Fully vaccinated travelers from the United States and Europe will be able to enter England without needing to quarantine, in a major lift for holidaymakers, airlines and the UK's beleaguered tourism industry.
The move will take effect from Monday and brings England in line with the EU on its US policy. Brussels gave member states the green light to open their borders to American travelers last month.
However, the British government's move won't be reciprocated by the US for now. The White House said on Monday it would keep its existing travel restrictions in place amid concerns about the Delta Covid
-19 variant, meaning travelers from around the world continue to be shut out of the United States.
England's shift in policy means that people inoculated in the US or in Europe will be able to skip quarantine by showing proof of vaccination on arrival, if they are arriving from countries on the UK's "amber list." Those travelers can also skip a test on the eighth day of their stay in the UK. Those exceptions had previously only applied to vaccinated Brits returning from amber countries.
As well as the US, most EU countries are on the UK's amber list. Only three -- Bulgaria, Croatia, and Malta -- are currently on the green list, allowing for quarantine-free entry for all travelers.
"We've taken great strides on our journey to reopen international travel and today is another important step forward," the UK's Travel Secretary Grant Shapps said in a statement on Wednesday, hailing the ability to "rebuild key transatlantic routes with the US."
The decision comes after the government was hammered by sections of the tourism industry for failing to open up to international travel. In June, a number of travel bodies said the pandemic "has been a catastrophe" for the sector, and warned that a second lost summer tourism season would put the industry's recovery at stake.
The move only applies to England; the UK's other nations -- Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland -- continue to set their own travel restrictions.
Britain has weathered the brunt of a third spike of Covid
-19 cases in recent weeks, with the more transmissible Delta variant driving up infections dramatically around the country.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson
pushed ahead with a near-total re-opening of the country's economy on July 19 regardless, and the rate of new infections has started to quickly decline since then -- an unexpected but welcome trend in a country that has registered more coronavirus
deaths than any other in Europe.
More than 70% of the adult population is also fully vaccinated in the UK, and over 88% have had at least one dose.