Ministers are in talks to create “air bridges” with a number of “core” European countries including Spain, Italy, Greece, France, Turkey and Croatia to let holidaymakers go abroad this summer without having to quarantine on their return.
Austria and Germany are also among the countries officials are considering, the Guardian understands. There are hopes an announcement will be made before the UK quarantine programme is officially reviewed next Monday, to give the travel industry more time to prepare.
The countries being considered to share an air bridge must have a small enough rate of infection to allow British people to travel there and back without having to undergo 14 days of self-isolation on their return.
A government source said the list was fluid and dependent on the rate of cases per 100,000 population, but reports that up to 12 countries – including Australia – could have travel corridors with the UK were played down. Instead, a “core of Mediterranean destinations” as well as some in central Europe are under discussion.
“[Air bridges are] subject to intense scrutiny and it is a priority matter for the government, there’s no doubt about that,” the source said.
The European commission has warned it could be considered discriminatory to allow travel corridors between some but not all EU countries; all those with a similar infection rate should be treated the same.
Spain, Italy, Greece, France, Turkey and Croatia are firmly being considered by ministers, with longer-haul destinations such as Australia considered trickier to include because of the need to change flights in countries were infection levels may be higher. Singapore and Bemuda have also been mooted but government sources have stressed the focus should be on Europe. The US is not being considered at this stage.
A review of the government’s blanket 14-day quarantine scheme for people coming into the UK must take place by 29 June. Civil servants from the transport department, the Home Office and Cabinet Office are working to finalise the details, and the date of the announcement could be brought forward by a few days.
Dozens of MPs, including the former prime minister Theresa May, have criticised the quarantine rule for in effect shutting off the UK from international travel.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has been a strong supporter of the air bridge concept during the pandemic. Last week he said the government was considering travel corridors that would also include rail and ferry travel into the UK.
“We would look at if we could open up air bridges, which might be better described as travel corridors, and that’s something that we’re actively working on,” he told the daily Downing Street press conference.
The shadow transport secretary, Jim McMahon, has said the 14-day quarantine rule is too blunt and needs replacing. He said while it was logical that countries with lower infection reproduction rates presented less risk, it was individuals who carried the virus.
Labour is calling for pre-screening arrangements before departure for passengers, temperature scanning in airports, isolation zones and an effective 48-hour or quicker test in the UK alongside a contact-tracing scheme.