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Tuesday, Dec 07, 2021

What are the changes to Covid rules for international travel?

Overhaul in England aims to simplify travel by scrapping traffic light system and changing testing requirements

An overhaul of England’s Covid-19 rules governing international travel has been announced by the Department for Transport, scrapping the traffic light system and signalling changes to requirements to undergo PCR testing on arrival.

The aim, according to the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, is to simplify rules and decrease the burden on people travelling by replacing the system with a single red list and one for the rest of the world.

The new rules apply to England. Devolved administrations are in charge of their own travel rules, but they have typically been mirroring Westminster’s approach.

Some changes are coming into force from the beginning of October, while there is an intention to implement others by the end of next month.

How dramatic is the change to the red list?

Perhaps not quite as dramatic as had been expected. A total of 62 countries had been on the list before the announcement.

Eight of those – Bangladesh, Egypt, Kenya the Maldives, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Turkey – are coming off the list from 4am on Wednesday.

The Department for Transport says that people should not travel to red list countries and those coming into England from any of them must stay in a government-supervised hotel after arrival.

How has the traffic light system changed?

The “green, amber and red” ranking of countries is being replaced with a red list and another list that will merge the amber and green lists.

People returning from a red list country will still have to pay to quarantine in a government-supervised hotel.

All countries not on the red list will be considered open and will have their own set of travel rules, which are changing.

What are the changes regarding vaccinations before travel?

New rules from 4 October mean that people who are fully vaccinated will not need to take a pre-departure PCR test before they travel from non-red list countries, though those other countries may well have their own rules.

People who are not fully vaccinated will need to take a pre-departure test, quarantine when they get back to England and take two PCR tests (unless they opt to pay to take advantage of a speedier “test and release” system).

In another announcement, fully vaccinated travellers from a number of new countries including Japan and Singapore are to be treated as returning fully vaccinated UK travellers following a pilot with the US and Europe.

How are PCR tests changing for arrivals?

There is an intention to scrap by the end of October the need to take PCR tests two days after arrival in the case of fully vaccinated people travelling from non-red-list countries. All red list arrivals will continue to take PCR tests on arrival, regardless of vaccination status.

Instead, those arriving will take lateral flow tests, which are cheaper.

To the chagrin of figures in the travel industry, an exact date for when PCR tests will stop being required has yet to be announced.

What lies behind the change in rules?

There had been pressure for some time for the “amber list” to be scrapped because it was felt to be confusing.

Government sources have also suggested that slashing the number of red list countries could incentivise vaccinations.

Making his announcement, Shapps said: “All of this is only available because so many people have been vaccinated. Nine out of 10 adults in this country … and it has enabled us to scrap the traffic light system.”

What is likely to be the practical impact on travel?

Aside from removing the need to take tests, the overall cost of travel will be cheaper. Providers of PCR tests have typically charged £60 for PCR tests and £30 for lateral flow tests.

For example, the removal of Turkey from the red list opens up a destination that has traditionally been highly popular with Britons. As a result of being on the red list, travellers returning from the country have had to quarantine, meaning 10 days in a hotel at a cost of more than £2,000 per person.

October half-term is regarded as the next big opportunity for the travel sector, so companies are likely to try to make the most of any changes, potentially unveiling new packages and deals.


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