if we do not.

Maldives upgrade

Q: I have a holiday booked for November for the Maldives. What’s the chances of it going onto the amber list and staying there? It’s said every time it will be moved, but never does.

A: I would be extremely surprised if travel from the Maldives to the UK continues to require hotel quarantine beyond the end of September. All the analysts I speak to cannot understand why it was not moved off the red list much earlier.

I doubt it will actually be placed on the “amber list,” though, because that mid-risk category is likely to disappear. There will be just three classes: red list at one extreme, with hotel quarantine still required; Ireland at the other, with neither testing nor self-isolation; and the rest, including the Maldives, in the middle.

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