What to expect when holidays restart - as government warns of long border delays

Passenger locator forms will be intergated into the UK border system so checks to be carried out at e-gates (Photo: Kim Mogg / JPIMedia)

The next phase of easing lockdown restrictions is fast-approaching, with further relaxations to take effect later this month thanks to falling Covid rates.

The reopening of indoor hospitality, meeting inside and some large events are among the key changes to be implemented, along with the possible resumption of foreign travel.

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The UK government is preparing to introduce a new risk-based traffic light system for foreign travel, which will see countries ranked as either red, amber or green.

Travellers returning to the UK from “green” rated countries will not be required to self-isolate, although pre-departure and post-arrival Covid tests will still be needed. Those returning from counties classed as “amber” or “red” will be required to self-isolate or enter quarantine.

The UK government is expected to publish its green list of holiday destinations this week, as it prepares to reopen foreign travel from 17 May.

But travellers are being warned to expect huge delays at the border when international travel resumes due to the coronavirus paperwork that will need to be completed.

This is what is known about plans to reduce waiting times on returning to the UK, and how travel will be managed safely.

‘Queues and wait times will be longer’

As new measures have had to be introduced for international that did not exist prior to the pandemic, travellers are being warned to prepare for longer wait times at the border to ensure compliance with these requirements.

These queues will be longer if travellers have not completed the necessary requirements to enter the UK, including purchasing test packages and booking their hotel quarantine in advance.

Everyone who is allowed to enter England from outside the Common Travel Area (Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man) must take a pre-departure Covid-19 test 72 hours before arrival, complete a passenger locator form, self-isolate for 10 days on arrival, and have a Covid-19 test booked test on day two and day eight.

Passengers who have travelled through or from a red list country in the 10 days before travel must take a pre-departure test 72 hours before arrival, complete their passenger locator form, and have a hotel booking for 10 days after arrival.

Airlines are legally required to ensure that all passengers have met these requirements before travelling to the United Kingdom.

On arrival, Border Force conducts further checks to ensure arriving passengers have met these requirements, and specific processes will be in place for those arriving from red list countries to ensure they enter into hotel quarantine.

How will queues be managed at borders?

In an effort to cut queues at borders, officials are now working on plans to automate some coronavirus checks to speed up re-entry into the UK.

The passenger locator form, which must be completed before travelling to the UK, has been simplified to make completing it as easy as possible, and some compliance checks will be able to be completed automatically, without having to see a Border Force officer.

The UK government has confirmed that it will integrate passenger locator forms into the UK border system to allow checks to be carried out at all e-gates across the country’s airports by autumn this year.

By reopening the automated e-passport gates at airports, returning travellers with chipped passports will be able to walk through quickly, rather than wait in a long queue to have their papers manually checked.

The e-passport gates are seen as crucial in preventing huge backlogs at the border, with Heathrow Airport warning that holidaymakers would face more than six hours in queues if the gates are not reopened.

At the moment, Border Force staff are told to manually inspect the paperwork of all travellers returning to the UK. But under the automated system, a computer will instantly check forms when a passport is tapped, helping to significantly cut airport waiting times.

The plans to reopen the gates comes as industry chiefs predict that traffic into the UK will increase fivefold when the ban on international travel is lifted, which would see an estimated 100,000 passengers arriving at the border that day.

A Home Office spokesperson told NationalWorld: “As we prepare to resume international travel this summer, Border Force is ensuring that it has the right level of resources to check that passengers are compliant with our border health measures to minimise wait times at the border whilst ensuring we maintain health.

“We are also working with industry partners to improve processes at the border, while maintaining the level of checks necessary to safeguard public health.

“Queues and wait times will be longer, as it is vital that we undertake thorough checks at the border to stop the importation of new Covid-19 cases into the UK.

“Passengers should complete the necessary health requirements to enter the UK, such as purchasing Covid-19 testing packages or booking their quarantine hotel in advance of travel.”

Will travellers need a Covid passport?

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has confirmed that the NHS app will be used by holidaymakers in England to prove their coronavirus status to destination countries.

The app, which is currently used to book medical appointments and order repeat prescriptions, will show evidence that a person has been vaccinated against Covid or recently had a negative test.

Mr Shapps said he is working with international partners to ensure that the system can be recognised across the world.

He hosted G7 talks with his counterparts from the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the EU Commission on Wednesday (5 May) to create a “robust, accessible and coordinated approach” to restarting international travel.

This includes best practices for sharing scientific data and coordinating on “universally recognised travel certificates”.

However, the talks took place just a day after Downing Street admitted the NHS app may not be ready for use as a vaccine passport when international travel resumes, which is expected to be on 17 May in England.

The European Union has previously set out plans for coronavirus vaccine certificates that could be used by UK holidaymakers this summer.

Digital Green Certificates will be accepted as evidence that a person has had a Covid-19 jab, received a negative test result or recovered from the virus, according to the European Commission’s proposal.