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Britons will have to wait a bit longer to find out where they can travel starting May 17. But it seems likely they'll have to consider different destinations than their past preferences, given that the UK government seems likely to loosen restrictions for countries with high vaccination rates.

The United Kingdom hinted on Monday that it plans to let Britons resume foreign travel to selected countries in mid-May.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson didn’t give a timetable for changes to UK international travel. But he said a task force would release details of the government’s plan later this week, with a finalized announcement coming sometime before May 17.

“We’re hopeful we can get going on May the 17th,” Johnson said. “But we don’t want to see the virus reimported into this country due to surges in other parts of the world.”

It’s currently illegal for Britons to travel abroad for holidays. Current rules on overseas travel are set to remain in force until at least May 17.

“We are going to give [the aviation sector] as much notice as we possibly can,” Johnson said. “We want to get the country flying again.”

News media reports have cited government sources as planning for a “traffic-light” system for nations based on their infection and vaccination levels. The new system would likely favor destinations that are public health success stories.

If true, the UK government would place countries that meet certain criteria, such as high rates of vaccinations, on a “green list” that would allow mostly unrestricted leisure and business travel.

Johnson didn’t specify these plans, and no officials named countries for any lists yet. But based on the criteria suggested in news reports, it seemed probable that officials would add the U.S., U.A.E., Israel, and Australia to a so-called “green list.”

According to reported plans, the UK would continue to restrict international travel to countries lagging on public health measures such as vaccinations.

Some of Britons’ most-visited European foreign destinations, such as France, Italy, and Spain, risk being put on “yellow” or “red” lists because they are struggling with containing the pandemic. The UK government might require Britons to be tested upon their return from holidays, or might limit nearly all travel.

That would be bad news for UK holidaymakers’ favorite destinations, such as France, Italy, and Spain, which are struggling to tame the virus. The roadmap for the new system, would soon be published on a UK government site.

The UK government said it would allow domestic UK overnight stays again as of April 12.

Vaccine Passports

Johnson also said the UK would test “vaccine passports,” or “Covid-status certification,” for large gatherings with some test events, such as getting 20,000 visitors into London’s Wembley Stadium for an event in mid-May.

For international travel, Johnson said on Monday that certification would be something to look at but that it has no plans immediately.

uk prime minister boris johnson

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking at a press conference on Monday, April 5, 2021. Source: ITV.

“A world in which we continue to have testing is not too onerous,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to be pretty cautious to get there. There’s nothing in the data that I can see today that would cause us to deviate from the road map.”

Britain has given coronavirus shots to more than half of its adult population.

The UK needs to learn from Israel and Chile in terms of vaccine rollout and border controls, said Chris Whitty, chief medical advisor to the UK government.

“We hope to make this roadmap to freedom irreversible,” Johnson said.

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Photo credit: A view of Heathrow Airport, Terminal 5C, from the airfield on May 2011. David Dyson / Heathrow Airports Ltd.

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