Government confirms traffic light list for international travel

Posted on 7 May, 2021 by Advance 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has today announced that international travel can begin to safely reopen from 17th May, allowing people to go on foreign holidays to ‘Green List’ countries.

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The ‘Stay in the UK’ regulation will lift on 17th May, meaning leisure travel from England will no longer be illegal. However, speaking at a No10 press conference this afternoon, the Transport Secretary outlined how strict border control measures will remain in place as international travel gradually resumes. Different levels of restriction will be applied to individuals returning to England from countries based on the traffic light system set out by the Global Travel Taskforce.

People are being guided on where they can safely visit without needing to quarantine on return to England – starting with the additions of Portugal including the Azores and Madeira, Israel and Singapore among others to the ‘Green List’. They will still need to take a pre-departure test up to 72 hours before their return travel, and a single PCR test on or before day 2 of arrival into England – this can be booked in the same way as is in place now, through private test providers.

Our priority remains to protect public health, which is why the ‘green’ list is currently very small, with only 12 countries and territories. If the epidemiological situation improves worldwide, it is expected that there will be more opportunities for leisure travel with a greater number of destinations added.

In total, 12 countries and territories have been added to the green list. Some of these include: Portugal including the Azores and Madeira; Australia; New Zealand; Singapore; Brunei; Iceland; Faroe Islands; Gibraltar; Falkland Islands; and Israel. However, many ‘Green List’ countries will continue to place restrictions on UK travellers, including quarantine measures, so passengers are encouraged to check all requirements and FCDO travel advice before they book any foreign travel

Given that the virus is still spreading in many parts of the world, people should not be travelling to ‘amber’ and ‘red’ countries for leisure. 10-day managed hotel quarantine requirements will remain in place for those permitted to return to England from ‘red’ countries, and quarantine at home alongside stringent testing will be required for those returning from ‘amber’ destinations.

Countries have been allocated by Ministers according to the latest scientific data, so quarantine and testing requirements on return from those countries are appropriate to the risk of coronavirus and variants of concern.  

The lists will be reviewed every three weeks, informed by public health advice, including the Joint Biosecurity Centre’s assessment of the latest data. These regular review points will allow the Government to balance helping the public to understand COVID requirements when travelling to England while allowing us to constantly evaluate the risk for different countries.

The Government will also be publishing a green watchlist in the future, to provide an indication when a country is identified as a candidate for a changing country. All measures will be kept under review and further action may be taken to protect public health.

Countries will decide whether they require proof of Covid vaccination for entry, and it is the traveller’s responsibility to check individual requirements. If needed, people in England who have both vaccine doses will be able to demonstrate their Covid vaccination status via the NHS app from 17 May. Those without access to the app can request a letter from the NHS proving their vaccination status by calling 119, from 17 May. Test results will not be stated in the app and the process for booking and presenting test results for travel remains unchanged. The Government is working with the devolved administrations to ensure this facility is available to everyone across the UK.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Today marks the first step in our cautious return to international travel, with measures designed above all else to protect public health and ensure we don’t throw away the hard-fought gains we’ve all strived to earn this year.”

“This is a new way of doing things, and people should expect travel to be different this summer – with longer checks at the borders, as part of tough measures to prevent new strains of the virus entering the country and putting our fantastic vaccine rollout at risk.” 

On top of this, to continue protecting the country against new variants of coronavirus, from 0400 Wednesday 12 May, the Maldives, Nepal and Turkey will be added to the ‘red list’.

When travel does restart, it will be different, most notably when returning to the UK. Reopening international travel, while maintaining 100% health checks at the border, means longer waits are likely – passengers from any destination will still be required to fill out a Passenger Locator Form, and show proof of a pre-departure test negative result. While holidaymakers may notice longer than usual queues, it is vital we maintain our stringent border checks – which are among the toughest in the world – to prevent new strains of the virus entering the country and putting our vaccine roll out at risk.

The Government is constantly trying to improve processes to make them as efficient as possible to minimise wait times, and will be committing to increasing Border Force resources to manage increased demand. This includes deploying additional Border Force officers where high volumes of passengers are expected.

Border Force will be checking that arriving passengers have complied with current health measures, and passengers can help reduce delays by completing all necessary requirements before entering the country. We continue to urge airlines to carry out all necessary checks or risk facing fines of £2,000 for each passenger they carry who does not have a valid Pre-Departure Test Certificate, and £2,000 for each passenger who does not have a completed PLF. 

The Government will also continue with plans to integrate health measure checks into our border system and enabling checks to take place at e-gates in major ports during Summer 2021. Following the UK exit from the EU and the end of the Transition Period, UK citizens will be subject to additional checks upon entering EU countries. If travelling abroad, you need to take steps to keep safe and prepare in case things change while you are there. Check and subscribe to Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office travel advice updates to understand the latest entry requirements and COVID 19 rules.

ADS Chief Executive Kevin Craven said: “Confirmation of the partial reopening of international travel on May 17 is small step forward that builds on the success of the UK’s vaccination programme. However, travel to and from the UK remains severely restricted, leaving our aviation and aerospace industries heavily impacted by the ongoing crisis.

“In the coming weeks we hope to see more countries added to the green list, action from Government to further cut testing costs and a clear pathway created for internationally recognised COVID certification that removes the remaining quarantine requirements.”

As Airport Operators Association (AOA) research shows that the 12 green-listed countries accounted for just 5.5% of passengers in July-August 2019, the AOA Chief Executive Karen Dee responded to the Government’s announcement of the green list. She said: “UK airports are ready to welcome back passengers from 17 May, with high levels of health and hygiene measures in place, and we welcome confirmation that international travel will resume. Given the success of the UK’s vaccine roll-out, it is disappointing that so few countries are on the green list. This is not yet the meaningful, four-nation restart UK airports and the economy need.

“Aviation is essential to connect families who have not been able to meet for so long, to provide well-earned holidays, and for businesses to reach new and existing customers abroad. To ensure this can restart effectively, the UK Government must play its part by adding countries to the green list, making testing more affordable, through the use of widely available rapid tests, and by simplifying the processes and providing sufficient resource at the border. The unacceptable queues passengers experience at the border in some airports put passenger welfare and safety and security in UK airports at risk.

“Pre-pandemic around a million UK jobs were supported by UK aviation so a full recovery must be a priority for Government. Ministers need to use the upcoming reviews to reduce restrictions for fully vaccinated people, just as the EU and the US are planning. This is particularly important for restarting the UK’s inbound tourism sector.”

Gloria Guevera, President & CEO of World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) said: “We welcome this first initial step by the UK government to begin opening the door to international travel with the announcement of today’s ‘traffic light’ system.

“However, airlines and the wider Travel & Tourism sector will be hugely disappointed that the U.S., which has a similar vaccination success rate has not been included on the ‘green list’ as it would have enabled the resumption of transatlantic travel, which would have thrown a vital lifeline to the sector in two of the biggest Travel & Tourism markets in the world.

“The UK is the fourth biggest G20 economy in terms of international Travel & Tourism spend from business travel, which amounted to £7.5 billion in 2019, before the pandemic ripped through the heart of the sector.

“While we understand that protecting public health should be the priority, the UK is being too cautious and risks losing its hard-won competitive advantage achieved by the early vaccine rollout by being too slow to allow the significant resumption of international travel.

“Holidaymakers and business travellers will be disappointed by today’s news, with so few countries on the ‘green list’, while Europe steals a march on the UK by continuing to open up and welcome visitors back.

“We are also disappointed that UK travellers are expected to pay for expensive PCR tests, even when traveling from countries on the green list. This will make foreign holidays totally unaffordable for many families.

“We urge the UK government to work with its providers to offer more cost-effective tests for UK travellers, or accept the more affordable yet rapid and effective, antigen tests.

“After suffering the biggest fall in contribution towards GDP from Travel & Tourism of the 10 most important global markets - by a staggering 62.5% - the UK can ill-afford to be this cautious.”