England simplifies ‘traffic light’ pandemic rules for international travel

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The British government took steps on Friday to simplify rules for international travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a Twitter announcement, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps outlined that, starting October 4, fully vaccinated travellers from non-red countries will no longer need a pre-departure PCR test before coming to England. Later in the month, the PCR test will be replaced with a cheaper lateral flow test.

Furthermore, eight countries and territories will come off the red list on September 22, including Turkey, Pakistan and Maldives, according to Shapps. The full list can be seen here.

Lastly, the government will introduce a single red list beginning October 4, doing away with the amber and green list countries.

Earlier on, Shapps had said on Twitter that the measures were meant “to simplify international travel in order to reduce costs, take advantage of higher levels of vaccination, and keep us all safe.”

The policy changes apply to England, while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland set their own policies.

The government was under pressure to scrap its “traffic light” system that ranks countries as red, amber or green — high, medium or low risk from the coronavirus. The categories have been criticised as unfair and confusing, and sudden changes to countries’ status have caused headaches for thousands of travellers.

People coming from “red list” countries had to spend 10 days in a government-approved quarantine hotel. Unvaccinated travellers from amber-list countries had to self-isolate for 10 days at home, while fully vaccinated travellers had to take coronavirus tests before and after arriving in Britain.

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Airlines and travel businesses have complained that Britain’s complicated and expensive requirements are keeping people away and hampering recovery from the pandemic. Heathrow Airport said this week that it had fallen from Europe’s busiest airport in 2019 to 10th-busiest now, behind rivals in cities such as Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt.

The move to ease restrictions has been received positively. President and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council, Julia Simpson, issued a statement saying that “we are pleased to see the back of an illogical traffic light system that caused confusion and distress for travellers.”

She added that “we’re also happy to see that the government has listened to our calls, with double vaccinated travellers no longer needing to take pre-departure tests, and that antigen tests will replace costly PCRs before the end of the busy half term holiday season.”

“While this is certainly a step in the right direction, for the UK to be real leaders, the government should adopt a system based on the risk of individuals, not countries. Placing whole countries on red lists is illogical if you can keep the UK safe by checking an individual’s status and allowing fully jabbed people to travel almost anywhere in the world safely,” she stated.

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