The situation is improving to a point where it may be possible to travel to Britain in August/September, but probably will not yet be safe or pleasant to travel to Europe, so we are developing three lovely touring experiences – one each in Wales, Scotland, and England, in late August and early September, this being about as early as we feel comfortable with, while not being too late to lose the benefit of warm long days.
But let’s first look at why it might be appropriate to travel to Britain but not to Europe in August/September – either for your own travels, of course, or as part of a Travel Insider Tour.
Vaccination Rates and Impacts
The factor of greatest importance seems to be the rate of vaccinating each country’s people. As of 23 March, and with something like 2 1/2 months of each country’s vaccination program in full swing, almost half the British population has received at least a first vaccination, and some have received both vaccinations. If this trend continues (the UK passed through having 50% of its population receiving at least one vaccination on 28 March, so yes it is continuing), then by August, the entire UK population will have been vaccinated at least once, and a growing number will have received both doses.
This contrasts with Europe, which is currently showing total vaccinations three times lower (expressed in terms of rates per 100 people).
Of course, Europe’s daily rate of vaccination almost definitely will increase, and it seems to be recovering from some early mistakes at present.
But even when Europe’s vaccination rate does improve, Britain still has a couple of months of lead, and those couple of months may make all the difference in terms of when and how the various countries choose to re-open their borders to international visitors, and relax their controls on what can be done within their nations.
The other consideration of course is the ongoing rate of new infections in the different countries.
As this chart shows, new case rates in Europe are currently much higher than in the US or UK. The particularly interesting thing is that both the UK and US had case rates massively above Europe in December and January, but since that time, Europe has had increasing cases while the US and UK have had decreasing cases.
We hope that by August, the impact of Britain’s vaccination program and the visible positive effect of the vaccines will create four outcomes. We suspect Europe will still be a couple of months behind.
These outcomes are :
(a) A drop in new case rates down to a level deemed acceptable (a very subjective number)
(b) New cases will primarily be in unvaccinated younger people or vaccinated older people, and in both scenarios, will lead only to mild rather than severe/fatal illness
(c) Matching these first two points, most of the country will return to normal or nearly normal life
(d) The growth in potential visitors from other countries who have also been vaccinated will make it appropriate to selectively relax arrival restrictions and quarantine requirements on vaccinated visitors
The second two points flow from the first two points, of course. There are no guarantees about the first two points, or the second two, or of the timings for them to happen, with perhaps the biggest variable being the impact of new strains of the virus which might be more infectious and might not be contained by the vaccines.
The same progression should of course occur in Europe too, although with their vaccination rates lagging two months behind Britain, it is harder to see the numbers supporting a mid/late summer relaxation in controls.
But there are no “magic number” targets, and there are huge pressures on all countries, everywhere, to re-open as much as they can as quickly as they can, so it is possible Europe might relax its controls while accepting higher rates of virus activity than Britain, especially because of the competitive pressure encouraging Europe to at least maintain a semblance of being as successful as Britain in its virus response.
The Three Factors Influencing Travel
Currently there are three separate issues that impact on our ability to enjoy a vacation experience anywhere. We need to consider all three.
1. Will the destination country we wish to visit allow visitors in at all?
2. What type of quarantine or other restrictions will be imposed on visitors?
3. What types of restrictions on social distancing, opening/closing of tourist attractions, accommodation, restaurants and bars will there be?
At present, both Britain and Europe score negatively on all three points. There are restrictions on ordinary tourism visits, there are costly 10 – 14 day quarantine periods required, and their countries have limitations on the opening hours and numbers of people allowed in the types of businesses and attractions you might want to visit. Some countries even have limits on travel within their country, too.
Note that in Britain, there are slightly different rules applying in England, Scotland and Wales, and in Europe, slightly different rules apply from country to country as well.
Predicting the Future
The three factors we mentioned in the previous section can change at short notice – they might become more restrictive or less restrictive, and at present there is no way of knowing for certain what the future might happen.
We emphasize the phrase “at present” because currently, with relatively low vaccination rates, the course of the virus is more influenced by social distancing, mask wearing, and other puzzling random factors. But, as vaccination rates increase, the vaccine-created “herd immunity” will become increasingly a major factor that reduces the ability of the virus to continue spreading, and changes will start to become less extreme and the trend will hopefully point to a continued decline in new cases and a greater decline in deaths.
Maybe this moderating of otherwise seemingly random rises and falls in infection rates is already happening.
This chart shows the daily change in the rolling seven day average new cases reported in the US. As is very clear, in 2020 there were a number of sudden rises and falls, and there continued to be sudden wild swings in January and February. But now we’re into March, the variations are becoming much more modest.
This might perhaps be due to the growing number of vaccinated people in the US, or it might be random. One problem with ascribing too much linkage between vaccination numbers and new case numbers is that as the number of people vaccinated continues to rise, the reduction in daily new cases reported has stopped falling and is even struggling to start inching up again.
There is a possible explanation – lots of states have been (over)eagerly rushing to re-open and to relax restrictions – perhaps we’re seeing the twin and opposing forces of vaccination dragging numbers down and relaxed controls pulling numbers up.
We’ll continue to watch this to see if the virus is becoming predictable or not. Our guess (and hope) is it might be becoming more predictable.
How to Decide on Future Travel
You need to understand the three factors we mention above – can you visit at all, will you have to be quarantined, and what type of vacation experience can you expect after getting there.
Here are some sources of information that can help you keep current with what is happening :
Covid-19 Travel Regulations Map – This is a great general resource, and well maintained/up-to-date/accurate, for travel everywhere in the world.
UK Coronavirus Restrictions – Information in general for the UK, and links to specific information about Wales and Scotland too.
Re-Open EU – A main hub for information on EU countries and their virus related travel restrictions
See what’s open for travel – A United Airlines site. Not perfect info, but good for cross-checking
The Vaccination Exemption
Countries are starting to recognize that vaccinated visitors pose a very low risk, and on a selected basis, to allow such people in without quarantine or testing requirements. Each country has slightly different rules and some remaining restrictions. At present, such countries include Romania (from January), Georgia (as of 1 Feb), Estonia (2 Feb), Greece (9 March), Iceland (18 March), Cyprus (effective 1 May), and also Lithuania, Poland, and Slovenia (not sure when their policies were implemented).
Doubtless there are others, and equally certainly, there will be more, because it simply makes good sense. The airlines and travel industry groups are strongly lobbying all governments to allow this approach, for example here’s an article today about efforts to allow for vaccinated people to enter the US. The more that some countries start to allow for free travel by vaccinated people, the greater the pressure on other countries to do likewise – there is very much a group-pressure with issues like this, as well as an unwillingness to be first (or last). So seemingly unrelated things such as if we in the US start to allow vaccinated visitors in without further restrictions will actually boost similar moves in the UK and Europe.
We are planning our expectation of it being possible, practical, prudent and pleasant to visit the UK in Aug/Sep with the assumption there will be a vaccination-related exemption to any quarantine requirements at that time.
Note that you may need to wait until after the time it takes subsequent to the second shot for the vaccine to be considered fully effective before you’ll be allowed in on a vaccine-waiver basis. This is sometimes said to be 7 days and sometimes 14 for the Pfizer vaccine and 14 days for the Moderna vaccine, while the single shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine has either a 14 or a longer 28 day period until it reaches full effectiveness. The AstraZeneca vaccine, not yet approved in the US, has a 21 day delay.
The CDC says it takes 14 days for all three vaccines approved in the US to reach optimum effectiveness, but admitting countries might have different policies.
The UK’s “roadmap” suggests that no sooner than 21 June, it will reach “Step 4” which may mean the removal of all restrictions on social contact. That’s the third of the three factors.
We don’t know – and the UK isn’t saying – when it will start to adjust its visitor admitting policies to allow vaccinated visitors in particular immediate access to the country without quarantine.
But we expect that as the number of vaccinated people around the world who could potentially visit the UK grows and grows, and as the virus gets increasingly under control within the UK, there will be a relaxation in their admission policies within the next three months or so. Currently there is a taskforce looking at the issue, with a report expected some time in April, and government action expected shortly thereafter.
The earliest date that international travel restrictions might be relaxed is currently 17 May (timed to coincide with step 3 of their “roadmap”, and of course, that might slip substantially – perhaps to the step 4 date currently projected to be 21 June.
Our expectation is that it will be feasible to travel to Britain and to enjoy a vacation experience there by mid August, and we anticipate the appropriate changes to current policies will be announced by the end of June.
We’ll update this as may be needed. The comments above are as of 31 March 2021.