British travellers who have had two Covid vaccines could be allowed quarantine-free entry into England under plans being considered by ministers, the Guardian understands.
As the government grapples with allowing more trips abroad while trying to prevent the importation of new variants, changes are being considered to the traffic light system under which places are graded according to their Covid case and jab rate, determining whether and how people coming from them must isolate.
Only a handful of countries feature on the isolation-free green list, with 50 territories on the red list – meaning arrivals must stay in a quarantine hotel for 14 days.
The amber list, which features the vast majority of countries and to which Portugal was recently added, has prompted much more confusion. Official government advice urges people not to travel to these places, but there are no laws in place to stop people arriving from them and quarantining at home for up to 10 days, or using the test-to-release system to leave the house from day five.
Currently, travellers leaving the UK are allowed to use the NHS app to prove their vaccine status and cut quarantine in some countries.
But in a move that will be seen as further encouraging people to get both jabs, the Guardian has been told that ministers are contemplating loosening travel restrictions for the amber list to let anyone who has had two Covid vaccines escape quarantine. Those who have not been fully inoculated would still face the same restrictions currently in force for amber list countries.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, is said to be open to the idea, according to the Telegraph. It follows an announcement by the government that Covid vaccines will be mandatory for social care workers.
The suggestion that travellers could face more incentive to get jabbed also has prompted speculation about the future of the traffic light system, and, if it does remain in place, how likely it is that travellers will be allowed to visit red list countries – given the barriers to returning from them – for the rest of 2021.
Last week, the former prime minister Theresa May accused ministers of having implemented a chaotic system of international travel restrictions. She complained: “We are falling behind the rest of Europe in our decisions to open up … It’s incomprehensible that one of the most heavily vaccinated countries in the world is one that is most reluctant to give its citizens the freedoms those vaccinations should support.”
Chris Grayling, the Tory ex-former transport secretary, also said the government’s decisions would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and leave the aviation industry “decimated for the future”.
The former health minister Stephen Hammond accused the government of ignoring the data and making “illogical” choices about the green, amber and red lists.