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COVID-19: Top holiday destinations revealed as easing of UK travel restrictions sparks bookings surge

Demand for foreign holidays is bouncing back following the relaxation of coronavirus travel rules and could reach pre-pandemic levels within months, travel firms say.

A surge in bookings has come after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday that the testing and quarantine requirements for arrivals will be eased.

As of 4am on Friday, fully vaccinated travellers and under-18s arriving in the UK no longer need to have taken a pre-departure lateral flow test.

They can instead take a lateral flow test rather than the more expensive PCR version for their post-arrival test from 4am on Sunday, with the changes saving a family of four around £300.

Spain has come top as the most popular overseas destination people plan to visit this year, followed by the US, France, Italy and Greece, according to a survey of 2,000 UK consumers by travel trade organisation Abta.

But what are the COVID situations in these popular hotspots?

Spain

Under the current rules, all travellers who have recovered from or been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can travel to Spain without having to follow additional entry rules, even if their origin country is part of the country’s risk list.

COVID infections are still rising across Spain as the country grapples with a sixth wave of the virus due to the highly transmissible Omicron strain.

As of Christmas Eve, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez introduced the wearing of face masks outdoors in a bid to contain the strain – meaning tourists visiting the country may have to mask up for most of their holidays.

However, face coverings are not compulsory during exercise, on the beach or at the pool so long as social distancing of 1.5 metres is maintained.

US

The US eased its travel restrictions at the beginning of November before the Omicron variant hit.

It has since suspended entry for non-citizens who have been in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the country.

However, most fully vaccinated foreign citizens can enter the US.

Before boarding a flight to the US, most passengers will be required to show a negative COVID-19 test result taken no more than one day before travel.

Currently, everyone aged two and above who is not fully vaccinated has to wear a mask in indoor public places, however, this does not apply in outdoor settings.

People are expected to wear face coverings on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation travelling into, within, or out of the US, as well as indoors at transportation hubs such as airports and stations.

France

Those wishing to travel from the UK to France, regardless of vaccination status, can only do so for essential reasons.

As of Thursday, people can now travel between the UK and France for work-related reasons requiring an on-site presence, which cannot be postponed, with travellers required to provide proof from their employer.

France had earlier relaxed its travel measures over the festive period following an outcry from British nationals unable to travel home via the Eurotunnel.

Wearing masks even outdoors was made mandatory in Paris last month as the country struggles to come to grips with an Omicron surge.

Italy

Regardless of vaccination status, arriving in Italy by air, land or by sea may be subject to random COVID testing on arrival until 31 January.

If you travel from the UK and can demonstrate that you are fully vaccinated with a negative PCR test, you can enter Italy without needing to self-isolate.

Travellers are required to wear a mask at all times when using public transport in Italy, but this rule does not apply outdoors.

Everyone is also required to keep a distance of at least one metre, with only high-speed trains not having social distancing rules.

Since October, cultural venues have been allowed to operate at full capacity, including theatres, cinemas, and concert venues.

Greece

People travelling to Greece will need to complete a Passenger Locator Form (PLF) and proof of a negative PCR or rapid antigen COVID test.

In response to the Omicron surge, the country’s government last month reintroduced mandatory mask-wearing outdoors.

Double-masking or wearing a high-protection face covering is also required on public transport and in supermarkets.

All travellers, regardless of their vaccination status, have been advised to take a lateral flow or PCR test on the second and fourth day after their arrival in the country.

Travel back to pre-COVID levels ‘by spring’

Steve Heapy, chief executive of Jet2holidays and leisure airline Jet2.com, revealed the firm has reported huge popularity for trips to mainland Spain, the Canaries, the Balearic Islands, Turkey, and Greece.

He said: “The relaxation of travel restrictions is welcome news for both the travel industry and holidaymakers and comes during what is traditionally a very busy period for holiday bookings.

“We have seen an immediate and dramatic spike in bookings, with volumes since the government announcement heading towards pre-pandemic levels, which demonstrates just how much demand is out there among people wanting to get away for a much-needed holiday.”

Tui has also seen the biggest booking spikes for Mexico and the Canaries.

A spokeswoman for the tour operator said Mr Johnson’s announcement “has given Brits the reassurance that travel will once again be easier and more affordable”.

She continued: “We’ve already seen an immediate and strong uptick in bookings and we now expect summer 2022 bookings to be normalised.

“January is traditionally the busiest month for holiday bookings and demand is yet to reach pre-COVID levels, so we need to see sustained confidence in travel so the industry can fully recover.”

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Meanwhile, luxury travel company Kuoni predicts travel to reach pre-pandemic levels by spring.

Its chief executive, Derek Jones, said the easing of testing rules “should be the beginning of the end of COVID as a blocker to international travel”.

He added: “I predict travel will be 90% back to 2019 levels before the end of spring.

“We’re already seeing increased call volumes and inquiries about trips for the year ahead as confidence builds.”

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