England relaxes quarantine rules for vaccinated returning citizens

The change will start from July 19, when the government hopes to remove virtually all coronavirus restrictions in England, but those plans face growing criticism due to a surge in infections of the highly contagious Delta variant.

 In this file photo taken on 8 June 2020 passengers wearing PPE (personal protective equipment), including a face mask as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, arrive at Terminal 1 of Manchester Airport in north west England. Picture: AFP

LONDON - UK citizens returning to England from most European countries will soon no longer have to self-quarantine if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the government announced on Thursday.

The change will start from 19 July, when the government hopes to remove virtually all coronavirus restrictions in England, but those plans face growing criticism due to a surge in infections of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Under the existing rules, British-based travellers from amber-designated nations - the middle tier in the government's COVID-19 traffic light risk ranking - must quarantine at home for 10 days on their return.

The "amber list" of countries currently comprises most of Europe, including tourist destinations such as France, Spain and Italy.

"I can confirm today that from the 19th of July, UK residents who are fully vaccinated through the UK vaccine rollout will no longer have to self-isolate when they return to England," Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told MPs.

Travellers will still be required to get tested 72 hours before departure and on the second day following their return.

Children, who are not currently being innoculated under Britain's vaccination rollout, will also be exempt from quarantine.

But British expatriates who have been fully vaccinated abroad and non-UK residents will still have to self-quarantine.

The travel sector welcomed the changes, with Heathrow Airport boss John Holland-Kaye calling it "a much-needed boost to millions of people".

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the Airlines UK industry body, said it was a "positive move towards the genuine reopening" for the ailing industry.

"The summer season essentially starts here."

'DANGEROUS AND UNETHICAL'

July 19 has been dubbed "freedom day" because the government plans to lift almost all virus restrictions in England, including scrapping a requirement to wear face masks in enclosed spaces.

However there has been growing outcry over the schedule as cases rise, driven by the Delta variant first identified in India.

Already suffering one of the worst virus death tolls in Europe, with more than 128,000 fatalities, Britain recorded nearly 32,600 cases on Wednesday, its highest daily number since January.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson argues that a successful vaccination campaign, which has seen 86% of adults receive at least one jab and nearly two-thirds fully vaccinated, has weakened the link between infections and hospitalisations and deaths.

But a group of more than 120 scientists and medical professionals have slammed the unlocking plans, calling them a "dangerous and unethical experiment".

In a letter to The Lancet medical journal on Wednesday, they cautioned that a hasting unlocking could leave thousands with long-term illness due to long COVID-19.

"This strategy risks creating a generation left with chronic health problems and disability, the personal and economic impacts of which might be felt for decades to come," the letter said.

"Allowing transmission to continue over the summer will create a reservoir of infection, which will probably accelerate spread when schools and universities reopen in autumn," the signatories added.

Download the Eyewitness News app to your iOS or Android device.