United Kingdom

PCR tests will be axed, amber countries will turn green and red list will be halved under new plans

Hated travel testing rules are to be torn up for the fully jabbed in time for the half-term holidays - but unvaccinated Britons will still have to quarantine on their return.

Under a major shake-up to be announced today, the double-jabbed will no longer have to take costly PCR tests when they return from abroad. Instead, they will need only a cheaper lateral flow test.

The 'pre-departure tests' that travellers are forced to take before flying home are also likely to be scrapped. 

As part of the radical shake-up of the Government's Covid travel policy, there will also be changes to the controversial 'traffic light' rules - which will be cut to a two tier 'go' and 'no go' system.

However those who are unvaccinated face even tougher restrictions. They will have to quarantine on their return from all countries, even though on the 'go' list. Insiders hope the strategy will help to drive up vaccination rates.

The changes are part of a long-awaited review of the travel restrictions that will also see the controversial 'traffic light' rules radically redrawn.

Instead of the 'green, amber and red' system that was introduced in May, there will be a simplified 'go/no-go' regime.

All current 'amber list' countries will effectively become green – or 'go' destinations –while the number of 'red list', or 'no-go' countries, will be slashed in half.

This means popular holiday destinations such as Turkey are likely to open up to fully jabbed Britons next month.

Last night, sources said the changes will save a typical family 'hundreds of pounds'. Ministers will meet tomorrow morning to finalise the plans, with a formal announcement expected tomorrow.

The changes will be a boost for the beleaguered industry, although travel chiefs said last night they didn't go far enough and called for all testing for the double-jabbed to be scrapped. 

It came as:

Hated travel testing rules are to be torn up for the fully jabbed in time for the half-term holidays - but unvaccinated Britons will still have to quarantine on their return. Library image

Those who are unvaccinated face even tougher restrictions. They will have to quarantine on their return from all countries, even though on the 'go' list. Insiders hope the strategy will help to drive up vaccination rates

All current 'amber list' countries will effectively become green – or 'go' destinations –while the number of 'red list', or 'no-go' countries, will be slashed in half. This means popular holiday destinations such as Turkey are likely to open up to fully jabbed Britons next month

Last night, sources said the changes will save a typical family 'hundreds of pounds'. Ministers will meet tomorrow morning to finalise the plans, with a formal announcement expected tomorrow

What are the current travel traffic light rules?

Green list: Travellers must take a pre-departure Covid-19 test and book a day two follow up after arrival. There is no quarantine requirement unless the test is positive. The rules apply even to the fully-vaccinated. 

Amber list: Travellers must take a pre-departure Covid-19 test and book and pay for post-arrival follow up tests. This applies to everyone, regardless of vaccination status. The fully vaccinated must take a day two test. People who are not fully-vaccinated must quarantine for 10 days at home and take tests on day two and day eight. 

Red list: Travellers must take a pre-departure Covid-19 test and book an 11 day stay in a Government-backed quarantine hotel where they will be tested on day two and day eight. This applies to all travellers, even those who are fully-vaccinated. The quarantine hotel costs £2,285 which must be paid by the traveller.

The travel industry has been calling for testing requirements to be eased or scrapped for the fully-vaccinated for weeks.

Many countries in Europe have seen their travel industries recover much quicker than the UK's, having already dropped PCR testing rules for double-jabbed arrivals from low-risk countries.

There has also been huge controversy over the Government's approved list of PCR testing providers, with a litany of complaints that the tests are too expensive, and a disincentive to foreign travel.

Although the travel 'red list' of countries deemed to pose a high risk from new Covid variants will remain in place, the number of countries will be reduced by more than half from the current 62, opening up the vast majority of destinations to those who are fully jabbed.

Those returning from red list countries will still have to undergo a hotel quarantine at a cost of £2,285.

However, the unvaccinated face an even tougher regime from today.

At present, unvaccinated travellers returning from green list countries such as Croatia, Denmark and Germany have to take a PCR test within two days of their arrival home.

Under the new system they will have to isolate at home for ten days and take PCR tests on both day two and day eight, as they currently do for amber list countries. The changes will be in place in time for the October half-term.

Last night, a government source said the shake-up reflected growing confidence in the effectiveness of the Covid vaccines, coupled with a desire to cut travellers' costs.

There will be widespread relief at the scrapping of the traffic light system. Since its launch in May, travellers have been subjected to a series of confusing and last-minute announcements.

Today's changes could also see the number of red-list countries slashed to fewer than 30. Cape Verde, Egypt, the Maldives and Turkey are among the holiday destinations currently on the red list.

Today's changes could also see the number of red-list countries slashed to fewer than 30. Cape Verde, Egypt, the Maldives and Turkey (pictured) are among the holiday destinations currently on the red list

Many countries in Europe have seen their travel industries recover much quicker than the UK's, having already dropped PCR testing rules for double-jabbed arrivals from low-risk countries

Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade said: 'Getting rid of PCR testing would be a real step forward but not if we still end up with two tests you have to pay for. We need to follow Europe's example and remove these requirements if you've been vaccinated.'

Charlie Cornish, chief executive of the Manchester Airports Group, said: 'People should be free to travel again to low-risk destinations without having to take any tests – whether that is PCR or lateral flow. The time for baby steps is over.'

Meanwhile, Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said earlier this week that 24 countries 'should be taken off', including Pakistan, South Africa, the Dominican Republic, Argentina and Chile.

He added that he would be 'very surprised' if Turkey is removed due to 'worsening' coronavirus data.

But coronavirus data analyst Tim White said: 'With Grant Shapps and the travel lottery, no-one can be sure. 

'But the data firmly support Turkey being removed as it has no threat of variants and a lot of genomic sequencing.'

However in a big boost to millions of Britons hoping to catch some late season sun, it was today reported that Turkey will be removed from the Government's red list in time for the school half-term holidays.

According to the Times, the red list will be more than halved, with Turkey one of the countries set to be removed from the list.

The country is one of the UK's most popular destinations for late autumn/winter sun - with average highs of around 26C.

More than two million Britons holidayed in the country in 2019, Officer for National Statistics figures show.  

However the country has been on the red list since May.  

Meanwhile, Jamaica, which is currently on the amber list, is one of the countries which could find itself moved up rather than down when changes are announced tomorrow, experts warn.

The island's seven-day average for Covid cases has been on the rise since July, peaking at 769 cases at the end of August. 

Yesterday Jamaica - a country of around 3 million people - recorded 510 new cases with a seven day average of 572.

Jamaica remained amber in the last traffic lights update, but the Foreign Office has since changed its guidance for the country and advises 'against all but essential travel to the whole of Jamaica based on the current assessment of COVID-19 risks'.

The Caribbean island of Grenada, which is currently on the green list, is also at risk of being move on to the red list, according to data expert Tim White.

Covid figures have spiked since the start of September, with the country's seven day average rising from 39 cases on September 1 to 164 in a fortnight. 

Serbia, Kosovo and Albania, according to data expert Tim White. Mr White told Sky News that Nigeria could also be vulnerable. 

Jamaica, which is currently on the amber list, is one of the countries which could find itself moved up rather than down when changes are announced tomorrow, experts warn. Pictured: Montego Bay in Jamaica

The Caribbean island of Grenada (pictured: St George's Grenada) , which is currently on the green list, is also at risk of being move on to the red list, according to data expert Tim White. Covid figures have spiked since the start of September, with the country's seven day average rising from 39 cases on September 1 to 164 in a fortnight

The travel sector has been desperate for the testing and quarantine rules for international travel to be relaxed.

Heathrow said this week it had gone from being Europe's busiest airport in 2019 to number 10 on the list, behind rivals in cities such as Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt.

The transport hub announced it recorded a 48 per cent increase in passenger numbers in August compared with the previous month.

Some 2.2million passengers travelled through the west London airport last month, up from 1.5 million in July and the highest monthly passenger total of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the airport noted that demand was still down 71 per cent compared with before the coronavirus crisis. In August 2019, passenger numbers reached 7.7 million. 

Heathrow has urged the Government to 'streamline' the rules for international travel, calling for the amber list to be scrapped, and a two-tier system introduced.

Under the airport's proposals, fully vaccinated arrivals from green list locations would no longer be required to take a test, whereas those who are not fully vaccinated would need to take lateral flow tests pre-departure and post-arrival.

Only those who test positive would need to take a more expensive PCR test.

Hotel quarantine would be retained for arrivals from high-risk red list countries. 

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: 'The Government has the tools to protect the UK's international competitiveness which will boost the economic recovery and achieve its 'global Britain' ambitions.

'If ministers fail to take this opportunity to streamline the travel rules then the UK will fall further behind as trade and tourists will increasingly bypass the UK.' 

Meanwhile Gary Wilson,  the chief executive of easyJet Holidays, earlier this week said Britain was lagging behind the rest of Europe in terms of travel.

For example, Germany, which has low case rates, has a red list but no countries currently appear on it. 

Mr Wilson told a Travel Weekly conference that the company was 'back to pre-pandemic levels' in Europe. He urged ministers to adopt a less restrictive approach to holidays.

He said: 'The government throwing us scraps and expecting us to be grateful for that isn't good enough. They may continue not to listen but it shows the disconnect between the government and the industry.'

Meanwhile, Steve Heapy, the chief executive of Jet2, the UK's second biggest tour operator, said of the system: 'It's impossible for customers to plan.

Winter is very popular with city breaks and short breaks, [but] people are just not going to risk it for two or three days as long as this complexity remains.' 

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