“Air bridges” enabling holidaymakers to sidestep quarantine are likely to open with fewer than 10 predominantly short-haul destinations, The Telegraph understands.
A list of about a dozen potential countries – including Portugal, Spain, Greece and France – is being considered for bilateral agreements which would mean British holidaymakers could fly from July 4 without facing a 14-day quarantine on their arrival or return.
Officials are drawing up criteria by which to determine the risk posed by each destination of spreading coronavirus on tourists’ return. “Air bridges” will only be cleared after advice on each “low risk” country from the chief medical officer, and the Foreign Office agreeing to lift its ban on non-essential travel to the destinations.
“It is work in progress – risk first, and how you measure that risk, followed by the popularity of the destination,” said an aviation source.
Ministers are expected to announce the plans on June 29, when the quarantine policy was scheduled to be reviewed, although there was speculation in Spain on Friday that the country was about to announce its agreement to a “travel corridor” or “air bridge” with the UK.
Australia and British territories Gibraltar, Bermuda, Montserrat and the Falklands Islands are also being considered for “travel corridors”, although it is not clear if they would be part of the first tranche of countries.
The numbers of countries with agreed corridors is likely to increase after the first review on June 29, although ministers are determined that each step should be assessed to minimise the risk of a second coronavirus wave.
That means quarantine could remain in place throughout the summer for anyone arriving from countries that do not have a corridor with the UK.
With the prospects of “air bridges” rising, some families are already planning to decamp to Europe this summer, with some travel firms reporting a spike in bookings.
Emma Coulthurst, of price comparison website Travelsupermarket, said people seemed to be “pre-empting” the Government announcement and had been “buoyed” by seeing countries such as Italy and Portugal reopening for tourism.
She said searches on the site for holidays in Spain and Greece doubled a fortnight ago when the countries made it clear they were trying to salvage the summer season. In the past week, there has been an 18 per cent increase in searches for package holidays to Spain.
“Through to June, we were seeing most searches for October departures, followed by September and December and April and May next year,” said Ms Coulthurst.
“Things have completely flipped in the last fortnight on the back of talk of ‘air bridges’ and European countries reopening. Now it is this July, August and September that we are seeing most searches and bookings for.”
Flight booking site Skyscanner said there had been a 34 per cent increase in searches for return travel from the UK in the week beginning June 7 compared to May 10.
Roughly a third of people are looking to travel in the next 30 days, and Alicante, Tenerife and Faro were among the most popular searches on the site. However, the number of bookings through the service is still far below pre-coronavirus levels.
Gavin Harris, of Skyscanner, said: “Right now, consumers are navigating a complex decision-making process. There still remains uncertainty about the provision of future travel in both the short and longer term.”
Noel Josephides, of tour operator Sunvil, said he had not seen a rush of bookings and the firm has cancelled customer bookings up until July 15 so as not to leave travellers in limbo. He added that people appeared to be waiting for the ForeignOffice travel advice to be lifted.