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COVID-19 VACCINES

UPDATE: UK says European travellers with mixed Covid doses do now count as ‘fully vaccinated’

After much confusion, criticism and contradictory messages the UK government has discreetly changed its Covid border rules - meaning that those vaccinated in Europe with mixed doses are considered fully inoculated and therefore can avoid quarantine.

UPDATE: UK says European travellers with mixed Covid doses do now count as 'fully vaccinated'
Photo: Ben Fathers / AFP

The UK government has updated its information regarding its new Covid border rules for England (Devolved countries Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland may announce different policies) after complaints that its policy towards those with mixed vaccine doses was confusing.

This week British embassies have published information to say the UK would accept those with mixed Covid doses (for example one dose of AstraZeneca and one Pfizer) as fully vaccinated from October 4th even though the UK’s Department of Health and Social care insisted to The Local that there was no change in policy.

After repeated demands for clarity on behalf of our readers the government has discreetly updated its website with new information that confirms the mixed doses administered in Europe are now acceptable from now on.

In other words travellers who have had one dose of AstraZeneca and then a Pfizer or Moderna second dose, don’t have to wait until October 4th. They are considered fully vaccinated from now and can therefore avoid quarantine.

There wasn’t any apparent good news for those who have had Covid and then one dose of the vaccine – as is standard practice in many European countries. It still appears the UK considers this group of people as not fully vaccinated for the purpose of entry, although The Local has asked for clarification.

Here’s a summary of what the UK government’s new rules are for travel to England regarding mixed doses:

  • From 4am Monday 4th October, you will qualify as fully vaccinated if you are vaccinated either under an approved vaccination programme in the UK, Europe or USA.
  • Where 2 doses of a vaccine are required for a full course, you will be able to mix 2 different types of vaccine, for example Oxford/AstraZeneca and Moderna

  • You will be able to have the 2 vaccinations under 2 different approved programmes, for example Australia and Japan, UK and USA, EU and Canada.

  • The government also states: “Until 4 October, mixed vaccines are only permitted if you are vaccinated under the UK, Europe, USA or UK overseas vaccination programme.”

Previously the UK had not accepted those with mixed doses as being fully vaccinated, which caused much anger among travellers from Europe.

One reader told The Local: “My partner, a British national with mixed vaccines, feels like a second class citizen and hasn’t seen her family since December 2019.”

In several European countries the mixing of Covid vaccines has been quite widespread, particularly for those who had a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine before guidelines on its use in individual countries changed – German chancellor Angela Merkel and French health minister Olivier Véran were among those who had mixed doses.

The UK is also changing its much-criticised entry rules from October 4th.

Vaccinated travellers heading from European countries to the England should take note of the following changes:

  • The UK has scrapped its “amber” list which contained most European countries. It now has just a reduced red list and then the “rest of the world” which currently contains European countries.
  • Vaccinated travellers from those countries not on the red list will not need to undertake pre-departure tests for travel to England (previously those travelling from European countries needed a PCR or antigen/lateral flow test within 72 hours of travel. This measure will be applicable from October 4th a 4am.
  • Those arriving in England from a non-red country will still need a test on day two of arrival, but it can be the cheaper lateral flow tests rather than the expensive PCR tests which previously needed to be reserved and paid for in advance of travel. This measure will come into force “later in October”. It was not clear whether these would have to be paid for and reserved in advance.
  • If you qualify as fully vaccinated you will have to: book and pay for a day 2 COVID-19 test – to be taken after arrival in England, complete your passenger locator form – any time in the 48 hours before you arrive in England, take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 after you arrive in England

  • The UK says “you must be able to prove that you have been fully vaccinated (plus 14 days) with a document (digital or paper-based) from a national or state-level public health body that includes, as a minimum:

  • forename and surname(s)
  • date of birth vaccine brand and manufacturer
  • date of vaccination for every dose (Note that most vaccination certificates only contain the date of the second injection. We haven’t heard of this being a problem)
  • country or territory of vaccination and/or certificate issuer

Travellers who are not vaccinated must continue to quarantine in England or 10 days as well as take pre-departure tests and tests on day 2 and day 8 after arrival.

If you have any questions regarding travel from Europe to the UK please email us at [email protected]

Member comments

  1. Great news, but…a question from one of the quarter million Canadians who received Astra Zeneca Covishield…
    Is it accepted under these new rules?

      1. Thank you, fellow reader. Things are changing so quickly… Now wondering about acceptance of mixed doses. Am continuing to dive into the documents to clarify this. The Local is of enormous help by providing clear answers and links. Grazie!

  2. It says the proof must include: country or territory of vaccination and/or certificate issuer.

    I don’t see this listed on the certificate in TousAntiCovid app. Does that mean we need to carry the two paper/barcode sheets which do seem to have this?

    1. I expect that this is the EU DCC equivalent QR code? If so, try to download the Corona Warn or CovPass apps used in Germany. Scan the QR code in that and this shows you the issuing country as well.

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TRAIN TRAVEL

Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying – even with kids

Hoping to do his bit for the planet, perhaps save some money and avoid spending any time in airports, The Local's Ben McPartland decided to travel 2,000km with his family across Europe by train - not plane. Here's how he got on on and would he recommend it?

Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying - even with kids

Summer 2022 has seen the return of people travelling across Europe en masse whether for holidays or to see family, or both.

But it’s also seen chaos in airports, airline strikes and more questions than ever about whether we should be flying at all as Europe bakes under consecutive heatwaves caused by the climate crisis.

But are there really viable alternatives to travelling 2,000 km across Europe in a short space of time – with young kids?

The predicament

We needed to get from Paris to Portugal, or to be more precise the western edge of the Algarve in southern Portugal, for a week-long family holiday.

We didn’t have that much time to spend travelling there and back so the dilemma was how could we get there, fairly quickly?

“We” in this case being a family of four including two children aged 5 and 7, one fairly easygoing mum and a dad (me) who increasingly comes out in a rash when he goes near an airport.

Normally we’d have flown – as we did when we went to the same region of Portugal in October – but the stories of airport chaos, delays, cancellations, strikes and never-ending queues around Europe at the start of the summer made the prospect of taking the plane far less appealing.

Then throw in the climate crisis and the growing feeling that we, as a family, need to make an effort for the cause.

So the thought of flying, during what forecasters say was one of the hottest Julys on record in Europe and as rivers dried up and wildfires burn, just didn’t feel like an acceptable option – to me anyway – when there are alternatives.

There was the option of driving from France to Portugal, as many French and Portuguese nationals living in France do every summer. But driving nearly 2,000 km there and back for just a week’s holiday with two kids strapped in the back for hours on end would have been asking for trouble – either a breakdown or lots of meltdowns.

So that left taking the train. But would it be viable?  Would something go wrong as my colleague Richard Orange had warned on his own rail trip across Europe with kids this summer?

READ ALSO: What I learned taking the train through Europe with two kids

Planning the route

With the help of some really knowledgeable European rail experts like Jon Worth and information from the excellent The Man in Seat Sixty-One website we looked at the various rail routes through France and Spain to southern Portugal.

One problem was the line from southern Spain to the Algarve no longer runs which meant the best we could do was get to Seville and then hire a car.

At one point the best option looked like a night train (fairly cheap with a whole cabin reserved for the family) down to the Pyrenees (Latour-de-Carol) and then a local train to Barcelona before onwards travel to Portugal.

But in the end we settled on the direct train from Paris to Barcelona, spend the night in the Catalan city before taking the train the next day to Seville and picking up the car.

READ ALSO 6 European cities less than 7 hours from Paris by train

It would be mean Paris to Portugal in two days – or to be precise 7 hours to Barcelona, one night in a hotel, before a five-and-half-hour train journey to Seville and a three-hour car journey. It was the quickest way without flying, as far as we could see.

We were about to book the tickets when friend who was travelling by rail through Europe mentioned the Interrail option.

I did Interrailing as an 18-year- old and it was a great way to spend a month travelling around Europe (and Morocco) but had never thought it could be an option for a quickish trip to Portugal and back.

But Interrail has changed a bit since 1996 and indeed since 1972 when it was first launched for under 21s.

Now it offers passes that can be used for 4, 5 or 7 days a month – perfect for travel to a few destinations in a short space of time.

And, this was the clincher – Interrail passes for under 11s are free if they are with an adult.

Well almost free, because in certain countries like France and Spain you still need to pay for seat reservations for anyone travelling.

But the cost of the passes for two adults, plus seat reservations were cheaper than just booking direct trains and much cheaper than flying (more on costs below).

The high-speed train from Barcelona to Seville. Photo: The Local

The Upsides

Let’s start with not having to wake up at 4am and arrive at the train station three hours before the train leaves just to check in a bag and then spend the next three hours queuing in various lines – bags, passport, security, boarding etc..

We arrived at Gare de Lyon around 30 minutes before the train left and boarded without queuing and the train departed on time.

Compare this with having to get a taxi or the RER train to Charles de Gaulle airport and then still find yourself in Paris three hours later as you queue to board. (I know this is not always the case but this summer the advice was to arrive three hours before your flight to check in bags.)

Plus there was no luggage limits on the train and no having to empty your bags at security because you left an old roll-on deodorant at the bottom of your bag.

Although rail stations in Spain do have airport style x-ray machines to check all luggage, they were very rapid and didn’t result in any long queues.

Add to this comfortable seats with leg room, a bar you can walk to and spend hours watching the beautiful French and Spanish landscape whizz by.

You arrive in the centre of town – in our case Barcelona – so there’s no need to get public transport or taxis to and from out of town airports. 

Spending a night in Barcelona was a great way to break the journey – albeit a bit expensive (see below).

And it all ran pretty much on time. Over five train journeys in four days we had 15 minutes of delay. Spain’s high-speed trains were fantastic.

To sum it up: when flying your holiday only really begins when you arrive at your final destination because these days the day spent travelling is one big headache, but with the train the holiday begins as soon as you leave the station.

It’s just far, far more relaxing.

heading back to Barcelona Sants station after a night in the Catalan capital. Photo: The Local.

The Downsides

But what about the kids, you say?

Yep this can be an issue. Travelling for 7 hours on a train is not easy with two young kids but if you come prepared and can think of 75 different ways to occupy them from drawing and playing cards to I-spy and “count my freckles slowly” then it’s possible the journey will be tantrum free. (Playing hide and seek on a train with 12 carriages isn’t advisable.)

And kids adapt, so the following day’s five and half hour journey from Barcelona to Seville was a breeze because they settled into the pace of life and by that point had worked out the code to get into my mobile phone.

One complaint was how long the TGV train took to get along the southern French coast. Does it really need to stop at Nimes, Montpellier, Beziers, Agde, Sete and Perpignan? Can’t local trains serve these stations and the TGV just head straight to Spain?

Another little gripe was the train food. Whilst buffet cars on SNCF and Renfe trains are great for a coffee or a beer they don’t really offer a selection of healthy meals, so you need to come prepared. We weren’t and spent a lot of money on crap food and drink during the trips.

But if you know this in advance you can bring whatever you like onto the train, with no nonsense about 100ml limits on liquid.

Cost comparison

Working out cost comparisons are hard and anyone looking to do a similar trip will need a calculator at hand. 

It’s hard to do a direct comparison between flying and taking the train because so much depends on what the prices are when you book, the route you want to take and how quickly you want to travel and whether to go first class or standard.

But for us at the time of booking (roughly two months in advance) flights from Paris to Faro were about €1,500 for four people, train tickets booked directly with SNCF and Renfe (not interrail) for four people were around €1,200 (this probably could have been much cheaper further in advance), whilst the Interrail option – 4 day passes plus seat reservations was around €810.

So on the face of it travelling by train, especially using Interrail passes, was cheaper – but then add on the cost of two nights in hotels in central Barcelona and there was no real financial benefit of going by train.

But then it was never all about money – what price on not having to spend three hours at Charles de Gaulle airport?

How easy is it to Interrail?

Interrail proved a great option for us, even though it was only a relatively short trip. It’s more suited to those looking to do multiple journeys through various countries, perhaps at a slower pace. But the kids being free was crucial for us, so other families should definitely explore the option.

The one downside to Interrailing through France and Spain is the requirement to book seat reservations for the high-speed trains.

Whilst this sounds fairly straightforward we couldn’t do it through the Interrail app or website so had to be done with Renfe directly. For most countries you can reserve seats through the Interrail app (more on this below).

With SNCF it required a lengthy phone call because we reserved the seats to make sure there were some available before getting the Interrail passes.

For Paris to Barcelona the reservations cost €34 for standard class seats or €48 for first class.

With Renfe it was more complicated although much cheaper (Around €10 to €12 a seat). We were told on the phone that to reserve seats with Interrail you have to do it either at a Spanish train station or by phone but only if you can pick up and pay for the reservations at a Spanish train station within a certain amount of time.

Neither of these were possible when booking from Paris back in May/June. But the helpful website Man at Seat 61 recommended going via the man behind the AndyBTravels website, who charges a small fee. A few emails were exchanged and our reservations for Barcelona to Seville arrived in the post a few days later. 

Renfe and SNCF could make it easier for Interrail passengers.

The Interrail mobile pass on the the Rail Planner app was very easy to use. It was just a case of adding the days when we were travelling and then adding the specific journeys.

This brought up a QR code for each trip but the ticket controllers were always more concerned about the seat reservations we had on paper.

But all went to plan.

 

Conclusion

Those days spent sitting drinking coffee, orange and beer (in separate cups) starring out of train windows at fields, hills, mountains, villages, beach and train platforms were part of the holiday.

I’d say that if you have a day or two to spare then travelling across Europe by train instead of plane is well worth it – yes, even with two young kids.

They might even thank you for it one day if we all help avert a climate disaster. 

Advice

It’s hard to give advice because each person has different requirements that need to be taken into account – whether number of passengers, time needed for travelling, destinations, cost etc.

But plan ahead and do the research to see what’s possible.

One bit of advice if you need to travel quickly is try keep connections to a minimum or give yourself plenty of time to make them.

My colleague Richard Orange had problems on his trip from Sweden to the UK via Denmark, Germany and Belgium because of delays and missed connections.

Useful links and extra info

You can explore Interrail pass options and prices by visiting the Interrail site here. The site offers plenty of info to help you plan your trip and reserve seats on trains if necessary.

The fantastic Man in Seat 61 guide to train travel across Europe is a must-read for anyone planning a trip. It has pages and pages of useful up to date info and can be viewed here.

It also has loads of information on how to use an Interrail pass and calculations to see whether it’s the best option – if you need help with the maths. The page can be viewed here.

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