MSE News

Travel traffic light system to be introduced - here's how it will work

The Government has unveiled details of how it plans to open up foreign travel this summer for those in England, with countries to be graded under a new traffic light system which will determine whether travellers need to quarantine and what coronavirus tests are required.

The measures are detailed in a new report by the Global Travel Taskforce - a body set up by the Government that also works with the travel industry - looking into how international holidays could resume from 17 May at the earliest. But the Government has stopped short of confirming if overseas holidays will definitely be allowed from this date. It says it will make this decision by 10 May. 
The new guidance also only applies to those travelling to and from England, with the devolved governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales able to set their own rules - we've asked for more details on this and will update our Coronavirus Travel Rights guide when we know more. 

A new traffic light system will determine measures holidaymakers must take

The Government already operates a 'red' list of countries which are deemed to be high-risk for coronavirus. If you have been in or through any of the countries on this list in the 10 days prior to arriving in the UK, you'll be refused entry unless you're a British or Irish national or have residence rights in the UK - in which you will be able to enter but must quarantine in a Government-approved hotel for 10 days.
Ministers had already said they planned to expand on this red list, but the Government's now given further details of how the new traffic light system in England will work. Countries will be placed in one of three categories: 
  • Green countries - you'll be tested but there's no quarantine: When travelling back to England you'll need to take a pre-departure test as well as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test on or before day two of your arrival. But you won't need to quarantine on return (unless you receive a positive result) or take any additional tests.  

  • Amber countries - you'll face an additional test and must self-isolate: When travelling back to England you'll need to take a pre-departure test and a PCR test on day two and day eight after arriving. You'll also need to self-isolate for 10 days after arrival - this can be at home, and you may be able to end self-isolation early on day five if you take an additional test on day five. 

  • Red countries - you'll be tested and must pay to quarantine in a hotel: When travelling back to England you'll be tested pre-departure and must have a PCR test on day two and eight. But you'll also have to undergo 10 days of managed quarantine in a hotel, which may be pricey. (Currently, in England arriving single adult travellers are charged £1,750 for their stay.)

Arrivals travelling from red list countries must book a quarantine package before departure, while 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.

The Government says it will set out by 10 May which countries will fall into which category. This will be based on factors including the percentage of the country's population which has been vaccinated, the rate of infection, the prevalence of variants of concern, and the country’s access to reliable scientific data. A green watchlist will also be introduced to help identify countries most at risk of moving from green to amber. 

The Government says its restrictions will be formally reviewed on 28 June and then again no later than 31 July and 1 October, although the Government has also said it "will not hesitate to act immediately" should the data show that countries risk ratings have changed.

Other plans include looking at how to make tests cheaper

The Government has also announced the following measures as it prepares to open up overseas travel for those in England: 

  • A COVID-19 charter will set out what measures travellers must follow. This will be introduced from 17 May and will detail what is required of passengers and what their rights are while measures remain in place.

  • Permission to travel forms will be scrapped. This means passengers will no longer need to prove they have a valid reason to leave the country. 

  • Passenger locator forms will be integrated into electronic border checks. This will enable checks to take place at e-gates by autumn 2021.

  • The cost of private coronavirus tests is to be looked at. The Government says it will work with the travel industry and private testing providers ahead of international travel reopening, to see how it can reduce the cost of travel. This could include cheaper tests being used when holidaymakers return home, as well as whether the Government can provide pre-departure tests.

  • The aviation watchdog will be given more power to crack down on airlines. The Civil Aviation Authority will be given additional enforcement powers to act if airlines breach consumer rights - a consultation on how this will work in practice is expected later this year. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is currently investigating a number of airlines for refusing cash refunds where passengers couldn't travel due to Covid-19 restrictions.  

The Government says you CAN now start thinking about holidays - but be wary

Until now, the Government has consistently said that it is simply too early to start thinking about booking foreign holidays. But today it changed tack, with the transport secretary Grant Shapps telling the BBC that people in England can now start thinking about booking overseas trips.

He told the BBC: "This is the first time I'm able to come on and say I'm not advising against booking foreign holidays.

"Yes, you'll want to check what the situation is in two or three weeks' time when that list - the green, amber, red, is produced. You'll want to know that you've got good holiday insurance and flexible flights and the rest of it.

"But for the first time I think there is light at the end of the tunnel and we'll be able to restart international travel, including cruises by the way, in a safe and secure way."

While that's promising news for those desperate for a summer holiday, before booking anything right now, it's crucial to fully understand the financial risk - especially given there's still huge uncertainty, and the Government's yet to confirm when overseas holidays will definitely be allowed. Last year, when overseas travel was restarted and then curtailed again, we sadly saw many lose out because they had non-refundable bookings.

So if you are determined to book, make sure you're fully aware of and comfortable with the risk and book flexibly wherever possible. See more help on flexible booking in our Cheap Flights and Overseas Travel Tips guides. 

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