Fully-vaccinated US and EU nationals will be able to travel to England from next month without the need to quarantine, ministers have decided.
The move, which will potentially allow family and friends to see each other for the first time in 18 months, was approved by the Covid-O operations committee of the cabinet on Wednesday morning, sources confirmed to HuffPost UK.
From 4am on August 2, the UK government will formally recognise American vaccine certificates, including paper versions, as well as EU versions that confirm someone has been double-jabbed.
In a statement confirming the change, the department of transport said: “Passengers fully vaccinated with vaccines authorised by the EMA [European Medicines Agency] and FDA [Food and Drug Administration] in Europe and the USA will be able to travel to England from amber countries without having to quarantine on arrival from 4am 2 August.
“Part of the second Global Travel Taskforce review, these latest changes will boost economy and make it easier for those vaccinated in Europe or USA to return to the England and unite with family and friends.”
The Scottish and Welsh governments later announced they would follow England in allowing the change.
But while the Scottish government enthusiastically endorsed the policy, the Welsh government expressed “deep regret” at the UK government’s move.
Under the scheme, US and EU citizens will no longer need to quarantine for 10 days when travelling to Britain from “amber list” countries, a requirement that was ditched for fully inoculated British citizens on July 19.
However, travellers from France will continue to be required to quarantine, even if they are fully vaccinated.
Both Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak believe that the failure to find a way to recognise foreign jab records means the UK has lagged behind the EU in being ready to restart international travel.
Tory MP Sir Roger Gale welcomed the move, telling BBC Radio 4′s World at One programme that “for a travel industry on its knees this could not be better news”.
Richard Burge, Chief Executive of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “So much of the London and UK economy benefits from inbound travel, so this is a welcome and safe acceleration along the road to recovery.”
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner described the plan as “reckless”, suggesting it would make it easier for even more infectious new variants to arrive in the country without proper checks.
“At the moment, everybody wants to go on holiday and get back to normal as quickly as possible, but this is reckless,” she told SkyNews,
“We know that the Delta variant came into this country and delayed the lifting of some of the restrictions and caused infections here. We need to make sure that we’ve got proper data-driven analysis, and that we look at an international passport for vaccines.
“And we also know that people who have had the vaccine, of course, can still get the virus, so a testing regime is very important and crucial as well.”
Research from the World Travel and Tourism Council suggests the British economy is losing £639 million a day because of the squeeze on inbound tourism.
Transatlantic travel in particular has been hard hit and this week the Biden administration continued its ban on incoming visitors.
The White House cited the need to keep out the Delta variant of the virus that has swept across the UK and the rest of Europe.
There is a hope that the shift in recognising American certification will pave the way for a reciprocal deal that allows fully-jabbed Brits to travel to the US from later this year.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps has previously pointed out that the US’s lack of a national digital Covid passport presents challenges, especially with several individual states having paper-based records instead.
But a compromise has been reached to allow US vaccine cards to be used as proof of immunisation.
Shapps said: “We’ve taken great strides on our journey to reopen international travel and today is another important step forward. Whether you are a family reuniting for the first time since the start of the pandemic or a business benefiting from increased trade – this is progress we can all enjoy.
“We will of course continue to be guided by the latest scientific data but thanks to our world-leading domestic vaccination programme, we’re able to look to the future and start to rebuild key transatlantic routes with the US while further cementing ties with our European neighbours.”
The Welsh government’s current advice is against foreign travel of all kinds, whereas the UK government has in place its “traffic light” system to allow tourist and other travel.
Labour’s Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford said: “We would have rather a more precautionary approach by the UK government and have done our best to persuade them of that...I still think this is the year when international travel is best avoided.”
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, claimed allowing fully vaccinated US and EU citizens to enter the UK without going into quarantine “would finally be the dawn of a consistent global policy”.
The latest change will coincide with plans to allow British citizens who have been fully-vaccinated overseas to register their vaccination status with their GP to avoid quarantine.
In a separate announcement, the department of transport said that cruise ship sailings could restart in England.
“Following the close monitoring of epidemiological evidence, gained through the restart of the domestic cruise industry earlier this year, the UK government has also confirmed the go ahead for international cruise sailings to restart from England in line with Public Health England guidance.”