The latest round of “traffic light” changes has opened up more of Europe to travellers, with France’s inexplicable “amber plus” status removed – along with the red listing of three Gulf countries plus India.
These are the key questions and answers.
Just a reminder about the system …
Countries (and occasionally individual islands) are assigned into one of five categories for the purposes of arrivals to the UK:
Green list: travellers from these low-risk locations need not quarantine on arrival in the UK. A test before departure to the UK and a PCR test on the day of arrival, or one of the two following days, is obligatory.
Green watchlist: green list nations consider at imminent risk of being downgraded to …
Amber list: the default, medium-risk category, covering around 170 destinations – including most British favourites, including Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and the US. Travellers who have been fully vaccinated in the UK, the US or the EU (plus several other European countries) follow the same rules as green list arrivals. Others must self-isolate for 10 full days after arrival, and take a second PCR test on day eight.
In England quarantine can be reduced with a test on day five after arrival.
Red list: only people with the right of residence in the UK can travel from these high-risk locations, and they must pre-book and pay for 11 nights in hotel quarantine.
In addition, Ireland is on its own with a “super green” status as a nation from which no testing nor quarantine has ever been required.
From 4am on Sunday 8 August, a number of very prominent countries have been moved.
In terms of the number of affected travellers, the biggest change is that France is removed from the bizarre “amber plus” category in which it was placed on 16 July – requiring mandatory quarantine from everyone arriving across the Channel.
France is now plain amber.
The travel industry is relieved that the second-most popular country (after Spain) has been made more accessible, but they are furious that 20 days at the height of the tourist season have been wasted.
Nigel Wonnacott of Brittany Ferries said: “We can only hope that this welcome volte-face will bring a surge in last-minute bookings.”
Anyone who has already arrived from France and is self-isolating, or who arrives before 4am on Sunday morning, will need to complete the quarantine as planned.
The French Indian Ocean island of Réunion – which was blamed for the amber plus rating, yet from which self-isolation was not obligatory for vaccinated travellers – has been moved to the red list, along with nearby Mayotte.
Where else has gone red?
Mexico, which is very popular as a destination in its own right as well as acting as a holding area for many British visitors to the US; they spend two weeks there in order to “launder” their UK status before being allowed into America.
That option will still be open, unless the rising infection rates in Mexico persuade the US to suppress arrivals from south of the border.
While there are hundreds of flights from Mexico to the US each day, with many connections onwards to Britain, people who have been in the UK in the past 14 days are not allowed to board them and change planes at American airports.
In addition, the former Soviet republic of Georgia is also on the red list.
The government says: “They present a high public health risk to the UK from known variants of concern, known high-risk variants under investigation or as a result of very high in-country or territory prevalence of Covid-19.”
The price of accommodation for a couple will rise by 55 per cent from £2,400 to £3,715 on 12 August.
To avoid hotel quarantine it is possible to travel to a third country and stay there until the “red list” status is laundered.
The test is: have 10 full days elapsed since you were last in a red list country? So you can travel to (for example) Spain, Portugal, France from Mexico, have another holiday and then breeze back to Britain.
Upgrades from red to amber?
India – where the Delta variant was first identified – has been moved to amber, which means that family visits, holidays and business trips will be much easier.
The UAE, Bahrain and Qatar have also be moved from the red to the amber list – despite their continuing status as international hubs.
When the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, placed the UAE on the red list, he said: “The specific issue in the UAE is one of transit. It’s because they are a major transit hub.”
The Independent has asked the Department for Transport (DfT) for an explanation of the unexpected change.
Note that jabs administered in the four countries moved from red to amber are not regarded as sufficient to avoid quarantine – only UK, European and US vaccinations allow people to swerve self-isolation from amber list countries.
Who’s gone green?
Austria, Germany, Latvia, Norway, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia have been moved from amber to green – making them accessible to travellers who have not been vaccinated.
While the change will be welcomed by people with family in those countries, and by some business travellers, none is a mainstream holiday destination.
Again, anyone who returns from any of those countries before 4am on Sunday 8 August must continue their quarantine to the end.
Any hitches in booking a trip to any of the new green nations?
Yes – they may not let you in, or may impose further restrictions. While Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia welcome vaccinated visitors from the UK, the Foreign Office travel advice for Austria begins: “Entry to Austria from the United Kingdom is currently prohibited by Austrian law.”
Germany does not allow unvaccinated visitors from the UK (unless they are under 12, have a negative test and are with a vaccinated parent).
Latvia demands a negative test (rapid antigen will do) from all UK visitors aged 12 and over.
Norway does not allow British tourists.
What was predicted to happen, but didn’t?
The main omission from any changes is Turkey, which remains stuck on the red list – effectively writing off the remainder of the peak summer season.
The newly created (and soon to be extinct) “amber plus” category was seen as a possible halfway house for red countries, but India, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE have gone straight to amber – equalling green for people with the right kind of vaccines.
Some respected data analysts expected Poland, Hungary and Canada to make the green list.
In terms of possible downgrading of countries: Spain, Cyprus and Greece have been mentioned in leaks, briefings and (sometimes flawed) analyses of data.
But once the proposed “amber watchlist” was dismissed by Downing Street, it was clear that Spain would remain on amber; there are simply not enough hotel rooms for quarantine.
What’s all this about testing before coming back from Spain?
One of the strangest parts of the announcement is this: “Arrivals from Spain, and all its islands are advised to use a PCR test as their pre-departure test wherever possible, as a precaution against the increased prevalence of the virus and variants in the country.
“UK clinicians and scientists will remain in close contact with their counterparts in Spain to keep abreast of the latest data and picture of cases in Spain.”
Translated, this means: “We’re worried about infection levels in Spain and in order to be able to identify infections contracted there and work out more clearly what’s going on, we’re asking people to take an expensive and complex test that is more sensitive than the lateral flow test.
“But we’re not making it compulsory.”
Rationally, individual travellers will continue to opt for lateral flow tests – especially if they have been infected with coronavirus.
The government says: “If you have recently recovered from Covid but are no longer infectious, you should use a lateral flow device (LFD) test.
“LFD tests have a lower sensitivity than PCR or Lamp tests, so they are less likely to return a positive result from a historic infection.”
When is the next change?
It is expected to be announced on 25 or 26 August, and to take effect on 29 or 30 August. By then, for many people the summer – and the prospect of a holiday abroad – will be over.
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