UK readies plan to allow in vaccinated foreigners

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jul 09 2021 07:36 PM

UK readies plan to allow in vaccinated foreigners 1
Arriving passengers queue at UK Border Control at the Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport in London, Britain on June 29, 2021. Hannah Mckay, Reuters/File Photo

The UK government said Friday it expected to announce a plan in the next fortnight allowing entry to fully vaccinated foreigners and British expatriates, as it eliminates most coronavirus curbs.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also defended the government's decision to allow in 1,000 football fans from Italy for Sunday's European Championship final against England, to join some 60,000 other supporters. 

Many scientists are worried that the government's plan to lift most curbs in England on July 19, and the green light to a large presence at the football final, will seed new outbreaks of Covid-19.

Shapps said the fans from Italy would be on specially chartered flights, stay in London only 12 hours and have a segregated zone at Wembley Stadium, and return home after the match.

"They aren't able to travel anywhere else," he told Sky News, calling it a "very restricted program".

The government said Thursday that from July 19, fully vaccinated UK residents and children will no longer have to quarantine on their return to England.

The announcement makes summer travel easier to some of Britons' favorite holiday destinations, including France, Greece and Spain.

But the plan is limited to travelers who received their vaccinations through the UK's health service, excluding British expatriates and foreigners jabbed abroad, triggering criticism from expats in particular.

Shapps said widening the scheme to expats and other travelers from overseas was "something we are very actively working on at the moment".

The minister said he expected "in the next couple of weeks I'll be able to come forward and say more about other locations in the world". 

- Six-hour queues? -

However, Shapps added it was "easier done from some places like the EU where they have a digital app coming along than it is in the United States, where I think they have 50 different systems, one for each state, largely paper-based".

Britain recorded 32,551 Covid cases on Thursday as infections surge owing to the more contagious Delta variant. It already has one of the worst death tolls in Europe, with more than 128,000 fatalities.

But the government insists that with vaccinations keeping hospitalizations and deaths relatively low, it is time to start reopening the economy after its third lockdown.

Shapps played down concerns the new travel rules could lead to marathon queues at UK airports as immigration officers check every passenger's vaccination details.

He said airlines were already instituting pre-departure checks to collate such information ahead of the peak summer travel season. 

But the Immigration Services Union said its border staff would still have to cross-check the data, and that faster e-gates were not installed at all points of entry.

Union spokeswoman Lucy Moreton said peak queues at airports were now up to two hours and could increase to six hours with the Covid inspections.

"It's a political decision to check 100 percent of Covid arrivals and that largely is the problem here," she told BBC radio.

Moreton added that many immigration officers are also likely to be off work if forced to self-isolate, under current government rules on Covid tracing which only expire on August 16.