A traffic light system, which will categorise countries based on risk alongside the restrictions required for travel, has been rolled out by the UK government on Friday as part of plans to lift the current restrictions on non-essential overseas travel to control the spread of COVID-19.
The system, which slots countries under a red, amber and green system, will determine which set of travellers require varying degrees of hotel or home quarantine, with a stringent coronavirus testing regime in place.
The full categorisation of countries under the three-way system is to be released later, expected in time for the next stage in the ease of lockdown on May 17.
“International travel is vital – it boosts businesses and underpins the UK economy – but more than that, it brings people together, connects families who have been kept apart, and allows us to explore new horizons,” said UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
“The framework announced today will help allow us to reopen travel safely and sustainably, ensure we protect our hard-won achievements on the vaccine roll out, and offer peace of mind to both passengers and industry as we begin to take trips abroad once again,” he said.
Countries under the “Green” arrivals, the safest level, will need to take a pre-departure test as well as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test on or before day two of their arrival back into the UK – but will not need to quarantine on return (unless they receive a positive result) or take any additional tests, halving the cost of tests on their return from holiday.
Those arriving to the UK from “Amber” countries, or medium risk from coronavirus, will need to quarantine for a period of 10 days and take a pre-departure test, and a PCR test on day two and day eight with the option for a paid Test to Release on day five to end self-isolation early if they test negative.
Those from “Red” countries, or the highest risk countries in terms of transmissions and deadly virus variants, will be subject to all the restrictions currently in place for the so-called “red list” of around 40 countries which include a 10-day stay in a managed quarantine hotel, pre-departure testing and PCR testing on day two and eight.
The report has been prepared by the Global Travel Taskforce to lay out how international travel could resume from May 17 at the earliest, including the removal of the Permission to Travel form – meaning passengers would no longer need to prove they have a valid reason to leave the country.
The government says the focus is on managing risks posed by new coronavirus variants, which remains significant.
However, the travel industry has raised concerns over the enhanced expenses of the compulsory PCR tests and hotel quarantines, which would make international travel the preserve of the rich.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said it would work with the travel industry and private testing providers ahead of international travel reopening, to see how to further reduce the cost of travel for the British public, while ensuring travel is as safe as possible. This could include cheaper tests being used when holidaymakers return home, as well as whether the government would be able to provide pre-departure tests.
The DfT said it is working across government to consider the role certification, or so-called COVID vaccine passports, could play in facilitating outbound travel, for those countries which have systems in place. Work also continues to develop a system that would facilitate travel certification for inbound international travel.
To give passengers more certainty when travelling, the department is also planning a “green watchlist” to help identify countries most at risk of moving from “green” to “amber” and that the allocation of countries will be kept under review and respond to emerging evidence, with a particular focus on coronavirus variants of concern.
Based on the taskforce findings, a COVID-19 Charter will also be introduced from May 17 to clearly set out what is required of passengers and what their rights are while measures remain in place.