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Families separated by travel restrictions for nearly two years have reunited at Heathrow Airport after a change in UK rules allowed those fully vaccinated in the US and EU to avoid self-isolation.
The airport resembled the famous scene from the movie Love Actually as families embraced each other in the arrivals hall, some of whom have been separated since the start of the pandemic in March last year.
A series of lockdowns in England and the traffic light system have meant most arrivals have had to quarantine at home for 10 days after they touch down.
The system was loosened from 4am on Monday to allow fully vaccinated EU and US passengers to avoid quarantine.
Since July 19, people who were double vaccinated in the UK have not had to isolate when arriving from amber list countries, but all other travellers vaccinated elsewhere were still required to quarantine for 10 days.
The government said the move would allow some business travel to resume and help families and friends reunite with their loved ones.
Tougher rules remain in place for France, which is on the “amber plus” list owing to concerns over the Beta variant of coronavirus, meaning all passengers from there need to isolate in the UK regardless of vaccination status.
At Heathrow on Monday, grandparents were seen meeting their grandchildren for the first time, while parents reunited with their children.
There were similar reunions at Gatwick Airport, south of London.
One man who was among the first arrivals from the US told the BBC it was “marvelous” to be back in the UK.
“It gives us an opportunity to spend time with family — people we haven't seen for quite some time,” he said.
“As soon as we got off the plane we got so excited, even the little ones were shouting 'London, London'."
The removal of restrictions came as the travel industry ramped up its criticism of the government after reports emerged ministers were planning to introduce an “amber watch list".
The new category would give passengers advance notice that their destination country is at risk of turning red, forcing them to stay in hotel quarantine when they arrive back in the UK.
Heathrow Airport boss John Holland-Kaye said the government should be simplifying the rules instead of making them more complicated.
“We need to simplify as much as we can to enable more people to travel,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
He urged ministers to use the “dividend” from the vaccine drive to reopen travel.
“We should be able to at least catch up with the Europeans,” he said.
“The UK should be showing that if you get vaccinated you can get your life back to normal.”