Test-free summer holidays could be on the cards after the Government accepted that some countries lacked the infrastructure to provide pre-departure Covid checks.
Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, has exempted "countries without the infrastructure available to deliver" the pre-departure negative test certificates, which all travellers are now required to have to enter England and Scotland, from the Government’s new border regime.
The Department for Transport refused to name any countries or define the criteria on Friday, but travel experts suggested destinations in the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa and tropical islands such as the Maldives and Pacific Islands could be exempt.
It would mean travellers from those countries would be able to bypass the requirement to prove they are negative for Covid with a pre-departure test taken within 72 hours of arrival in England or Scotland. They would, however, still have to quarantine on arrival if the country was on the red list.
Under the rules, which come into force next week, anyone making it to the UK without a test faces a £500 fine, while airlines will be required to refuse boarding to any passenger without a Covid-negative test certificate. They face £5,000 fines for any transgressors they bring to the UK.
The need for "infrastructure exemption" was highlighted by Heathrow’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, who said the rules would present a "real challenge" for some passengers due to varying testing facilities in other countries.
He said Heathrow had the capacity to test up to 25,000 people a day, but other airports around the world lacked such facilities.
"So, if you’re caught out in one of those countries, and you now have these new requirements, then you’ll find it quite difficult to get the tests that are needed in order to come back home again. And that’s going to be a real challenge for a lot of passengers," Mr Holland-Kaye said.
He urged the Government to take the lead in creating a "common international standard for testing" to replace current "confusing" differences between nations.
Paul Charles, the chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said the Government needed to urgently publish a list so that travellers returning to the UK could plan their trips. Travel companies and airlines are already considering or offering discounted tests as part of packages and flights as they negotiate deals with testing companies.
Alan French, the chief executive of Thomas Cook, said: "We’re already starting to look for partners across our main holiday areas to build connections so we can help our customers get the best deal and service for their test. We would urge the Government to provide more clarity on when they intend to introduce this and under what circumstances they will lift it."
The new scheme means a holidaymaker could face a bill of more than £300 for an outbound test, a pre-departure return test and then a test on the fifth day of quarantine to be released from self isolation early.
Henry Smith, the chairman of the all-party Future of Aviation group, said the introduction of pre-departure testing meant quarantine was "probably unnecessary" and should be ditched as soon as feasible. He called for screening of incoming passengers from China a year ago.
"It is incredible it has taken so many months to introduce Covid-19 screening for incoming passengers. The lack of that testing has caused the Covid pandemic to be worse in the UK and caused unnecessary damage to our aviation industry," he said.
Joss Croft, the chief executive of UKinbound, which represents inbound tourism, said: "No one will come to the UK if they still have to isolate." Stewart Wingate, the chief executive of Gatwick Airport, said testing would pave the way for eliminating quarantine.
Research published on Friday from Oxford and Edinburgh Universities showed that coronavirus was introduced to the UK well over 1,000 times in early 2020, with the majority of transmissions coming from Spain, France and Italy.