Passengers stand in a queue to the British Airways check-in desks in the departures area of Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport in London. | JOHN SIBLEY

The bosses of British Airways and London's Heathrow Airport urged the government to go further in easing restrictions around travel on Monday, saying links to much of Europe and the United States should be opened up.

Britain lifted a ban on international travel on Monday but the government has designated only 12 countries safe for quarantine-free travel so far, limiting any industry recovery.

"It's clear to us that America should be on the green list," said BA CEO Sean Doyle. Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye said France, Greece and Spain should also be added.

Ministers have said people should not go on holiday to those countries which are not on the green list, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday that it would not be extended any time soon because of the risk of new variants.

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"I don't expect that we'll be adding to (the list) very rapidly and indeed we will be maintaining a very, very tough border regime for the foreseeable future," he said.

Britain has low overall rates of infection thanks largely to the success of its vaccine rollout, but concerns are growing about a fast-spreading variant first identified in India.

The emergence of the variant did not stop easing of restrictions on Monday, including allowing friends to hug each other. But it could knock off course the final step in lockdown reopening planned for June.

Passengers at Heathrow, however, were relieved that Monday's easing had gone ahead.
Erica Stolton, 29, heading to Madrid to introduce her baby to her family said she had been waiting for a long time to be allowed to travel.

"It feels absolutely magical. It's been really hard the situation with this pandemic," she said.

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