UK traffic travel light system ‘to be scrapped by 1 October’, sources suggest

Government sources have suggested the new system will be based on travellers’ vaccination status

Lucy Thackray
Thursday 09 September 2021 12:33
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Related video: Grant Shapps defends government’s traffic light system

The UK’s “traffic light” travel system could be scrapped from next month, according to industry sources.

The BBC has been briefed that the new system “would allow vaccinated travellers to go to countries with similarly high levels of vaccination as the UK without the need for quarantine”.

The government has reportedly asked senior travel industry leaders to make proposals for a new system around international travel, which will replace the current traffic light lists.

Follow travel news live: Latest traffic light system updates

The source also said that the red list of countries that are unsafe to visit will remain.

The PC Agency’s CEO, Paul Charles, who has been sharing industry updates throughout the pandemic, also tweeted: “The traffic light system is expected to be scrapped by 1st Oct – at last. Airlines and some of us in the sector are aware of plans to create a simpler system, where countries are either red or not. This would be the US model in effect, which I’ve been calling for.

“Scrapping of traffic light system would be a relief to pretty well everyone and herald a ‘living with an endemic’ approach rather than blanket country measures. Would be a relief to countries in Africa, South America, Asia which don’t deserve to be red-listed,” continued Charles.

An anonymous source who has been “briefed on the proposal” also told The Telegraph: “What it means is that green and amber disappear and only vaccination status will count for where you travel. For a vaccinated person, just as now all countries apart from red are ‘green’.

“For an unvaccinated person, it means that your travel to a green country might be slightly more difficult. There’s a potential psychological boost in that a lot of people think travel to amber is risky whereas if it disappeared, people may be more willing to travel to X, Y or Z.”

Critics of the UK’s system have pointed out that the country’s travel sector is opening up far more slowly than the rest of the world.

At present, there are three lists – green, amber and red – with the majority of countries and territories still on the red list. The lists are updated every three weeks, with detractors pointing out that very little has moved in recent weeks.

The government has not indicated any plans to end the traffic light system, but Charles has pre-empted official announcements in the past, including tweeting the countries moving to the green list before they were published on 26 August.

The Independent’s travel correspondent Simon Calder says: “To avoid further destruction of the UK’s previously world-leading travel industry – and to revive the near-moribund inbound tourism sector – fundamental changes are needed to end the complex, expensive, incoherent and constantly changing rules.

“Testing needs to be eased – ideally with most European countries moved to “super green,” alongside Ireland.

“At the very least, for vaccinated travellers from lower-risk countries (which includes almost all our holiday favourites), the “day two” PCR test – which must be taken on the day of arrival or one of the two following days – should be scrapped.

The 60-plus countries on the red list, requiring mandatory hotel quarantine, should shrink to a relatively small number of nations with very high infection rates, unreliable data and/or fears about variants.”

Many figures in the travel sector have called for a simpler system as the summer holiday season wanes and travel companies are hit hard by the restrictions.

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary has said: “Traffic to and from the UK is still being hampered by this traffic light system that doesn’t work because they keep changing it and it undermines passenger confidence.”

Clive Dix, a former head of the UK’s vaccine taskforce denounced the system at the beginning of August, saying: “The current system probably means people who are slightly poorer in society struggle to be able to do any travel abroad and I think that’s unfair.”

Dix is championing a single list of countries of concern requiring quarantine for returning travellers, which he described as “simple and it’s not too onerous”.

“It allows for people to have more freedom, basically.”

Dix also advocated a single Covid test upon return for arrivals from all other countries.

The Department for Transport declined to comment on the plans but said: “Our international travel policy is guided by one overwhelming priority - protecting public health.

“The next formal checkpoint review will take place by 1 October 2021.”

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