A framework to chart the safe return of international travel has been set out today by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
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A traffic light system, which will categorise countries based on risk alongside the restrictions required for travel, will be set up to protect the public and the vaccine rollout from international COVID-19 variants.
Key factors in the assessment will include:
the percentage of their population that have been vaccinated
the rate of infection
the prevalence of variants of concern
the country’s access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing
The report, produced by the Global Travel Taskforce, shows how international travel could resume from 17th May 2021 at the earliest, in an accessible and affordable way. This includes 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 UK is a global leader in genome sequencing, which in positive cases allows the identification of variants of concern.
The risks posed by these variants remain significant, and restrictions for inbound passengers, such as 10-day managed quarantine, home quarantine, and stringent testing will remain in place - but will apply to people differently depending on whether the destination visited is categorised as ‘green’, ‘amber’ or ‘red’.
arrivals will need to take a pre-departure test as well as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test on or before day 2 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
arrivals will need to quarantine for a period of 10 days and take a pre-departure test, and a PCR test on day 2 and day 8 with the option for Test to Release on day five to end self-isolation early
arrivals will be subject to restrictions currently in place for ‘red list’ countries which include a 10-day stay in a managed quarantine hotel, pre-departure testing and PCR testing on day two and eight
Testing remains an essential part of protecting public health as restrictions begin to ease - with all arrivals who are not exempt required to book a pre-departure, day two and day eight test before travelling.
Arrivals travelling from ‘red list’ countries should book a quarantine package before departure, and arrivals from ‘amber’ and ‘green’ countries will be required to book test packages before travelling from one of the government’s approved list of providers.
Testing post-arrival remains an important tool in our wider measures to manage the risk of imported cases - allowing us to monitor positive tests and ensure people isolate, as well as identify and genomically sequence variants of concern.
We will also work with the travel industry and private testing providers ahead of international travel reopening, to see how we can 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.
It is too early to predict which countries will be on which list over the summer, and the government continues to consider a range of factors to inform the restrictions placed on them. We will set out by early May which countries will fall into which category, as well as confirming whether international travel can resume from 17th May 2021.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "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.
"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."
The UK will also play a leading role in the development of international standards around a digital travel certification system. The Department for Transport (DfT) is working across government to consider the role certification 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, a ‘green watchlist’ will be introduced to help identify countries most at risk of moving from ‘green’ to ‘amber’. The watchlist will provide greater assurance for those who wish to travel abroad.
While the watchlist will warn travellers of potential changes in advance, the government will not hesitate to act immediately should the data show that countries risk ratings have changed.
The allocation of countries will be kept under review and respond to emerging evidence, with a particular focus on variants of concern.
Restrictions will be formally reviewed on 28th June 2021 to take account of the domestic and international health picture, and to see whether current measures could be rolled back. Further formal reviews will take place at checkpoints no later than 31st July and 1st October 2021.
To ensure the UK’s borders remain safe and efficient when passenger flows increase, the government has also announced plans to digitise the passenger locator form, integrating it into the UK border system and enabling checks to take place at e-gates by autumn 2021.
To further boost consumer confidence, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will be given additional enforcement powers to act on airlines that have breached consumer rights - with a dedicated consultation on how to use additional tools to enforce consumer rights expected later this year.
A COVID-19 charter will also be introduced from 17th May 2021, clearly setting out what is required of passengers and what their rights are while measures remain in place.
Responding to the Government’s announcement on a traffic light system for the restart of international travel, Airport Operators Association Chief Executive Karen Dee said: “Despite the success of the UK’s vaccination rollout, the Global Travel Taskforce’s framework offers only a glimmer of hope to an industry battered by more than a year of near-complete shutdown.
“While it is welcome that the new green category does not require quarantine, it is not yet a truly green light to travel. The proposed testing regime will add significant costs that could limit travel possibilities for many and must be regularly reviewed. It is disappointing the Government has not fully accepted the evidence that rapid, more affordable testing can be equally effective.
“The Government has to give industry and consumers sufficient time to prepare for reopening and book travel. Transparent criteria for countries in each travel tier and an indicative green list along with a firm commitment to reopening on 17 May would boost consumer confidence and we urge the Government to publish these shortly.
“As it stands, a meaningful restart of aviation is not yet possible under the new system. This puts the Government’s Global Britain agenda and more than a million jobs supported by aviation and tourism at risk and will require the Chancellor to mitigate the resulting financial impacts.”
ADS Chief Executive Kevin Craven said: “The approach set out today will allow only a limited return to international travel. The cost of testing for travellers and continued uncertainty on a date for reopening threaten to stifle the pace of recovery.
“The Government must work to rebuild consumer confidence in travel and reconnect the UK with our most important trading partners. It should provide early confirmation that travel will resume on 17 May as planned, publish details of country categorisations, and work to cut the costs of testing for passengers to ensure travel is affordable for families and businesses.
“Building on the UK’s successful vaccination programme, a certification scheme that reduces the need for testing and quarantine can provide another route to give passengers the freedom and confidence they need to return to normal travel plans.”