“We’ve moved away from a situation where everything is ‘it’s banned, it’s illegal’, I know we’ve got very used to this in the last year,” Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps told Sky News on Thursday.
“We’re moving away from that and asking people to apply a bit of common sense,” Shapps added.
The scheme, which came into effect this month, has since divided countries into three groups, based on how well they manage the spread of coronavirus, and on their vaccination efforts. Upon returning from the countries on the ‘green list,’ which includes Israel, Australia and New Zealand, UK citizens must take a Covid-19 test.
The much longer ‘amber list’ includes UK’s neighbours France and Germany, popular tourist spots Spain, Italy and Greece, as well as states like the US and Canada. After returning from these countries, travellers must take two Covid-19 tests and self-isolate at home for 10 days.
People coming back from any ‘red-list’ countries are required to get tested and be quarantined under supervision inside a hotel. The red list mostly includes countries in Africa, Asia and South America.
Shapps explained that every country automatically lands in the amber list until the government-run Joint Biosecurity Centre advises to move it to the green or red list.
There was some confusion this week after Environment Secretary George Eustice told reporters that people could go to amber-listed countries “if they feel the need” to visit family and friends, as long as they follow the quarantine rules when returning. Welsh Home Secretary Simon Hart said “a lot of people” will equate holidays with essential travel.
This prompted Labour Party leader Keir Starmer to accuse the government of having “lost control of the messaging.”
Responding to Starmer’s criticism, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that people should not go to amber-listed countries “except for some extreme circumstance,” like a serious illness of a family member. The PM said the government was “trying to move away from endlessly legislating everything” and was more relying on ordinary people acting responsibly.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock also said it was “crystal clear” that people should not go to amber- and red-listed countries on holidays.
The head of EasyJet airline, Johan Lundgren, slammed the government’s stance on foreign travel as “very confusing” and said that it was “absolutely legal to travel to amber-list countries.” He noted that the travel ban had ended on Monday, and the color-coded scheme was designed to allow people to go overseas again.
“There was no indication [passengers] shouldn’t travel to these countries, because that’s what the restriction was supposed to do,” Lundgren said, adding that the new scheme was meant to “make sure you could do this in a safe way.”