The Balearic Islands of Ibiza, Mallorca and Menorca are tipped to join the UK's holiday green list along with Malta, Bermuda, Grenada and Madeira after Northern Ireland announced an update to its foreign travel restrictions.
Speculation is mounting that the top holiday destinations may now be added to the green list across the UK, with experts suggesting that the Northern Ireland Assembly has 'jumped the gun' ahead of the full UK announcement.
It comes as France and Germany launched a joint push to make Britons quarantine on arrival in the EU today despite Boris Johnson hailing the 'real opportunity' of opening travel to double-jabbed holidaymakers.
The bid to tighten the bloc's defences against the Indian - or Delta - variant emerged as the UK prepares to add the Balearics and Malta to the 'green list' of destinations where people do not have to self-isolate on return.
Game-changing plans to drop 'amber list' restrictions for those who are fully vaccinated are also being considered by ministers this afternoon, and could potentially come into effect as early as next month.
However, even if the rules are loosened it will be of limited use as Britons still face tough curbs imposed by other countries - who are alarmed at the spike in infections caused by the Indian, or Delta, variant.
Angela Merkel urged all EU states to follow Germany's lead by requiring travellers from the UK to quarantine.
'I will lobby for a more co-ordinated approach, particularly with regard to entries from regions where virus variants abound,' she said at a summit in Brussels today.
French president Emmanuel Macron echoed her hard line, saying: 'We must all be vigilant because the much-talked-about Delta variant is coming, which spreads much more rapidly than the other variants and affects people who are not vaccinated or who only have had one dose.
'For me, one of the issues of discussion is to be really taking co-ordinated decisions in terms of opening of borders to third countries and on recognising vaccines because at this stage we have to limit this to the vaccines that have been approved by the European medical authority.'
Environment Secretary George Eustice condemned the Franco-German stance. 'I'm not sure that such an approach would be justified given the highly advanced stage we are currently at now in terms of vaccination, with 80 per cent having had one jab and now 60 per cent having had the second jab,' he told LBC radio.
'I don't think such a move would be justified but obviously it's for individual countries to make these judgments.'
Spain indicated it will fight any Franco-German attempt to get the rest of Europe to introduce quarantine for British holidaymakers.
He said: 'Let's see where we get to with all this. I think that the real opportunity we all have now is to open up travel through the double jab.
'We've got more than 60 per cent of our population have now had two jabs, 83 per cent have had one jab, we're really getting through it now.
'I'm not going to claim that this summer, for travel purposes, is going to be like any other summer. I don't want to cast a pall over things but, as I said the other day, it will be different.
On another tense day of coronavirus developments:
On a visit to Aldershot, Boris Johnson sidestepped on Angela Merkel's comments about making Britons quarantine but said the 'real opportunity' was to open up travel to people who have had two vaccination doses
Tory MPs and travel industry figures said the decision on whether to expand the green list is a vital test of the Government's willingness to save the summer holidays. Pictured: A beach on the Balearic Island of Formentera
Angela Merkel (pictured with Emmanuel Macron at the G7 summit) has called on other European countries to force UK travellers to quarantine on arrival
Ministers are under intense pressure to lift Covid travel restrictions on the Balearic islands and Malta today after scientists declared them safe. Pictured: The Maltese capital Valetta in May [File photo]
Ministers say they will stop wearing masks as soon as they are not law
Boris Johnson is struggling to contain an apparent Cabinet split today as ministers openly said they will ditch face masks the moment they are not compulsory - and suggested that should happen on July 19.
George Eustice dismissed the idea he would keep wearing face coverings when they are not required, saying: 'I want to get back to normal.'
He also reiterated that the plan is for 'all legal restrictions' to lift in England on the so-called Covid 'Freedom Day' next month.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak gave a similar message as he said it is his 'strong expectation' that the unlocking will go ahead on schedule. Asked at the Times CEO summit if he would stop wearing masks when they are not legally required, Mr Sunak said: 'Yes, as soon as possible.'
Meanwhile, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg ramped up expectations of curbs being fully removed as he told MPs that the description of July 19 as a 'terminus point' is likely to mean Covid certificates and other rules are dropped completely.
However, in signs of tensions at the heart of government, Downing Street said the PM is only aiming to 'get back as close to normal as is possible' and 'no final decisions have been taken'.
Nicola Sturgeon suggested earlier this week that the Scottish government could keep advising people to wear masks beyond August even if they are not mandatory.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has also warned that they should still be required on the Tube and buses as they give people 'confidence' they are safe.
More than five million Brits visit Mallorca, Ibiza and Menorca in a normal year. Scientists have signed off on declaring the Balearics safe enough for the green list, which would be a welcome relief for the travel industry.
However, there are lingering fears that the Government could overrule the advice, as it did when Malta was put forward for approval last month.
If there is agreement, tourists could be able to travel as soon as next Tuesday without isolating for up to 10 days on return.
Turkey is expected to remain on the red list, which could also see the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Uganda added while Israel could move from green to amber.
There are also reports that the number of expensive tests needed by returning holidaymakers will be slashed.
Tory MP Henry Smith, chairman of the Future of Aviation Group, said: 'Frankly, these destinations should already be on the green list along with many others.
It is a nonsense that people are not able to travel freely to countries that have lower rates of infection than we do.'
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said: 'It's now or never if we are to have any sort of summer season and the data shows this can be done safely and proportionately with many more countries being added to the list.
'The future of our aviation industry and the hundreds of thousands of jobs it supports depends on it.'
Culture minister John Whittingdale hinted at positive news yesterday, saying: 'Hopefully it will be possible to increase that number' of countries on the green list.
Green list status is only allocated to destinations that can show they have low Covid rates and no significant problems with variants of concern. They also have to show that they can monitor for new variants.
Government scientists advised last month that Malta could be added to the green list, only to be overruled by ministers led by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Latest figures suggest infection rates on the island are less than half those in the UK.
Ministers are also close to an agreement on the plan to end quarantine requirements for the fully vaccinated. It is seen as the best chance for saving the travel sector this summer and would require travellers to prove their vaccination status either using the NHS app or with a paper record from their GP.
The Cabinet is split on the timing with some ministers favouring a July 19 start date and others wanting a more cautious approach. The so-called 'doves' are believed to include Matt Hancock, Priti Patel and Dominic Raab.
A Government source said August is the most likely date but no final decision has been taken.
However, the impact of the UK's decisions will be blunted by the draconian restrictions still being imposed by other countries.
Berlin has banned travellers from Britain entering unless they are a German citizen, have residency rights or if there is an 'urgent humanitarian reason' like a family death.
But those allowed in still have to register to get permission to visit and quarantine for two weeks with no option for early release after a negative test.
It comes after Italy reintroduced quarantine and testing requirements for all UK arrivals amid growing concerns in Europe about the spread of the Indian, or Delta, variant, now dominant in the UK.
Health minister Roberto Speranza said on Friday that Italy will require all travellers from Britain to quarantine for five days upon arrival.
A negative test is required at the end of the five-day period. America currently still bans UK tourists amid the surge in Delta cases.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the US's top infectious diseases expert, last week suggested that UK-US travel would only reopen in September as a result.
Portugal, Spain and Greece are still allowing UK holidaymakers to visit with proof of a negative test and no quarantine.
France is also allowing in fully vaccinated Britons with a negative test.
But European health officials say further action is needed to curb the spread of the Delta variant as it gains a hold on the Continent.
This month it accounted for 70 per cent of sequenced cases in the greater Lisbon region of Portugal, more than 20 per cent in Italy and about 16 per cent in Belgium. It has also been detected in clusters in Germany, France and Spain.
Let us fly again! Furious pilots march on Westminster
Hundreds of travel workers including pilots and business owners marched on Westminster yesterday to demand that ministers ease restrictions threatening the industry.
They called on the Prime Minister to expand the quarantine-free travel green list at today's review and make it easier for fully-vaccinated Britons to go on holiday. They warned huge numbers of jobs are at risk and called for the furlough scheme to be extended beyond September if current restrictions continue.
Hundreds of travel workers including pilots and business owners marched on Westminster yesterday to demand that ministers ease restrictions threatening the industry (pictured)
Pilots and cabin crew who have been grounded for over a year were joined by travel business owners who told of being on the brink.
Pictured: Virgin Air Crew at a protest outside the Houses of Parliament where the travel industry is protesting to MPs showing they are not happy about continued travel restrictions
Around 400 protesters gathered outside the Commons as part of a Travel Day Of Action. Demonstrations were also held outside Holyrood and Stormont to lobby the Scottish and Northern Ireland governments and at airports including Bristol and Manchester.
Senior Tory MPs joined the Westminster protest, including Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Sir Graham Brady, former minister Steve Baker and transport committee chairman Huw Merriman, who called on ministers to use the success of the vaccine rollout to reboot international travel.
Richard Mann, 56, a pilot for travel giant Tui, said it was the biggest crisis the aviation industry had ever faced, stressing: 'Everyone's worried for their livelihoods.
'If there was a clear reason for travel being shut down to the extent it is now, we would take that on the chin, but there just doesn't seem to be.
'Infection rates in the Balearic Islands and others are lower than we have here, so why are they shut off?
'You see thousands packing themselves on to Bournemouth beach. Is that keeping people safe? It doesn't make sense.'
Mark Tanzer, of travel industry group Abta, said some members had been forced to take new jobs as call centre workers and Amazon delivery drivers to make ends meet, adding: 'It's really heart-breaking.'
Sir Graham said ministers must ensure a 'viable summer season' is salvaged. He insisted: 'There are over one million jobs at stake – as well as people's freedom to see their family overseas or to go on holiday.' Mr Merriman warned: 'The sector is haemorrhaging jobs.'