New travel rules: Brits can go play around the world... but the world is not welcome here

Only those vaccinated by the NHS will be spared quarantine in England. Changes once again fall short for transnational families.

Isabelle Roughol
Isabelle Roughol

LONDON – From 19 July, fully vaccinated travelers returning from amber-list countries will not have to quarantine on arrival in England. (Similar rules are likely to follow in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.) People who are at least two weeks past their second jab will only need a pre-departure test and a day 2 test upon return. For them, the rules for green list and amber list countries will be the same. This opens up much of the world for vaccinated England residents who have been waiting for months to see loved ones abroad or those hunkering for an international holiday, and for whom a 10-day quarantine was simply not economically viable.

The reverse is, however, not true: England will largely remain closed to foreign visitors. That's because only people who have been vaccinated by the NHS will be spared quarantine. British authorities do not recognize the validity of the EU-wide digital vaccine passport or any other foreign certificate, even written in English. People coming in from an amber-list country who got their jab outside the NHS – including British citizens – will still have to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival, with PCR tests on days 2 and 8 and the option to test-to-release on day 5.

Practically, this means British expats will face the same hurdles as they have for months if they want to come home to loved ones. England also remains closed to all but the wealthiest and most time-rich foreign tourists.

Let's zoom in on Europe. This is Brexit in action. All EU countries recognize a common digital COVID certificate which is proof of a full vaccination, recent negative PCR test or past infection. The UK was not part of this process. It is still in negotiations with its former partners to mutually recognize the certificate and the NHS app. Media reports last week suggested talks were "going in the right direction."

For now it's up to individual EU countries to decide whether they're satisfied with UK documentation. France, Greece or Spain, for instance, are. Next week, I'll be let into France sans quarantine (or so the embassy promises) on the faith of my NHS jabs. No such luck for my parents if they tried to visit me in London. A Spanish immigrant in Manchester can go home to her mother, but a Mancunian in Barcelona cannot. A Londoner can tan in Santorini, but an Athenian cannot attend a funeral in London.

If I ran those countries, I would demand reciprocity or close my doors to British visitors. Thankfully, those European governments have cooler heads than I: they know the cost to their own expats and to their tourism industry.

Were the world outside on fire and Britain a haven, I'd understand Downing Street's hesitancy. But with 267 cases per 100,000 inhabitants and the Delta variant everywhere, the UK's caseload is far above any EU country except Cyprus. We are the danger to others now. Yet we're about to undo all restrictions and even mask-wearing domestically. More than 60,000 will be at Wembley Stadium on Sunday without having to be vaccinated. Millions will gather in pubs and homes. You're far more likely to catch covid from an Englishman than any visitor.

Yet, the British government is behaving as if its people should be free to roam the world while it barricades itself on the island. Where have we seen that before?

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Isabelle Roughol Twitter

Journalist, podcaster, media consultant. Telling stories & building better newsrooms. Writes The Lede. Ex- LinkedIn News, Le Figaro, The Cambodia Daily. 🎓 Mizzou '08, Birkbeck '25.