LONDON, July 28 (Reuters) - England will allow fully vaccinated visitors from the European Union and United States to arrive without quarantine from next week, the transport minister said on Wednesday, in a huge and long-awaited boost for airlines and travel companies.

Britain's travel industry has heavily criticized the government for being too slow to open up, saying it has squandered its lead in the global vaccine rollout and given the EU a head start in attracting tourists.

The government said in a statement that from Aug. 2 travelers with U.S. and EU-approved vaccines would not have to quarantine. That will cover Britain's top nine biggest markets by visitor volumes pre-pandemic.

The opening up of England would likely be followed by the rest of the United Kingdom.

Travelers will, however, still have to take a COVID-19 test before departure and soon after arrival in England, transport minister Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter.

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The move will help airlines and travel companies drum up more business after 16 months of restrictions left many of them under severe financial strain.

Shares in British Airways were up 3% while easyJet rose 4% and Wizz Air jumped 5%.

Quarantine for fully vaccinated Britons returning to the UK from medium risk countries was scrapped on July 19, helping to kickstart a travel recovery, but frequent rule changes over the last two months mean travel is still plagued by uncertainty.

Moreover, the U.S. remains shut to British visitors so for the transatlantic carriers like British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, planes will primarily be carrying U.S. citizens to England.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on LBC Radio earlier on Wednesday that he wants U.S. citizens to come to England "freely" and is discussing a travel corridor with the United States, which would mean the restart of two-way traffic with the U.S.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, writing by Sarah Young and Elizabeth Piper; Editing by William Schomberg, Joe Bavier and Kate Holton)