Our travel correspondent is never happier than when idling in a hammock strung between the palm trees on a distant island shore.
But occasionally we take his coconut away for an hour and make him answer your questions.
This is the compilation of the 27 May session, on islands.
It has been updated on 28 May to take account of the new date for the next “traffic light” review, on 3 June.
Traffic light changes
Q: There has been a lot of talk this week about some Greek and Spanish islands joining the “green list” at the next review. What do you think? I am interested in Rhodes, Crete and the Canary Islands in particular.
A: The first review of the government’s “traffic light” system is set to be announced on 3 June and come into effect at 4am on 10 June.
As of 6pm on 27 May, the latest infection rates from Greece indicate that Rhodes, as well as Kos, Santorini and Zante, look good: they have a very low number of cases. They also pass the test of having direct flights from the UK. But the government has one more parameter up its sleeve: the extent of genomic testing. I am not able to say how good it may be on those islands.
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Crete is experiencing some relatively high case numbers in Chania and Heraklion (as is, incidentally, Corfu). But with between four and 10 days before the decision will be made, there is some chance numbers will fall.
The Foreign Office, meanwhile, “advises against all but essential travel to Greece, except for the islands of Rhodes, Kos, Zakynthos, Corfu and Crete, based on the current assessment of Covid-19 risks”.
In terms of Spain, the Foreign Office advises against travel to everywhere except the Canary Islands – which I find surprising, since the Balearics appear to be doing better than anywhere else in the country. According to the Economic Circle of Mallorca, new cases are down to 18 per 100,000 in a week, the R number is 0.86 and there’s a low test positivity rate. Mallorca, Ibiza and Menorca are prime candidates for inclusion among the quarantine-free locations.
In the Canaries, there are significant numbers of new cases in Santa Cruz (Tenerife), Las Palmas (Gran Canaria) and Arrecife (Lanzarote) – but if the figures ease, the archipelago may also join the green list.
Q: If the next green list comes into effect on 10 June and I return to the UK on that date, what rules would I need to follow if the country I am returning from was amber but has now turned green?
What if your flight departs prior to the 4am effective time? Does it count from the moment you land in UK or when you depart destination?
A: I have been through this at great length with the Department for Transport (DfT). The decision is based on the status of the country from which you have travelled at the moment you arrive in the UK.
However, if you have been to any other country that is still on the amber or red list, that must be declared and you must quarantine accordingly.
Q: If Tenerife goes on the green list on 3 June, when will you be able to return to Scotland without quarantine?
A: If, as the DfT says, the measure takes effect a week after its announcement, then arrivals from 4am on 10 June will be quarantine-free. Bear in mind, though, that the Scottish government’s risk classification has often diverged from the government in London during the coronavirus pandemic.
Q: What do you think are the chances of the quarantine rules becoming more palatable? For example “just” doing free, rapid antigen tests on days two and eight, and not being confined to home, just keeping social distancing rules and applying common sense – like in their other “rules”?
A: For this summer I think it is extremely unlikely that the quarantine rules will be changed for red and green list countries. However there will be generally movement from the red list to the amber list and from the amber list to the green list. On the green list itself, I predict that the test before return and test after arrival measures may be relaxed.
Q: For PCR tests before travel, do we purely check the destination’s requirements or do the airlines have their own requirements in place too?
A: As far as I know, no airlines serving the UK have their own stipulations – except for a small number of “experimental” flights in which everyone agrees to be tested. In such cases, people who do not want to be tested are able to travel on alternative flights.
Q: We changed from two weeks in Skiathos end of June to two weeks in Porto Santo. But with more EU nations imposing quarantine for Brits because of Indian variant, could there be a realistic chance of Portugal following Germany, France and Austria?
A: The Portuguese Atlantic island of Porto Santo is seeing far more interest among British holidaymakers than usual. This lovely island, opposite Madeira and with much better beaches, is being sold from Gatwick by Tui.
I am not particularly concerned about the travel restrictions you mention – while they are undoubtedly inconvenient for a lot of people, I think they may turn out to be rather premature and unnecessary.
Once those nations get green status from the UK, and it becomes clear that the Indian variant does not present too much of a threat, I imagine new quarantine rules will fall away. Furthermore, I expect Portugal to ease its current insistence on a PCR test before departure from the UK.
Q: Do you think there is any chance of Corfu turning green in June? The numbers seem to be falling on most days. Also, when do you think the second June announcement will be implemented?
I will be returning home on 2 July and wondering if we miss this one, will we reap the benefits of the second June announcement.
A: The next review is on 3 June, taking effect on 10 June. Assuming the promised three-week cycle is followed, the next review will be on 24 June taking effect on 1 July. Your timing looks perfect. If it slips, though, you may well think it worthwhile staying a extra days there, finding alternative flight rather than having to go into quarantine and pay for more tests when you come back.
Q: What do you think are the chances of being able to fly out to Rhodes, then take a boat to Halki on 17 June for a 70th birthday?
A: There is no problem that I can see with flying out there. I infer your question relates to the quarantine status when you return.
If, as I predict, Rhodes makes the “green list” next week, then part of the battle is won.
But with so many smaller Greek islands, it looks very unlikely that places such as Halki will be analysed and added to the green list.
Maddeningly, it may be the case that you ability to return from Rhodes without quarantine (assuming it changes from amber to green) will be thwarted by a visit to the even less risky Halki. So be prepared to self isolate on return – though the later you leave it, the better. As mentioned above, the next set of changes should take effect on 1 July.
Q: What would you say the likelihood is of Santorini being the one Greek island to make it onto the green list during the next review?
We plan on getting married on the island over the bank holiday weekend in August. However, guests are getting anxious (as are we!) that payment dates are approaching and the whole of Greece, including its islands, currently resides on the amber list.
A: Congratulations on your impending wedding. As mentioned earlier, Santorini is one of my top tips for early inclusion on the green list. By late August I am sure this ravishing Greek island will be a permanent fixture. So tell your guests to go ahead and commit.
Just bear in mind that there may continue to be some restrictions in place for travel via the mainland, so direct flights rather than connections in Athens are to be recommended.
Q: Looking to go away first week of July. Are Greek islands looking likely by then for the green list?
Also, there’s not a whole lot of flight choice at the moment. Will more flights be added as countries go green? Should I hold off booking until closer to the time?
A: All good questions thank you, Hannah. Yes a fair sprinkling of Greek islands will be on the green list by early July.
It is also possible that more flights will be added: that is certainly what happened in the case of Portugal, after it was added to the green list. So if you are seeing prices higher than you would like at present, certainly hold off booking – though fares may end up going up relentlessly if capacity does not increase.
Q: Do you think Corfu is likely to make the green list?
A: Not on my immediate top tips, but certainly by July.
Q: Do you think it’s likely that islands will encourage card payments only to help reduce any transmission from cash? In Greece, are masks still required in public including beaches?
A: Contactless payment is becoming very common, but in more remote island locations cash may still be king. I haven’t been out to Greece since late October, but I understand that mask wearing is generally required and observed. I expect that will be relaxed shortly,
Q: I am booked to go to Crete on 15 September this year. What is the likelihood of Crete being on the green list by then?
A: Very likely. I’ll give you 95 per cent certainty and promise you a Mythos beer if I get there at the same time.
Q: Which of the Caribbean islands do you think will make the green list? I am due to travel to Antigua on 29 July to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.
A: Congratulations on your impending silver anniversary. My tips for Caribbean inclusion comprise Antigua, Barbados and Grenada. Cuba may be another suitable candidate. Saint Lucia is not on my list because of a recent surge in cases.
Q: I have booked for Barbados in October, but believe even if you have two vaccinations and a negative PCR, you still have to quarantine for two days at an approved hotel. Is this correct, and do you think this will change again by October?
A: For the last few months of 2020, when we were still allowed to travel abroad, there was a test-and-quick-quarantine arrangement for arrivals from the UK. Since 18 May new rules have taken effect – which are actually tougher for unvaccinated travellers than before.
A PCR test taken within three days of arrival is required. The authorities warn: “The date of the test and not the date of the result is what will be assessed against the 3 day time frame.”
On arrival, vaccinated travellers get PCR tested. They then go into hotel quarantine (at their expense) until a negative test result is received, whereupon they are free.
Unvaccinated travellers must go into quarantine for five days before another test.
In the unlikely event that you have been in South Africa, Brazil or India in the past three weeks, you will need to quarantine for a week and will need a negative test to be released.
But October is five months away and much can change – in particular, I imagine people who have been vaccinated may be offered a faster test on arrival.
Finally, I’m interested in your decision to go to Barbados in October. There could well be some quite lively weather around that time.
Q: We are travelling to Jersey tomorrow. I know that we will be tested when we arrive and have to quarantine until we receive a negative test. But do we need to produce a PCR certificate on our way out at Heathrow airport? And another one on our way in?
A: Jersey is one of the most welcoming island locations for UK visitors, and one of the best organised in terms of requirements. The island had its bespoke “traffic light” scheme long before the UK. Most of England and Wales is on the green list, but Northern Ireland and Scotland are on amber.
You do not need any kind of test to board a plane to Jersey, and the authorities make the arrival arrangements clear on the Visit Jersey website.
The authorities say: “Passengers must use the highest colour (green, amber, red) where they have stayed overnight in the 14 days before arriving in Jersey.”
Arrivals from green and amber locations who have been vaccinated have an easy ride: a free PCR test upon arrival is the main hurdle. You must have had both jabs, with the second at least two weeks ago.
Those who have not been vaccinated and have come from one of the green areas of the UK should go direct from the airport to your hotel, and stay there while you wait for a result.
You are promised the results within 12 hours, though in practice it is usually just a few hours.
For those in a hurry, you can pay for a PCR test before departure to Jersey – assuming it is negative, you can then swerve testing.
From 7 June, Jersey becomes more family friendly, with all under-18s deemed “green” unless they have been in a red location; currently under-11s avoid testing.
Coming back to the UK, no tests or quarantine is necessary for anyone.
Not quite islands
Q: Will Italy make it to the green list in June? If not the whole country, how about the big Italian islands, Sardinia and Sicily?
A: Italy, like almost all other European countries, is on the amber list - requiring self-isolation on return to the UK. Rates are falling steadily, but it is sitting in mid-table with infection numbers about three times higher than the UK. The nation will not make the green list in the early June change, but it may get quarantine-free status by late June/early July.
I predict that will also see a substantial reduction in the onerous testing requirements on return to the UK.
There is an outside chance that Sardinia (but not Sicily), with sharply lower rates, may go green before the rest of the country.
Q: I am flying to, and returning from, Gibraltar. What checks are made if I cross to Spain?
A: If you cross to Spain from Gibraltar, on return you must declare that fact and self-isolate as required – though mainland Spain may go “all green” by early July.
Q: We all expect the islands of Spain to go green at the next announcement. What are your thoughts on individual destinations, eg the Costa Blanca – whose rates are lower than here in the UK. Will the Costas make it this time ?
A: Benidorm and the rest of the Costa Blanca looks likely to qualify for the green list in terms of numbers, but every indication is that the government is uninterested in distinguishing between different parts of the same geopolitical landmass, if you see what I mean – so it’s all or nothing for the Spanish mainland.
Q: I’ve got a Russia ticket for euro2020 and can’t find out whether we need to self isolate on arrival. Euro2020s website only mentions visa free entry with a match ticket, negative test, and FanID.
A: St Petersburg is a veritable mosaic of islands so I can answer this one. It is likely that the rules on entry to Russia will be eased for football fans, but of course you will still need to quarantine on your return to the UK.
Serious concerns are in order about flights – we have seen flights on Air France and Austrian Airlines cancelled amid repercussions from Sunday’s forced diversion of a Ryanair flight in Belarus. I am hoping to be in Russia for the football, but I am keeping all my options open.
Q: How is it looking for Turkey coming off the red list? I’m aware it will still be amber, but if you have a rough idea of dates …
A: I’ll let this one through since Turkey has lovely islands. Given Istanbul is major hub status it is difficult to see Turkey leaving the red list any time soon – the UAE and Qatar are indefinite members of the highest risk category for precisely that reason.
For any change to take place on the hub issue, it would require a U-turn by the transport secretary, Grant Shapps – whereupon there would be fury from the many thousands of people whose travel plans have been destroyed by the red list rating.
Q: Quick question that may help people with last minute green list changes. While you should not use the NHS PCR tests to travel, will airlines and Greek authorities accept them for outbound travel?
A: For the avoidance of doubt, under no circumstances can or should NHS tests be used for travel. Airlines are denying boarding to passengers who try it.
Q: What do you think of the possibility of the coastal regions of Egypt going green? I am booked for August and panicking about if I should change.
A: I assume that you are booked on a package holiday to Egypt in August, and I imagine that it will probably be cancelled – the government has not the slightest interest in committing travel to Africa at the moment. Wait until the holiday is cancelled before you assess your options. That way you will be entitled to a full refund, which you can then spend as you wish.