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UK Covid travel: What are the changes to holiday testing and the traffic light system?

·4-min read

Holidaymakers were given cause to celebrate as new rules for travelling abroad came into force in early October.

The traffic light system has been given a face lift and Covid testing requirements have been changed to make it easier for people to travel.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced on Twitter: said: “We’re making testing easier for travel.”

Forty-seven countries were removed from the red list at 4am on Monday, meaning arrivals from those locations will no longer need to spend 11 nights in a quarantine hotel.

How does the traffic light system work now?

The amber and green lists have been completely scrapped.

Now travellers only have a single red list of destinations.

On their return to the UK from a red list country, people must quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days.

All the countries not on the red list have now been dubbed “low-risk destinations” in a major simplification of the traffic light system.

Previously, countries were sorted into the so-called green and amber lists.

Double-jabbed holidaymakers will no longer need to take a pre-departure test before arrival into England from a non red list country.

The government has also announced that travellers will be able to take a cheaper lateral flow test instead of the day 2 PCR test. Exactly when this comes into force remains unclear, however.

Mr Shapps said he hoped the new measures would “strike the right balance to manage the public health risk as No.1 priority”.

Which countries were the latest to come off the red list?

Some 47 countries were removed from the red list in the latest review announced on Thursday, October 7.

They include South Africa, Mexico, Thailand, Brazil, India and Indonesia. The changes come into effect at 4am on Monday, October 11.

How does the traffic light system and testing work?

Red: Those returning from red list countries must stay in a managed quarantine hotel for ten days which they should book before their trip. Travellers must complete pre-departure testing and PCR testing on day two and day eight. This could cost around £2,000 per traveller.

Low-risk destinations: Double-jabbed travellers no longer need to take a pre-departure test before arrival into England.

Fully vaccinated holidaymakers returning from non red list countries can take a rapid test instead of a more expensive PCR from October 24.

In a further relaxation announced on October 7, it was announced that travellers will be able to verify they have completed a lateral flow test by sending a photograph.

How did the travel world react to the changes?

Gatwick and British Airways welcomed the news as a “step towards recovery”.

Stewart Wingate, Gatwick Airport CEO, said: “This is a significant and welcome step towards recovery. Fully vaccinated passengers now have a larger choice of destinations and can book with more confidence in the months before Christmas and beyond - free from the need to arrange pre-departure tests before coming back into the UK. We know there is significant pent-up demand for travel and our staff, restaurants, cafes and bars are ready to welcome back passengers over the coming months.

“We also welcome the news that Day 2 PCR tests will be replaced with the quicker and more affordable lateral flow tests, which will allow us to start catching up with our competitors in Europe and the US - where passenger numbers are already approaching pre-pandemic levels.

“However, we also hope that the remaining constraints including the passenger locator form can be removed soon and we continue to call for the slot rules to be reinstated to incentivise airlines, increase competition and provide passengers with greater choice and flexibility.

“Gatwick is doing everything it can to make travel as easy as possible and only yesterday announced that it is further subsidising cut-price lateral flow tests for holiday-makers.”

Sean Doyle, British Airways CEO and Chairman said: “We welcome the simplification of the traffic light system, and the changes to the testing requirements allowing UK travellers to benefit from our world-leading vaccination programme and finally giving customers and business the confidence to book the journeys they’ve been waiting for.

“Based on the scientific evidence, with fewer than 1% of people returning from low-risk countries testing positive for Covid (lower than the UK’s rate), we urge ministers to keep this policy under review, eliminating all testing for fully vaccinated travellers as soon as possible in the future, in line with most other European countries.”

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