Covid: UK’s foreign travel ‘traffic light’ lists due to be announcedon June 24, 2021 at 9:10 am

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Travel bosses want more countries on the green list, as the government carries out its three-week review.

People arriving at Madeira

image copyrightPA Media

The UK’s rules on foreign travel are set to be updated later, after industry bosses united in a desperate plea for the green list to be widened.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is facing MPs this morning, with changes to the traffic light system expected to be confirmed in the afternoon.

Travel bosses are calling for an exemption to quarantine for fully-vaccinated people from amber countries.

Mr Shapps has said ministers “need to look at what the science says”.

But the prospect of European holidays could face another hurdle, after German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested all EU countries should make British travellers quarantine on arrival to slow the spread of the Delta variant.

She told Germany’s parliament: “In our country, if you come from Great Britain, you have to go into quarantine – and that’s not the case in every European country, and that’s what I would like to see.”

Currently, people travelling from the UK to Greece, Spain and Portugal are not required to quarantine. Those going to Italy have to self-isolate for five days then take a test, while fully-vaccinated UK visitors to France can enter without quarantining.

By contrast, when returning to the UK from most holiday hotspots on the amber list, travellers have to self-isolate for 10 days, as well as pay for tests.

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Gillian Laidlow

Gillian Laidlow, a nurse from Bristol, is desperate to get to Portugal to see her daughter and granddaughter, but changing travel rules have forced her to postpone her visit four times.

“My granddaughter is growing up and I’m missing it,” she told BBC Breakfast.

After rescheduling several trips due the autumn lockdown and again in May, she was hoping to travel next Friday. But when Portugal was moved from the green list to the stricter amber list, she was forced to cancel once more.

She and her husband – who is also a nurse – would not have been able to quarantine for 10 days on their return. “We have fully booked clinics and can’t just move our annual leave around,” she said.

Their flight has now been rebooked for October. “We’ll keep everything crossed again,” she said.

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Just 11 destinations are on the green list – including Gibraltar, Israel and Australia. Travellers do not need to quarantine when they get back from these countries, but they do have to pay for tests.

Countries on the red list are considered the highest risk, and travel from those nations is more strictly limited.

The UK government reviews which countries are on which list every three weeks, and the last update – when Portugal was stripped from the green list – was three weeks ago on 3 June.

As well as today’s review, the government has also said there will be a “checkpoint” review of the rules for each category on Monday 28 June. That could be when ministers decide whether to relax quarantine for fully-vaccinated travellers.

On Wednesday, Mr Shapps told the BBC: “If you’ve been double vaccinated then of course we need to look at what the science says. We’ve said that Monday is the point to review that data, so we are coming up to having a look at it.

“We’re looking at it in the next few days and I’ll have more to say.”

The UK government’s traffic light system applies to England, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland able to make their own rules. However, the rules are broadly the same and previous changes to the lists have been adopted by all four nations.

Graphic showing countries with highest cases in Europe
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Analysis box by Nick Triggle, health correspondent

The issues around travel in Europe are tricky, complex and ever-changing.

In the spring the UK had one of the lowest infection rates in Europe – so it was perhaps understandable that ministers did not want Britons going abroad where there would be a greater chance of infection.

The opposite is true now. The rise of the Delta variant means the UK has the highest rate. So in theory a Briton in France, Germany, Spain or Italy is less likely to get infected than they are here.

But that means there is a stronger argument for countries in continental Europe to restrict access for Britons. Indeed, a number of countries have already started requiring those arriving from the UK to isolate.

It means even if ministers in the UK relax restrictions, travel abroad could still be very difficult.

Clusters of the Delta variant have been found across Europe – and with lower levels of vaccine uptake there is understandable concern.

The fact remains that holidaying in continental Europe is not a decision that rests entirely in UK ministers’ hands.

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Earlier this week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said ministers were “working on” plans for fully-vaccinated people to be exempt from quarantine if they returned from amber-list countries.

More than 60% of UK adults have now been fully vaccinated, while 82.5% have had their first jab.

The latest daily Covid figures for the UK also showed a further 16,135 confirmed cases and 19 further deaths.

Hospital admission data is not updated as frequently as cases, deaths and vaccinations, but the most recent data – from 21 June – showed there were 1,508 people being treated for Covid in hospital.

On Wednesday, workers in the travel industry including cabin crew, pilots, travel agents and airport staff held a series of protests against the rules.

They called on the government to offer the industry more financial support and increase the number of countries on the UK’s green list.

And industry body Abta, representing travel agents and tour operators, estimated 195,000 travel jobs have been lost during the pandemic or are at risk.

The government said its international travel policy was guided by “one overwhelming priority – protecting public health”.

It said a range of factors were considered when making decisions about countries – including how capable a country is at genomic sequencing, the risk of transmission and the risk from any variants of concern.

The government added it was keeping all possible travel measures under review, and that economic support for the sector included the furlough scheme.

Graphic showing how the traffic light system for arrivals will work
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