By Alex Macheras
The UK will this week announce a new traffic light system for foreign travel to replace the current ban and kickstart this year’s summer travel. They will be rated green, amber and red, with different restrictions on travel in each of the three categories.
The government has confirmed that it comes down to vaccination rates, the number of Covid cases, the prevalence of “variants of concern” and the quality of testing data.
Will I need to quarantine if visiting the UK?
You will only be free from quarantining for 10 days when returning from a “green list” country – but you will still be required to take two tests. One must be taken within 72 hours of departure and show a negative result, and one must be a PCR test on or before the second day after you arrive back. Countries including Malta and Portugal are set to be green, most other countries amber, with the existing red list continuing.
Travel from amber countries will require you to home quarantine for 10 days in the UK. You also need to have a negative test before departure, and then PCR tests on days two and eight. You can take the second test on day five and, if negative, leave quarantine.
Foreign travel is banned from “red list” countries, such as Qatar and the UAE – due to their flow of transit passengers - and returning Britons who travel via elsewhere to the UK have to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days at a cost of up £1,750 per person (including two PCR tests).
Will different parts of the same country be on different lists, such as Spain/Canary Islands?
Yes, most islands will be assessed individually, rather than linked to the mainland country.
Are there any countries which might not be opening up for British tourists, or have restrictions in place?
There are more countries with closed or restricted borders now compared with any other time in the pandemic. While Australia, New Zealand, and the United States could make the UK’s green list from early on, these nations have either closed borders, or specific travel bans on UK travellers.
Will travellers need to prove they’ve been vaccinated? What about under 18s? Are there any countries which will allow tourists who haven’t had their vaccine?
Greece has indicated they’ll accept the NHS card as proof of vaccination, while Portugal has said it won’t as it’s too easy to forge.
The EU-wide digital vaccine passport will be ready over the coming weeks, meanwhile many other nations, such as Gulf states in the Middle East, have their own apps that passengers need to download.
For the vast majority, the alternative to a vaccine certification will be a recent negative test, ensuring unvaccinated travellers can travel too.
What’s your advice for booking travel to the UK this summer?
When booking anything travel related during this ongoing pandemic, ensure you are booking on flexible terms.
Most airlines are offering changes free of charge, but not all.
You should check the flexibility of your accommodation bookings too, as hotels tend to be less flexible than airlines – especially if you decided to leave early in order to avoid UK quarantine.
Does everyone in my family need to take a Covid test before flying back to the UK, or are children exempt?
Children aged under 11 do not need to take a test, everyone else must take the test.
For the PCR test on or before day 2 after arrival, can we use the free PCR tests distributed by the government, and if not, why not?
No, the UK government has insisted that the free twice-weekly test available to all cannot be used for travel. This may change over the coming weeks, as the price of private testing is still very high, around £70 each.
If I am in a red country, and then spend ten days in a green country, will I still have to quarantine?
You’ll be considered as having travelled from a green country providing you were there over the last ten days (meaning you would not need to quarantine on arrival to the UK).
For example, you could travel from Qatar to Georgia, spend 10 days in Georgia, and then be eligible to enter the UK.
If you have to quarantine at home, or are free to not quarantine depends on if Georgia is categorised as amber, or green.
Could all this change if foreign travel is shown to increase infections in the UK, and will those who have booked holidays get refunds/compensation if it does?
The government has reassured the aviation and travel industry that the ‘traffic light’ policy is to provide certainty, and therefore there shouldn’t be too much change to international travel once it’s resumed.
What is inevitable, is that countries will move across from green to amber, or amber to red, and travellers should know be aware of this risk before they travel abroad.
* The author is an aviation analyst. Twitter handle: @AlexInAir
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