Boris Johnson has been urged to “show global leadership” and open up travel “more quickly” as he defended the latest changes to the Government’s traffic light system.
The Prime Minister said while he wanted people to be able to go on holiday and visitors to come to the UK, “patience” is needed to balance the risk of coronavirus.
Travel firms reported a surge in demand following the announcement that restrictions on people returning from foreign trips are being eased or limited.
But Mr Johnson, speaking on a visit to Scotland, was cautious in encouraging people to book holidays abroad.
He told broadcasters: “We want people to get away if they possibly can, we are just saying that obviously this year is going to be a bit trickier, we just ask for a bit of patience but we’ve got to balance the two objectives.
“We want people to be able to travel, we want the travel industry to get going again, we want to see tourists coming back to our country – a very, very important part of our economy – but you’ve got to balance that against the need to protect ourselves against the pandemic.”
But Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said Mr Johnson needed to move quicker.
He said: “The Prime Minister needs to show global leadership now and could safely open up travel more quickly and protect tens of thousands of jobs in the industry. The ball is in his court to deliver.”
He added: “We need to see the Prime Minister acting on two fronts. Firstly, on giving certainty that countries won’t change colour, and secondly, on a promise to reduce the cost of testing.”
Train operator Eurostar said bookings on its London-Paris route doubled after it was confirmed that fully vaccinated arrivals from France will no longer need to self-isolate.
And online travel agency Skyscanner recorded a 45% increase in visits to its website after the announcement was made at 10pm on Wednesday, compared with an hour earlier.
Airline Emirates said it has received a “huge surge in queries” due to the decision to remove the United Arab Emirates from the red list.
Jet2.com and Jet2holidays reported more than three times as many bookings to both green and amber list destinations for departures in August compared to Wednesday.
The changes to the travel rules come into effect at 4am on Sunday.
The UK Government announced the changes for England, and the devolved administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland said they will follow suit.
But the Welsh Government has not confirmed whether it will take the same action.
Under the latest changes, India, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are being moved out of the red list, while Mexico, Georgia and the French overseas territories of La Reunion and Mayotte are being added to that tier.
Austria, Germany, Latvia, Norway, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia will be added to the green list.
France is being aligned with other amber countries, which means fully vaccinated arrivals from the country will not need to self-isolate at home.
Spain has avoided being given red status.
But asked on Sky News whether Spain could be put on the red list in future, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps replied: “With coronavirus you can never say there is zero chance.”
Mr Johnson dodged a question about whether he would book a holiday to Spain at the moment.
He said: “We understand how important people’s holidays are and I’ve always said that we wanted people to have holidays this summer, though I always stressed that it was going to be not the same as any other summer, unfortunately, because of the pandemic.”
The Government is advising travellers to take a PCR test before they fly home from the country, rather than cheaper lateral flow tests.
Conservative MP Huw Merriman, who chairs the Commons Transport Select Committee, told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme this was the wrong decision.
He said lateral flow tests were “much cheaper, it’s effective, and then if that tests positive for Covid – and very few do when they come from abroad back to this country – then have a PCR and then have that sequencing”.
He added: “And the reason I say that is because lateral flow tests can be a third of the price.”
The Government also announced it would raise the price of quarantine hotels, which are mandatory for travellers returning to the UK from red list locations.
From August 12 the rate for solo travellers will rise from £1,750 to £2,285.
Additional adults sharing a room will see their bill hiked from £650 to £1,430.
Meanwhile, the number of people in England and Wales being told to self-isolate by the NHS Covid app has fallen dramatically.
A total of 395,971 alerts were sent in the week to July 28, down 43% on the previous week.
A total of 189,232 people in England tested positive for coronavirus in the week to July 28.
The figure is down 39% on the previous week, and is the first week-on-week fall since early May.
Latest Government figures show a further 86 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Thursday, taking the UK total to 130,086.
Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have now been 155,000 deaths registered in the UK where coronavirus was mentioned on the death certificate.
As of 9am on Thursday, there had been a further 30,215 lab-confirmed cases in the UK.