<p>Green and pleasant: a Barbary macaque in green list Gibraltar, with amber list Spain in the background</p>

Green and pleasant: a Barbary macaque in green list Gibraltar, with amber list Spain in the background

21 traffic light travel myths: what red, amber and green mean

There is no ban on going to amber or red list nations, and you do not need any tests before departure from the UK – unless your destination requires it

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 02 June 2021 12:48

The government is preparing for its first review of the “traffic light” controls on inbound travellers to the UK.

As a reminder, there are currently 12 “green list” countries and territories, including Portugal, Gibraltar and Iceland. Travellers from these low-risk locations need not quarantine on arrival into the UK.

The “amber list” comprises around 170 destinations, including British holidaymakers’ favourites: Spain, France, Italy, Greece and the US. From these medium-risk places, travellers are subject to 10 days of self-isolation, which can be reduced with a test on day five of quarantine.

Only people with the right of residence in the UK can travel from “red list” locations, and they must pre-book and pay for 11 nights in hotel quarantine. The designation is currently applied to 43 countries including Turkey, India, the UAE, South Africa and Brazil, which are regarded as high risk because of the prevalence of coronavirus “variants of concern” or because they are international aviation hubs.

The system has been in force since 17 May, but there are still many misapprehensions about the traffic light system. Here are 21 of the most common myths.

1. A green rating means you can travel to that destination

Wrong. It merely means you need not quarantine when you return to the UK.

Most of the places on the existing green list – including Australia, New Zealand and Singapore – certainly don’t want British visitors right now. Or, you can reach them only by going through an amber list nation: a good example is the Faroe Islands, accessible only via Copenhagen in amber list Denmark.

Anyone hoping to visit a green list country must check that they will be admitted. In some locations, that means having completed a full course of vaccination.

2. You cannot fly direct from a red list nation to the UK

Wrong. Red list status has been incorrectly described as a flight ban. In fact many flights have continued, and the only prohibition was on passengers buying tickets on those services.

This continues on many routes, but airlines flying from fairly recent additions to the list – Bangladesh, India, Kenya and Pakistan – are allowed to carry passengers. It is expected that the ban on passengers from the other red list countries will be lifted soon, allowing Emirates, Qatar Airways, etc, to carry inbound travellers.

3. It is illegal to travel to an amber or red list country

Wrong. The government says: “You should not travel to amber list countries.” But since the ban on international leisure travel was lifted on 17 May you are legally permitted to visit any nation that will have you.

4. Your travel insurance is invalidated if you go on holiday to an amber list country

Wrong. Standard travel insurance policies are dependent on the advice from the Foreign Office. That advice is different from the traffic light categorisation, which is decided by the Department for Transport (DfT).

At present the Foreign Office does not warn against travel to the Greek islands of Corfu, Crete, Kos, Rhodes or Zakynthos, or Spain’s Canary Islands, but warns against other parts of those countries “based on the current assessment of Covid-19 risks”.

Tour operators can continue to run holidays to places on the amber list that have no Foreign Office warning, and customers are not entitled to full refunds.

5. Your travel insurance is valid for all green list countries

Wrong. It depends on the Foreign Office warning. For example, Israel is on the green list, but until 24 May the Foreign Office warned against travel there.

6. A green list rating means you don’t need any tests

Wrong. Your destination country may demand one or more tests. Coming back to the UK, wherever you return from, you will need a test before departure.

In addition, from a green list location you need to pre-book a private PCR test to be taken within two days of arrival to the UK. From amber and red list places, the rule is two pre-booked PCR tests on days two and eight.

7. If you have returned from an amber list country, and it turns green while you are self-isolating, you can immediately leave quarantine

Wrong. The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, asserted this was the case last summer when blanket quarantine ended. But it has since become clear that the self-isolation rule continues to apply to people who arrived from a country before it was moved from amber to green.

8. If you are in an amber list nation that turns green while you are there, you still need to quarantine on return to the UK

Wrong. Even though you were in a country while it was amber, what counts is the status on the day you arrive back in the UK.

9. If you are in hotel quarantine after returning from a red list country and it turns amber, you can go home and self-isolate

Wrong. You must complete the 11-night package you booked.

10. You can’t end quarantine before 10 days have elapsed

Wrong. If you are leaving the country again you can travel out at any time, provided you go straight to the airport/ferry port/international rail station.

In addition, in England you can pay for an additional test on or after day five. If it is negative, you can immediately leave self-isolation under the “test to release” scheme.

11. If you test to release, you need not take the day eight PCR test

Wrong. Testing must be fully completed.

12. You can use an NHS lateral flow test as your pre-departure test to return to the UK

Wrong. You must also pre-book a post-arrival test – one if arriving from a green list destination, two from amber and red list countries.

13. When new traffic light ratings are announced, they take effect immediately

Wrong. The Independent understands they will be applied at 4am a week after the announcement.

14. The day you arrive back in the UK is counted as the first day of quarantine

Wrong. It is “day zero”. While you must go straight into self-isolation, the10 days begin the following day. That is why for red list arrivals, you must pre-book 11 nights of hotel quarantine.

For example, if you arrive in the UK on 10 July, your 10 days of self-isolation begin on 11 July and run to 20 July inclusive. You can leave quarantine just after midnight on 21 July.

15. If you access an amber or red destination via a green list country, you need not quarantine on return to the UK

Wrong. You must declare on your passenger locator form all nations you have been in during the past 10 days before the day of arrival in the UK. If any were amber, then amber rules apply; if any were red, then red rules apply.

16. Travellers are guaranteed advance warning of a country switching from green to amber (or even red)

Wrong. While the government says it hopes to have a “green watchlist” of locations that may go from green to amber, and give a week or two of warning, there is no guarantee. When there were overnight fears about a new strain of Covid evolving in Denmark on mink farms, rules that were close to red list status were imposed immediately.

17. All arrivals from red list countries must go to Heathrow Terminal 3

Wrong. The vast majority will arrive via third countries and go to other Heathrow terminals or airports.

18. You can change planes in a red or amber list country without it counting

Wrong. Any time spent in any location in the past 10 days must be declared; if you change planes in Paris coming back from Portugal, you must follow the rules for amber arrivals.

19. If you drive straight through an amber country from a green country to the UK and use Eurotunnel, and stay in the car until you reach Folkestone, you need not quarantine

Wrong. While this was the case in 2020, the law has changed and any presence in a country anoints the traveller with that traffic light status.

20. Being fully vaccinated reduces your test requirement on return to the UK

Wrong. While an increasing number of nations worldwide – including Ireland – regard a vaccinated traveller as lower risk, no concession is given by the UK at present.

21. The criteria for categorising countries and territories are published for scrutiny by travellers, the media and the travel industry

Wrong. We know from statements by the transport secretary that green status is simply about highs and lows.

These should be as low as possible:

  • coronavirus infection rate
  • “variants of concern”
  • passengers connecting through key hubs

And these should be as high as possible:

  • vaccine roll-out
  • reliability of data
  • genomic sequencing capability

But they are not being followed reliably. For example, almost every country in Europe has far more advanced vaccination than Australia and New Zealand. And conversely, while Malta appeared to meet all the green list criteria, the island was not included among founder members of the lowest risk category.

Sceptics say that an unannounced criterion is also considered: the likelihood that British travellers will meet people from higher risk European nations in low-infection locations such as Ibiza.

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