The UK’s complex rules for international travellers have been simplified, with the traffic light system out.
Eight countries have been taken off the “red list” – though more than 50 nations are still effectively off limits to UK visitors.
The green list has been abolished, making life tougher for unvaccinated travellers.
For vaccinated travellers, though, the testing regime will become easier – though the governments in Scotland and Wales have not yet agreed to fall into line on changes planned for England.
Ireland remains in a class of its own – the only foreign country from which there are neither tests nor quarantine on arrival.
And of course these rules are purely for travel to the UK. Some destinations remain closed to British visitors, while others have testing requirements – which often apply only to unvaccinated travellers.
Here are the key questions and answers.
What is happening to the red list?
At present the UK has 62 countries from which mandatory quarantine in a hotel at a cost of £2,285. From 4am on Wednesday 22 September, that will reduce by eight.
The key eastern Mediterranean nations of Egypt and Turkey have finally been taken off the red list, along with winter favourites Kenya, the Maldives, Oman and Sri Lanka.
With mandatory hotel quarantine for arrivals set to end, the travel industry will once again be able to sell trips to those destinations.
In addition, Pakistan and Bangladesh have been moved off the red list – which will enable many families to reconnect.
What if I come back from a red list country before Wednesday 22 September?
You must go into hotel quarantine. In addition, anyone who has started their “managed isolation” must continue until the bitter end.
So anyone arriving from Turkey on Tuesday evening will need to go into 11 nights in a quarantine hotel.
Any red list surprises?
Yes. Some Whitehall sources had briefed heavily that 20 or more countries would be taken off the red list to open up.
South Africa was seen as a good contender for escape, along with a number of Latin American nations. But the government says the current red list of 54 countries is “crucial in order to protect public health”.
Conversely, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cote d’Ivoire, Fiji, Grenada, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Russia and Venezuela were seen as candidates for being moved to red.
The green list disappears?
Yes, effectively everywhere except the red list becomes “amber”.
That means for unvaccinated travellers, life is about to get tougher, with multiple testing and self-isolation obligatory even if you are coming in from one of the 41 “green list” countries, such as Croatia, Germany or Canada.
Previously arrivals from nations were not required to quarantine and needed only to take a test before travel to the UK and a “day two” PCR test.
Now they must also self-isolate for 10 days, and take a second PCR test on day eight – as with all “non-red” countries.
In England they have the option to pay for yet another test, on day five, to be released from quarantine if it is negative.
What are the changes for fully vaccinated travellers?
There is still no need to self-isolate on arrival from anywhere except red list countries.
For arrivals from 4 October, England is reducing the multiple tests to just one. The test to fly requirement will be scrapped.
But travellers must continue to book and pay in advance for a “day two” test – which can be taken on the day of return or either of the two following days.
At some time in October, the required PCR test will be downgraded to a lateral flow test. While the bureaucracy and discomfort will remain the same, the cost should reduce.
What about the other UK nations?
Scotland will not yet ease testing requirements, as it considers “the risks associated with aligning with the UK government”.
The transport secretary in Edinburgh, Michael Matheson, said: “We have concerns that the UK government’s proposals to remove the requirement for a pre-departure test for some travellers will weaken our ability to protect the public health of Scotland’s communities.”
The government in Wales is adopting a similarly cautious approach, saying: “These changes are not without risk – they weaken the line of defence on importing infection and increase opportunities for new infections and new variants to enter the UK and Wales.”
But the problem for the governments in Edinburgh and Cardiff is that many travellers to both Scotland and Wales enter the UK through English airports, making it difficult to police their national requirements.
Northern Ireland has yet to reveal what changes it may make.
Any other business?
The expansion of vaccine recognition continues. At present only jabs administered in the UK, much of Europe and the US are acceptable for the purposes of avoiding quarantine.
Seventeen more countries will have their vaccinations recognised “with certificates issued by a relevant public health body”: Australia, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Dominica, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.
What do you think about the changes?
My scorecard records two modest positives: trimming the despised “red list,” and reducing the disproportionate testing regime for fully vaccinated travellers to England.
But much is still to be done before the UK can be said to have a coherent and effective set of rules governing international travel.