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We've known for weeks that Prime Minister Boris Johnson's big "route out of lockdown" announcement was coming on 22nd February. Now he's told us the plan, what do we know about holidays this year?
- What does the roadmap out of lockdown look like?
- When do we expect overseas holidays to resume?
- When we can fly again, where will we be able to go?
- When do we expect UK holidays to resume?
- Will we need a 'vaccine passport' to go overseas?
- When do we get more news after this announcement?
- So when can I book a holiday?
The roadmap out of lockdown
The roadmap for coming out of lockdown involves several stages, with gaps of approximately five weeks between each stage. The government has also been explicit that each stage happening as and when expected depends on everything going to plan - notably, the vaccine rollout continuing as expected, no new variants arriving and the vaccine continuing to protect people and the NHS from a surge in cases.
If all that goes to plan, the government expects to open up in stages. Stage one is unambiguous; the stages after that are described as 'no earlier than', and contingent on events.
Phase One (from 8th March)
Phase one sees schools reopen in England (some have already reopened in Wales), including after-school activities, from 8th March, and the resumption of care home visits. 29th March sees a return of the rule of six so two households or six people can meet up outdoors, and a relaxation of the rule on staying local (but with overnight stays away from home still banned).
Phase Two (no earlier than 12th April)
Phase two - five weeks after the start of phase one, no earlier than 12th April - is expected to see outdoor hospitality and some non-essential retail resume. Theme parks will reopen. UK holidays will resume in self-contained accommodation only. 12th April is also the date on which the Department for Transport will publish its review on when overseas travel can resume.
Phase Three (no earlier than 17th May)
From phase three onwards details become more nebulous (and timelines can slip, contingent on events), but this will be no earlier than 17th May, with hospitality reopening indoors and UK holidays resuming in hotels more-or-less as normal.
Phase Four (no earlier than 21st June)
And phase 4, no earlier than 21st June, sees the reopening of everything else and the end of mixing limits.
So when do we expect overseas holidays to resume?
Possibly as early as 17th May, if phase three begins as early as possible and the DfT report recommends opening up overseas travel as soon as possible. That will depend on several factors, including the success of our vaccine rollout but also the success of vaccine rollouts in overseas holiday destinations; no emergence of new strains of the virus; and the travel corridor deals our government strikes with overseas governments.
Government ministers in Israel have already spoken about a possible travel corridor with the UK, as Israel has vaccinated almost its entire population already. Other governments talking openly and positively about getting (vaccinated) UK visitors in for the summer or even before include Greece, Cyprus and Spain, so we should have plenty of options.
When we can fly again, where will we be able to go?
Once the UK lockdown ends and we're allowed to travel, there's already plenty of places that would be happy to have vaccinated British visitors. For example the Seychelles and Sri Lanka are already open to vaccinated visitors, and European countries such as Poland, Estonia and Iceland have either already declared that vaccinated visitors will be welcome without a quarantine.
For the usual top destinations for UK holidays - both governments and hoteliers in Spain, Greece and Cyprus are keen to have us back as soon as possible, and given the relative isolation of islands such as Greece's main tourist hotspots or the Canaries and Balearics in Spain, it's realistic to expect that if they can secure their resorts against outbreaks of the virus, the UK government would be cautiously willing to let travellers head out there again.
Finally cruises - such as Saga cruises - have already made plans for vaccinated travellers to get back on board, which opens up a whole other option for holidays this year.
When do we expect UK holidays to resume?
17th May - Stays in a hotel with shared facilities
We'll be able to travel outside our local area (without an overnight stay) in about a month, from 29th March, and stay overnight within the UK once we reach phases 3 and 4. So from 12th April, or when phase 3 begins, we'll be able to stay in self-contained accommodation in the UK, and from 17th May, or when phase 4 begins, we'll be able to stay in a UK hotel with shared facilities.
Will we need a 'vaccine passport' to go overseas?
The vaccine is of course not mandatory. Some carriers, such as TUI, have explicitly said that they won't be turning away unvaccinated passengers. That said, it may be a challenge to find holiday destinations enthusiastic about letting in unvaccinated passengers, at least for the moment. Unfair as it may seem for younger travellers who are last on the list for the vaccine, ultimately it will be up to foreign governments to decide on the risks they are willing to bear in order to get their holiday season back this summer.
The UK government has said it is working on vaccine passports for overseas trips with at least one airline, and one of the four reviews underway will decide whether these will be rolled out for international travel or any other purpose.
When do we get more news after this announcement?
Easing lockdown is going to happen in phases, and the end of each phase will depend on the success of the last. Phases look set to last about five weeks each, if all goes to plan, so as we come to the end of each phase, we're likely to get the good news (or otherwise).
The first review of international travel is on 12th April (just after the Easter holidays), so we'll have plenty of time to plan a summer holiday if we want to wait for that news.
So when can I book a holiday?
Whenever you like! Claims that it's illegal to even book travel during lockdown were balderdash - it's just non-essential trips themselves that are not allowed at the moment.
Prices are likely to rise as time goes on and lockdown gradually phases out so - as long as you can get decent cancellation and amendment terms from your holiday provider - you might be best to book sooner rather than later and then cancel or change your dates if anything changes.
If all goes to plan, UK holidays will be back from 12th April in self-contained accommodation, or 17th May in a standard hotel. International trips could resume as early as 17th May too, and we'll know for sure on 12th April when the DfT reports its findings.
At which point everyone will want one, prices will skyrocket and flights and resorts will sell out - so if you're planning to go away for the summer, our advice is to pick your dates, check your cancellation terms will let you change your mind, and book before the rush.