The UK hopes to reopen travel to Australia as part of a new "traffic light" system permitting travel to and from dozens of low-risk countries without the need to go into quarantine for two weeks.
Under the scheme, to take affect from July 6, countries will be classified as green, amber or red, based on infection levels and trajectories, reliability of official data and confidence in each country's test and trace systems.
The initial list of safe countries, drawn up by the government’s Joint Biosecurity Centre working with Public Health England, will be released until next week.
Most of Europe will be declared green or amber, which both qualify for quarantine-free travel.
The automatic 14-day quarantine requirement for arrivals, which the UK government put in place on June 8, will remain for 'red-rated' countries, which are expected to include the United States, India and much of South America.
As part of the push to unlock the borders as the UK and Europe move into the northern summer holiday season, the UK Foreign Office will also lift its advice against 'all but essential travel' to low or medium-risk destinations, making it possible to obtain travel insurance, although most insurers are refusing to offer cover for Covid-19.
Travellers will be required by law to wear masks on planes, ferries and Eurostar trains, with travel terminals adopting minimal-touchpoint protocols and physical distancing.
A Government spokesman said "our new risk-assessment system will enable us to carefully open a number of safe travel routes around the world – giving people the opportunity for a summer holiday abroad and boosting the UK economy through tourism and business."
"But we will not hesitate to put on the brakes if any risks re-emerge, and this system will enable us to take swift action to reintroduce self-isolation measures if new outbreaks occur overseas."
Two-way agreements needed
The creation of these 'air bridges' will be based on discussions with each country, with the aim of creating a bilateral agreement – a two-way corridor – which would let visitors from those countries enter the UK without going into isolation.
While it's said that the UK government hopes to reach such an agreement with Australia in the coming weeks, Downing Street shouldn't expect to get a green light from Canberra.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday that while "a number of countries expressed an interest given our health success in Australia, that doesn't necessarily mean that they will be invitations we take up."
However, he singled out the proposed trans-Tasman bubble between Australia and New Zealand as one where" we hope we can come to an arrangement" – although this may not be realised until after the New Zealand general election on 19 September 2020.
Morrison added that while there was still "uncertainty" about when Australia's border would reopen, he agreed that Qantas CEO Alan Joyce's suggestion of mid-2021 for most international travel was not unreasonable.
"You look around the world and you see the intensity of the virus escalating, not decelerating, then I think it is not unreasonable for Alan Joyce to form the view he has."
Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Hawaii and Fiji have also suggested opening their borders to a handful of countries, including Australia, with Singapore the most likely starter under its 'green lane' proposal.