UK government publishes first update of international travel traffic light list

The first update of the UK government’s traffic light list for international travel has seen no new ‘green’ countries, seven new ‘red’ countries and Portugal moved to ‘amber’.

International travel

The first update to the UK government’s traffic light list for international travel took place on 3 June 2021, with Portugal being moved to the amber list in order to safeguard public health against variants of concern and to protect the country’s vaccine rollout. Seven countries – including Sri Lanka and Egypt – have also been added to the red list. All changes to the lists will come into effect at 04:00 on 8 June 2021.

The decision to move Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores) to the amber list follows increased concern in the spread of variants of coronavirus, including a mutation of the Delta variant, and the risk that is posed of bringing these back to the UK if people are not required to quarantine.

The situation in Portugal has required swift action to protect the gains made with the UK’s vaccine rollout – there has been an almost doubling in the COVID-19 test positivity rate in Portugal since the first review for traffic light allocations by the government, far exceeding the ONS estimated national positivity rate in the UK.

The government’s priority is to protect public health, and it has therefore decided to act quickly to make this change. All classification changes have been decided by ministers, informed by the latest data and analysis by the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) and wider public health factors, to help people to understand the risks to public health in the UK from travellers returning from different destinations.

The UK’s Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “The public has always known that travel will be different this year, and we must continue to take a cautious approach to reopening international travel in a way that protects public health and the vaccine rollout. While we are making great progress in the UK with the vaccine rollout, we continue to say that the public should not travel to destinations outside of the green list.”

The full list of additional countries added to the ‘red list’ includes Afghanistan, Bahrain, Costa Rica, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Trinidad and Tobago. For countries moving to the red list, COVID-19 prevalence is assessed to be high and there is evidence to suggest community transmission of variants of concern.

While the number of ‘green list’ destinations remains low, the UK government is urging the public not to travel to amber classified destinations in order to play their role in protecting public health. This is due to the prevalence of variants of concern and general rates of coronavirus being greater in amber destinations, meaning that the risk to public health is also greater.

People returning to the UK from any destination require proof of a negative test, taken within three days before the service on which they will arrive in England departs. Those returning from amber countries must also book and pay for day two and day eight COVID-19 travel tests for when they return to the UK; only the day two test is required for those returning from green countries.

The UK government has always stated that international travel will be different in 2021, both in terms of passenger experience and with regards to what countries the public could visit to protect the hard-fought gains of the vaccine programme rollout. However, passengers should be aware that, while COVID-19 travel restrictions are in place, queue waiting times may be longer than usual.

The government is also announcing that, as part of a limited trial, from 8 June 2021, direct flights will be permitted to England from countries on the ‘red list’ that were previously subject to flight bans, so long as they arrive at dedicated terminals at London Heathrow Airport (LHR) and Birmingham Airport (BHX).

The requirement for these direct flights to arrive at dedicated facilities will help to keep more red list passengers separate from others, helping to ensure that they are processed as safely and efficiently as possible and then travel straight to their managed quarantine hotel, reducing queues at the border.

As international travel reopens safely, the UK government has outlined that it will maintain 100 per cent of health checks at the border. The government’s top priority is protecting the health of the public and the country’s enhanced borders regime, including mandatory hotel quarantine for arrivals from red list countries, which are helping to minimise the risk of new variants being imported into the UK.

However, many ‘green list’ countries will continue to place restrictions on travellers from the UK, including quarantine measures, so passengers are strongly encouraged to check all entry requirements and Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) travel advice before they book any foreign travel.

Industry responses

Airport Operators Association

Commenting on the update to the traffic light list, the Airport Operators Association’s (AOA) Chief Executive, Karen Dee, said: “The removal of Portugal from the green list and no new green countries is another huge blow for people looking forward to seeing family, taking a holiday abroad or travelling for business. Given the success of the UK vaccine rollout, the continuing overly cautious approach to travel will disappoint and puzzle many.”

“Summer 2021 is shaping up to be worse than summer 2020, which was the worst in aviation history. Analysis by IATA has shown that 860,000 jobs of the 1.6 million UK jobs in aviation, travel and tourism were lost or sustained only due to government furlough schemes since the pandemic started,” she explained.

Dee concluded: “The UK and devolved governments must now decide: either let the UK have a vaccine dividend, as the EU and U.S. plan to do, and reopen travel in a meaningful way at the next review point on 28 June 2021, or give the aviation and tourism industry substantial sector-specific support to help us protect jobs and weather another disastrous summer as a result of a continued overly cautious approach.”

London Gatwick Airport

Stewart Wingate, CEO of London Gatwick Airport (LGW), said: “It is bitterly disappointing news for our impacted passengers and airlines that Portugal is to be added to the “amber” list from next week while no further destinations are being opened up for “green” travel.  While it is in all of our interests to ensure that we only take forward steps out of the pandemic, we hope that the rest of Europe follows the UK’s speed of public vaccination so that safe and easy travel to and from the UK becomes a reality quickly, particularly as travel between mainland European countries is opening up already.  As the UK remains focussed on its final easing out of lockdown at the end of June 2021, we remain optimistic that summer holidays abroad will be a reality for the many people desperate to reunite with friends and family or enjoy a well-earned break.”

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