EU unveils plans for vaccine passports by summer

President of the European Commission, Ursula Von Der Leyen

President of the European Commission, Ursula Von Der Leyen

The European Commission has today proposed the introduction of Covid passport to allow 450 million Europeans to travel freely by summer.

The so-called Digital Green Certificates, which should be free of charge, will be delivered to EU residents who can prove they have been vaccinated, but also to those who have tested negative for the virus or have proof they have recovered from it.

“Being vaccinated will not be a precondition to travel,” the commission said. “All EU citizens have a fundamental right to free movement in the EU and this applies regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not. The Digital Green Certificate will make it easier to exercise that right, also through testing and recovery certificates.”

The plan will be discussed next week during a summit of EU leaders.

Southern European countries such as Greece and Spain have been pushing for the technology, although others – including France – argue that it is premature, and have expressed concerns regarding discrimination.

A number of countries, including Estonia, Romania and Georgia, are already waiving quarantine for non-EU arrivals who can prove they are fully vaccinated. Today, Iceland said it would open its borders to vaccinated foreigners.

Scroll down for more updates.

02:01 PM

‘The recession generation has been stripped of its one affordable frivolity’

“Traditional markers of adulthood are beyond our grasp, so we found joy in cheap travel,” writes Emma Featherstone. “Now what will sustain those in arrested development?”

Read the full story.

01:57 PM

Iceland ready to welcome vaccinated Britons

Today, Iceland announced that, from March 18, all Britons who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 will be allowed to travel to Iceland without being subject to PCR testing and quarantine. The exemption also applies to UK travellers who can provide valid proof of prior infection.

“We are excited to safely reopen our borders to fully vaccinated British citizens, as well as those who are no longer susceptible to the virus,” says Sigríður Dögg Guðmundsdóttir, Head of Visit Iceland. “Tourism is a very valuable industry for Iceland, as it contributes to our economy and culture. With the support of approved vaccines, the targeted measures taken by Icelandic officials, experts, scientists, and the general population to continuously keep the infection rate down, as well as a focused reopening plan designed to keep the Icelandic people and tourists healthy, we are now able to safely extend an exemption to UK travellers.”

Previously, only citizens of the EU/EEA were allowed to enter the country with the following requirements: a negative PCR test prior to their departure to Iceland, a negative PCR test at the border followed by a five-day quarantine, and a third negative test after quarantine. Iceland has also maintained a policy of exempting those who have presented proof of vaccination or prior infections issued in the EU/EEA.

Iceland is calling - Getty

Iceland is calling – Getty

01:52 PM

Italy tops the charts for post-lockdown travel

A survey of 30,000 people by holiday specialists Unforgettable Travel Company has uncovered the 10 destinations Britons are dreaming of most for a post-lockdown escape. Italy takes the prize.

  1. Italy

  2. Greece

  3. Croatia

  4. South Africa

  5. Australia

  6. Portugal

  7. New Zealand

  8. Spain

  9. Maldives

  10. Iceland

Need a little Italian inspiration? Look no further:

The cheaper alternative to Tuscany – with more mountains, better beaches and fewer people

The hottest hotel openings in Italy you should know about for an amazing summer holiday

The Italian region with beautiful landscapes and ancient villages – but no tourists

Forget Chianti – these are the five hidden corners of Tuscany you should visit

Secret seaside: Italy’s forgotten beach destinations

01:43 PM

Which country is leading on vaccine rollouts?

The chart below might explain the EU’s curious behaviour in the last few weeks.

01:37 PM

France to get tougher lockdown measures

France recently lifted its ban on UK arrivals, but it hardly looks like an enticing travel option right now. Its case rate is high, the vaccine rollout is slow, and plans for stricter lockdown measures will be announced on Thursday.

“Additional measures will be taken in a certain number of territories,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters on Wednesday after a cabinet meeting. They will target the economically-important Paris region as well as the north of the country, and could include lockdowns, he said.

President Emmanuel Macron has been reluctant to impose a third national lockdown that would crush the economy and could prove politically costly some 14 months before the presidential election. Instead his government has been relying on a national curfew to try and contain a resurgence in the infection rate.

But amid a sluggish vaccine roll out they turned to localized restrictions in Covid-19 hotspots, shuttering the northern city of Dunkirk last month and the region of Alpes-Maritimes in the south, including Nice, on the weekends.

01:31 PM

Which country has the highest Covid rate in the world right now?

The UK remains under lock and key, despite sitting down in 73rd on the Covid cases per capita league table. The country with the highest infection rate right now is Estonia, which recently announced the closure of all shops and restaurants for at least a month.

The countries with the highest Covid case rates right now

The countries with the highest Covid case rates right now

01:25 PM

Russian sunseekers flock to restriction-free Tanzania as Covid concerns grow

While its idyllic island of Zanzibar is packed with Russian tourists, Tanzania faces a Covid conundrum with a mysteriously absent president. Sarah Marshall writes:

Although many airlines will only carry travellers with a negative PCR test, Tanzania has no official requirements. Enticed by the promise of easy entry, guaranteed sunshine and slashed resort rates, a new type of tourist is appearing.

Several times a week, direct scheduled and charter flights from Moscow bring coachloads of Russian holidaymakers to Zanzibar.

Response from locals is mixed. “Some arrive with a beer in each hand,” one guide joked to me. “But they keep us busy; we are grateful for that,” he quickly added.

Reports from other hoteliers I met were less favourable. One manager of a boutique beach resort in the north complained of non-guests trespassing onto the property and leaping into the pool; another, based in Stone Town, was concerned by the number of skimpy dressers walking through the historic streets of what is still a predominantly conservative Muslim society.

Read the full story.

Stone Town, Zanzibar - Getty

Stone Town, Zanzibar – Getty

01:17 PM

Ursula von der Leyen threatens to block vaccine exports to UK

Meanwhile, the vaccine soap opera goes on in Brussels, with Ursula von der Leyen, head of the bloc’s executive arm, saying “all options are on the table” to boost the EU’s stuttering immunisation campaign, including moves to halt exports to countries which “have higher vaccination rates than us”, including the UK. Follows the latest on our main Covid blog.

01:11 PM

Why hospitality is about more than just food and drink

This Tweet, shared by restaurateur and bar owner Hugh Osmond, will strike a chord with many. As things stand, pubs and restaurants cannot reopen for another two months, despite nearly half of UK adults being vaccinated, and Covid deaths and infections plummeting.

01:08 PM

River cruise giant Viking rules out vaccine requirement – for now

With P&O Cruises making unvaccinated guests walk the plank (metaphorically speaking), river cruise behemoth Viking has said it will not follow suit, yet.

A spokesperson said: “The safety and wellbeing of our guests, our crew, and the communities we visit, is always our top priority. We encourage all of our guests to get their vaccination when it is their time. With the implementation of our Viking Health & Safety Program, which includes daily PCR testing for all guests and crew, among many other protocol enhancements, Viking will not require vaccinations for [its upcoming] three domestic UK sailings. However, Viking’s medical team will continue to monitor vaccination rates and adjust our protocol and policies as needed to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our guests and crew.”

01:03 PM

Scarborough or Sharm el-Sheikh?

They both sound lovely… but what do this odd couple have in common?

According to Tripadvisor, they are both among the fastest growing destinations for British travellers. The website looked at the biggest year-on-year increase in searches by UK users to uncover 10 places in Britain and 10 abroad.

Here they are:

The fastest growing destinations (according to Tripadvisor)

The fastest growing destinations (according to Tripadvisor)

12:51 PM

Pound hits 12-month high against euro with holidays on the horizon for Brits

A little ray of light amid the lockdown gloom. When we are finally permitted to leave our country, we’ll find our pound stretching that little bit further; the pound hit a one-year high against the euro this morning (1.16783 EUR).

Ian Strafford-Taylor, CEO at travel money specialist FairFX, said: “Almost a year on from when the UK was plunged into lockdown and the travel industry stalled, the pound is rallying with the highest rates of the last 12 months and is currently up 10% against the euro compared with March 23, 2020, the day we entered lockdown for the first time. With positive news around vaccine passports and countries across Europe suggesting holidays are on the horizon, savvy holidaymakers looking to get the most bang for their buck will be locking in exchange rates while the pound is strong.”

12:47 PM

The Vanish Steps

Where did everybody go? Rome’s Spanish Steps are eerily deserted with the country thrust into another national lockdown.

This is not a typical sight - Getty

This is not a typical sight – Getty

12:40 PM

European airlines welcome plans for Covid passport

Europe’s beleaugered airlines have, unsurprisingly, welcomed the EU’s plans to launch Covid passports to open up travel to those who are vaccinated, have a recent negative test, or can prove they have antibodies.

A consortium of associations, including Airlines for Europe and International Air Transport Association, said in a statement:

We welcome the European Commission’s adoption of the proposal for a Digital Green Certificate. The EC has our full support, and we call on the European Parliament and Council to work on its swift adoption via an emergency procedure.

We need a clear path out of this crippling situation, and appeal once again to the EU Member States to implement common solutions and plan ahead in a fully coordinated and aligned way. We repeat: a safe restart of air travel is possible, and we can save both lives and livelihoods – but we need the EU to lead from the front.

States must now do their part by acting in a coordinated manner, to avert yet another patchwork solution of fragmented agreements borne out of frustration and necessity.

12:33 PM

‘Final call’ for financial support for airlines

The UK has lost more than twice as many aviation jobs during the coronavirus pandemic than France or Germany, according to new figures.

Analysis commissioned by trade union Unite found that 61,973 UK jobs have been lost in the sector since February 2020. This includes 12,000 at British Airways, 3,150 at Virgin Atlantic, 3,000 at Rolls-Royce and 2,200 at Airbus.

Unite assistant general secretary for transport, Diana Holland, said: “It has been heart-breaking to see so many UK jobs go in aviation when we know that demand will come back. A staggering number of workers in the sector are now unemployed but when we look across the Channel, we see that a different approach from governments actually saves these jobs.

“All we are asking is that the Government keeps to its promise. It has been a year since the Chancellor promised a support package for UK aviation. This may now be the final call for that support. Without it, this industry will not recover at the speed nor on the scale of our competitors.”

12:27 PM

P&O Cruise passengers will still need to wear masks

All passengers on P&O Cruises this summer will need to be vaccinated, but that doesn’t mean they won’t need to jump through all the other Covid hoops.

According to a statement from the company: “All guests and crew will be required to follow enhanced health and wellbeing measures to protect everyone on board on these cruises. These have been developed with guidance from our global medical and public health experts and scientists and in close coordination with UK government agencies. These protocols include enhanced sanitation measures, appropriate social distancing and the wearing of masks in certain areas of the ship.

“Crew will also undergo a strict testing and quarantine regime as well as regular testing during their time on board. Our protocols are subject to change, as we will continue to work with our experts and with government bodies to ensure all of our practices evolve in line with latest advice, with our primary focus always being to protect the health and wellbeing of our crew and guests and the communities we visit. Travel insurance will also be mandatory for all guests.”

A pair of P&O Cruises ships - Getty

A pair of P&O Cruises ships – Getty

12:18 PM

P&O Cruises to ban unvaccinated passengers

P&O Cruises has announced that anyone boarding one of its cruises around the British Isles this summer must be vaccinated.

Passengers must provide proof that they have received two Covid jabs to board the voyages on the Britannia and the Iona vessels.

Guests travelling with P&O must also have travel insurance that “must include medical and repatriation cover” and medical expenses related to Covid-19.

Other major cruise lines including Saga Cruises and Virgin Voyages in the US have announced similar policies; however, Viking Cruises has said it will not request proof of vaccination from passengers.

It is expected that vaccine passports will be the key to reopening international travel this summer. Today, the European Commission unveiled its plan for a “digital green certificate” to unlock travel on the Continent. Some member states, such as Greece and Spain, have been pressing for the technology to kickstart their beleaguered tourism industries.

12:11 PM

Rifts over Covid vaccines weigh on EU push to reopen summer travel

Six countries demanded more Covid-19 vaccines from the European Union on Wednesday, the latest setback to the bloc’s troubled inoculation campaign that risks undermining plans to restart travel this summer to support the battered tourism sector.

Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Slovenia raised concerns “on possible gaps in the vaccine distribution between member states”, an EU official said, amid an acute squeeze the EU faces due to reduced deliveries by AstraZeneca.

The sluggish inoculation campaign threatens plans by the European Commission to launch “green digital certificate” that would collate information on vaccinations, tests and Covid recovery to let travellers cross borders freely again after a year of curbs that have left beaches and famous landmarks deserted.

Southern EU countries reliant on tourism and other proponents of the new Covid-19 certificate hope it would win final approvals in June and go online just in time for the peak season.

But with the number of EU Covid-related deaths above 550,000 and less than a tenth of the population inoculated, countries including France, Belgium and Germany have voiced scepticism.

12:09 PM

‘Give me a tropical island, French cuisine and a British social system’

Despite once opting for Blackpool over Bali, the TV personality Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen remains a fan of far-flung opulence.

Read our interview with him here.

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen - Jay Williams

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen – Jay Williams

11:58 AM

Ursula Von Der Leyen addresses the European Commission

In her introductory statement, Ursula Von Der Leyen said the following on vaccine passports:

“What is the function of this certificate? It states whether the person has either been vaccinated or has a recent negative test or has recovered and thus has antibodies.

“Secondly the certificate will show data [that is] mutually recognised in every member state.

“Thirdly with this certificate we aim to reinstate the freedom of movement in a safe, responsible and trusted manner.

“We are aiming at the reopening but a precondition of that is vaccination and the vaccines.”

More to follow.

11:55 AM

Another pandemic by 2030 a ‘realistic possibility’, government warns

Another novel pandemic remains a “realistic possibility” before 2030 as population growth and the loss of wildlife habitats are set to increase the risk of diseases jumping from animals to humans, the government has said.

The warning comes in the Integrated Review, the government’s long-awaited vision for security, defence and foreign policy over the next nine years, published yesterday.

In the foreword to the review, Boris Johnson says the UK is “emerging from the pandemic with renewed determination and optimism”.

He pledges that by 2030 the UK will “have built back better from Covid-19 with a strong economic recovery and greater national resilience to threats and hazards in the physical and digital worlds”.

However, the review warns that infectious disease outbreaks are likely to become more frequent by 2030 and many are likely to be zoonoses – that is, they will have jumped from animals to humans.

Anne Gulland reports.

11:48 AM

The 10 most wanted Airbnbs for summer staycations with a difference

Currently, all of the top 10 most wish-listed holiday lets by British users on Airbnb are found on our own humble isle – a marked change from previous years when treehouses in Bali and cave boltholtes on Greek islands reigned supreme.

Clearly, many of us feel that a holiday on home turf is most likely this spring and summer. So it’s a good thing there are plenty of alluring options, from Kent to Cumbria, kitted out with roll-top baths, private hot tubs and more.

A unique glamping hut that began life as a boat in Penzance. See number 7 for more details. 

A unique glamping hut that began life as a boat in Penzance. See number 7 for more details.

Here we highlight the top 10 homes that British users have been saving, or wishlisting, on Airbnb between January 1 and March 1. All would make a fine place to celebrate the return of travel.

11:41 AM

Celebrating St Patrick’s Day today?

To celebrate St Patrick’s Day, our writer goes back to her roots with recipes showcasing modern Irish cooking in all its diverse glory.

Cod and mussels

Cod and mussels

Enjoy.

11:33 AM

The results are in

We asked our Twitter followers if it’s right that some cruise companies (such as P&O) are only allowing vaccinated passengers to board their ships this summer.

1,000 people responded, and the results were:

What do you think? Comment at the bottom of this article to have your say.

11:25 AM

‘Project S’: Entire town vaccinated in race to understand Covid jabs

As the pandemic hits new heights in Brazil and its vaccination drive stutters, residents in a hard-hit commuter town can barely believe their luck: every adult has been offered at least one dose of a Covid-19 shot.

Serrana – a sleepy town in São Paulo state home to some 45,000 people – was chosen last autumn to host ‘Project S’, an unprecedented study that aims to answer looming questions about the real-world impacts of coronavirus jabs.

By vaccinating the entire city in stages researchers hope to track whether someone who is inoculated can still transmit the virus, and how quickly vaccines contain the pandemic.

Serrana, Sao Paolo State - Jonne Roriz/Bloomberg

Serrana, Sao Paolo State – Jonne Roriz/Bloomberg

“We expect vaccines to make the disease manageable, an infection that we can live with,” said Dr Ricardo Palacios, clinical studies director at the Butantan Institute, which is leading the research. “But we need to test this in the real world to identify whether vaccines reduce severe disease and transmission.

“That’s our aim: to study this in a manageable, controlled setting and provide the data needed to make future public health decisions – like when is a good time to stop social distancing or face masks, based on vaccination rates?” he told The Telegraph.

Our Global Health Security team have more details on this story here.

11:15 AM

The wild wonders of Britain you must see in your lifetime

1. Orca

With dorsal fins like dinghy sails, orcas are the largest members of the dolphin family – and in recent years, Shetland has acquired a semi-resident population of these formidable ocean-going predators. Mid-April to mid-September is the best time to spot them hunting seals close inshore among the rocks and skerries. Shetland Wildlife Holidays (01950 460939) offers week-long wildlife excursions including the services of an expert naturalist guide and seven nights’ full-board at Sumburgh Hotel and St Magnus Bay Hotel for £1,545 per person.

Discover more wild wonders in the UK with Brian Jackman, here.

11:11 AM

P&O cruises go on sale on March 22

Fancy going on a cruise in UK waters this summer?

P&O will release tickets at 8.30am on March 22.

10:55 AM

Fancy a getaway to Iceland?

Iceland has no shortage of spectacular sights for a socially distanced escape, says Jamie Carter.

Háifoss waterfall in Iceland  - Getty

Háifoss waterfall in Iceland – Getty

Here are seven easily accessible places that most tourists don’t make it to.

10:47 AM

Iceland opens borders for vaccinated visitors to boost tourism

Iceland will this week open its borders to all visitors who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 without mandatory testing or quarantine, as it hopes more tourists will help revive its coronavirus-hit economy.

“The Icelandic government has announced that all those who have been fully vaccinated against Covid will be allowed to travel to Iceland without being subject to border measures, such as testing and quarantine,” the government said in a statement late on Tuesday.

The North Atlantic country, which will become one of the first countries to open its borders since the beginning of the pandemic, had until now allowed vaccinated visitors from EU countries to enter without restrictions.

“From 18 March this exemption will apply to citizens outside the Schengen area, including the UK and USA,” it said.

10:34 AM

The view from around the world

The sun sets behind Stonehenge in Wiltshire.

The sun sets behind Stonehenge

The sun sets behind Stonehenge

People in Napoleonic era costumes stand on a beach to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s death in Saint-Helene, Golfe Juan, southeastern France

Golfe Juan

Golfe Juan

Icelandic horses play in their stud farm in Wehrheim near Frankfurt, Germany.

Icelandic horses playing

Icelandic horses playing

See the full gallery here.

10:26 AM

Looking for a unique holiday in 2021?

Our travel expert, Annie Bennett, sheds light on the forgotten Spanish region that the British haven’t discovered yet.

Don't tell a soul - Getty

Don’t tell a soul – Getty

Find out more, here.

10:06 AM

How Chris Whitty’s advice kept the UK’s borders open

The question to Chris Whitty was short and to the point: should Britain close its borders?

His answer was equally concise: “There’s no point – the virus is already here.”

Chris Whitty - Getty

Chris Whitty – Getty

With those words in a meeting last March, Britain’s border policy was set in stone, not by Professor Whitty but by the Cabinet ministers surrounding him who chose not to query the logic of Prof Whitty and his Sage colleagues.

And from that moment to this, the Government has been accused by detractors of failing to shut the stable door even after the horse had bolted.

Read the full piece here.

09:52 AM

A summer holiday in derelict, post-lockdown Britain? I’d rather stay at home

“Post-Covid dereliction swamped by untold numbers of post-lockdown Brits? I’d rather not have a holiday at all,” says Guy de la Bedoyere.

Read his full comment piece here.

09:42 AM

Hospital executive calls for Paris lockdown as virus is ‘not under control’

The coronavirus situation is worsening in the greater Paris region where hospitals are under immense strain, the director general of the AP-HP Paris hospitals organisation, Martin Hirsch, said on Wednesday.

Hirsch told RTL radio there were two options to contain the disease – a local weekend lockdown, already in place in other parts of the country, or a broader lockdown in the region.

“The virus is not under control. There are as many patients in intensive care units today as there were at the peak of the second wave,” he said.

Hospital execs are calling for a lockdown in Paris - Getty

Hospital execs are calling for a lockdown in Paris – Getty

Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Tuesday the time had come for more coronavirus restrictions in the greater Paris region.

In France as a whole, there were 4,239 patients in intensive care with COVID-19 as of Tuesday, close to a four-month high.

09:32 AM

Participate in our daily poll

Is it right that some cruise companies are only allowing vaccinated passengers to board their ships this summer? Have your say in our Twitter poll.

09:16 AM

Where will vaccinated travellers be able to go this summer?

In the map below we take a look at the countries that have already opened to vaccinated arrivals, and those that have said they will do so at a later date.

Countries waiving quarantine

Countries waiving quarantine

Read the full article here.

09:13 AM

Where – and when – will we be able to sail?

Our cruise expert, Dave Monk, explains when you’ll be able to cruise in Britain, the USA, the Caribbean and beyond.

Read his explainer here.

09:01 AM

Overseas holidays may be off until after May half-term

Foreign holidays could be pushed back until after the May half-term as one of Britain’s biggest operators told Spain to prepare for an influx from June 2, writes Charles Hymas.

Tour firms and airlines are offering people who have already booked May holidays free date changes to later in the summer because of the uncertainty over the opening up of foreign travel.

The Government is due to publish its roadmap for the summer holiday season on April 12, with May 17 the earliest date on which the ban on non-essential travel could be lifted.

Greece hopes to welcome British holidaymakers by mid May - Getty

Greece hopes to welcome British holidaymakers by mid May – Getty

However, there are concerns about the slow pace of vaccination in most EU states, with Italy having been forced into a third lockdown and others tightening restrictions.

Tour operators and airlines are offering flights and holidays from May 17 in anticipation of the ban being lifted, but TUI, Britain’s biggest operator, said most new bookings were being delayed until July or later.

Read the full story, here.

08:48 AM

What happened yesterday?

A re-cap of yesterday’s top stories:

  • British Airways trials digital health documentation for travellers

  • Restrictions on Portugal travel will be eased from 4am Friday

  • Qatar, Oman, Somalia and Ethiopia have been added to England’s ‘red list’

  • EU seeks to restart travel with Covid ‘passport’

  • Self-catering stays in Scotland could be back on the menu from as early as April or May

  • Viking Cruises to resume holidays in May

Now, on with today’s stories.

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