<p>The list of countries where Britons can travel is still relatively small</p>

The list of countries where Britons can travel is still relatively small

Will any countries be added to the red list this week?

No countries have been on the red list since 1 November

Lucy Thackray
Wednesday 17 November 2021 16:00
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Tomorrow, 18 November, is the expected date for a travel update from the UK government.

Ministers have been reviewing the “traffic light” lists of countries deemed high-risk, medium risk and low-risk every three weeks since 17 May, when international travel resumed for British citizens.

As of October, only two lists now remain: the “red” list (which still requires expensive 11-night hotel quarantine for travellers incoming from those countries), and the “ROW” (or rest of world) list.

Confusingly, there are currently no countries on the former, while every country in the world is on the latter - though many of them are still not allowing UK travellers in due to the global pandemic.

But both exist in a symbolic sense.

On 28 October, the Department for Transport announced that it would be emptying the red list of its final seven countries, effective from 1 November, with hotel-quarantine restrictions being lifted for travellers arriving from Colombia, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.

But with a review of and possible update to the travel rules expected tomorrow, could any countries go back onto the red list?

Here’s what we know so far.

Which countries have high enough cases to be considered for the red list?

Europe is currently the epicentre for a new spike in Covid cases, with approximately 350 cases per 100,000 people overall, accounting for around 60 per cent of new cases in the world in the week running up to 16 November.

Many European countries are hitting their highest daily infection numbers since the pandemic began.

Data analyst Tim White has been following case figures in destinations around the world since the traffic light lists began.

On Wednesday, he flagged record case rates in Norway, which saw an all-time high seven-day average this week.

Austria, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands and Slovakia are also seeing a spike in infections, reported White, with seven-day averages at an all-time high in all six.

Belgium is also seeing a surge, with over 12,000 news cases in the 24 hours to Wednesday, while the Czech Republic’s daily cases have risen by 50 per cent compared to a week ago and Finland’s have risen 21 per cent.

Croatia has also seen a dramatic rise since late August, reporting 6,670 new cases within the past 24 hours.

White also noted an uptick in US cases, with a 7 per cent rise in daily cases on Tuesday, and predicted a possible Europe-style spike for the country by December.

“Could be big trouble ahead for USA around Christmas,” he warned.

Barbados also saw a peak last month, reporting a record 381 new cases on 18 October, but cases have dropped slightly since then.

Is the government likely to start putting countries back on the red list?

Governments around the world have committed to being agile about their travel and border rules and making changes in the event of surging Covid cases - as evidenced by Morocco’s recent decision to ban all incoming flights from the UK, Germany and the Netherlands until further notice.

Of the decision to empty the red list last month, transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “We have been able to do this now because the variants of concern that we have been tracking are no longer of concern to the chief medical officers.

“We will keep the red list category in place as a precautionary measure to protect public health and are prepared to add countries and territories back if needed, as the UK’s first line of defence.”

This suggests variants of concern have superseded case figures as the main reason a country might be put on the red list.

The original criteria for the red list was: a country having known variants of concern; known high-risk variants that are under investigation; or very high in-country or territory prevalence of Covid-19.

However, analysts noted throughout the “traffic lights” era that the correlation was not always clear between a country’s case figures and whether or not it was on the red list.

So it remains opaque whether countries with soaring rates - some, such as Austria and the Netherlands, are even beginning to re-impose their own domestic restrictions - will be deemed high risk enough to be added to the UK’s red list.

One consideration is the UK’s own case figures, which peaked again on 22 October with a seven-day average of 47,114, but have since dipped to a seven-day average of 38,645 (as of 16 November).

From a case rates per population perspective, the UK’s numbers fall somewhere in the middle of European nations, with fewer cases per-population than the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Gibraltar, but more than the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

So it would seem odd for the UK to impose travel restrictions on countries who are seeing a surge in cases, but with numbers below our own.

The Independent’s travel correspondent, Simon Calder, says: “Even though the health secretary, Sajid Javid, insists the red list is critical to protect public health, I would be very surprised if any nations are put on the hotel quarantine list.

“Based on current infection rates there are some clear potential candidates, especially Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and traditional high-scoring Barbados.

“But the red list was originally intended to isolate ‘variants of concern’ and at the moment they appear to have been rendered extinct by the all-conquering Delta variant.”

On Tuesday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that the Delta variant now represents 99 per cent of sequenced Covid-19 cases globally, with the strain now present in 104 countries.

How long will the red list remain?

Despite the success of the vaccine rollout and the rollout of a booster jab programme in September, the government has suggested that the red list for travel will remain for at least a couple more months.

After the last travel update, transport secretary Grant Shapps said the red list system in its entirety would be reviewed again in the new year.

He said that several hundred hotel rooms would be kept on standby in case hotel quarantine needed to resume for any red list countries, calling it a “prudent” move.

“We don’t want to re-set up a system from scratch if a particular concern was seen in a particular country and we wanted to be able to have quarantine as a mandatory facility,” he said.

Scotland’s transport minister Graeme Dey agreed, saying: “The pandemic is not over. The situation will be closely monitored and regularly reviewed and if the situation demands it we will not hesitate to re-impose restrictions.”

After the potential update on 18 November, the next review of travel rules will be expected to happen around 9 December.

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