Travel rules are getting tougher for anyone who has not had both of their vaccine injections.
In a clampdown on jab refuseniks, the Department for Transport announced that unvaccinated people will now have to self-isolate for 10 days on arrival in England and take two PCR tests, whether they are arriving from a red list country or not.
It was part of an overhaul of the UK’s international rules to make it easier for travellers.
People who are double-vaccinated will no longer have to carry out pre-departure Covid tests before returning to England from non-red list countries. PCR tests for travel will be phased out by the end of October, which will allow travellers to replace the second day test with a cheaper lateral flow test.
The government is opting for a “simplified” system for international travel from 4 October. Instead of the current traffic light system, from this date there will be one red list and simplified measures for the rest of the world.
Eight countries will also be moved from the red list from 4am on Wednesday 22 September, including Turkey, Pakistan and the Maldives.
As with the amber list at the moment, unvaccinated passengers will be able to take a day five “test to release” PCR test to get out of isolation slightly earlier.
See below for how our live coverage unfolded:
What time is the travel announcement expected today?
An announcement of major changes to the UK’s rules for international travel is expected later today.
Government leaks to the media in the past week have suggested the top changes could be the removal of the amber list, with just two lists remaining - one of countries deemed safe for travel, one unsafe - and PCR tests being scrapped or reduced for the fully vaccinated.
There have also been suggestions that the red or unsafe list could be more than halved in the coming weeks.
It is unclear whether today’s announcement will be a “roadmap” out of the current travel rules, or one large set of changes to both travel testing and the traffic light lists.
Here’s everything we know so far:
Green light travel announcement happening today
Turkey tipped to come off the red list at next update
Turkey is the top country being tipped for removal from the red list, in an update to the travel rules that is expected to be announced later today.
Dozens of other countries, including the Maldives, South Africa and Sri Lanka, are also rumoured to be moving off the government’s no-go list, with transport secretary Grant Shapps expected to announce a simplified version of the traffic light system that removes the amber classification altogether.
On Tuesday, Covid data analyst Tim White told The Independent that he gives Turkey a 60 per cent chance of coming off the red list at this update.
When asked by one hopeful holidaymaker if he expected it to be removed from red, White replied: “Yes I do. Probably around 60% this week. If not then 80% chance in the 1 October reform.”
Read the full story:
Ministers are reportedly opening up dozens of countries and scrapping the amber list
Don’t book inbound Covid tests until travel update, warns Calder
The Independent’s travel correspondent, Simon Calder, is at Newcastle airport for us this morning, talking to staff and passengers as they wait for the expected easing of international travel rules.
He has tweeted: “Not sure what will change today, but if you’re heading for Spain, France, Greece, Portugal, Italy, Croatia etc there is zero chance of any moves to the red list.
“Please don’t book your inbound tests yet. They can only get cheaper/easier.”
Lateral flow tests ‘not able to pick up variants’, says minister
A government minister has suggested that the rumoured change from PCR testing to lateral flow testing for fully vaccinated travellers could hinder the tracking of variants.
Asked whether PCR tests could be scrapped in favour of lateral flow tests for foreign travellers, Environment Secretary George Eustice said: "I haven’t heard that because I’m not on that particular sub-committee that deals with this.
"They will want to consider all the evidence before taking a final decision.
"The rationale for the PCR test is that you can do genome sequencing of variants and you can, therefore, detect possible variants of concern.
"The difficulty with the lateral flow test, although it is cheaper and simpler to do, it is not able to pick up those variants.
"So, that’s the rationale and that’s been the rationale so far for making sure we keep some of that PCR testing in place."
Mr Eustice said that Health Secretary Sajid Javid, while he did not want "unnecessary" testing taking place, he "recognises the value of those PCR tests and that there "is a discussion to be had about this" in government.
Unvaccinated travellers may face mandatory quarantine, reports say
Travellers who have not had both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine could face stricter quarantine rules when coming into the UK from any country, reports suggest.
The Telegraph is reporting that all arrivals who have not had two doses of the vaccine at least two weeks prior to entering the UK will have to quarantine for up to 10 days, regardless of where they have been.
This would include countries on the green list, the paper says, although it does not disclose a source.
Ministers are insisting no final decision has been taken on changes to the travel restriction framework. The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, is expected to make an announcement this afternoon.
Read Simon Calder’s predictions for the changes to be announced today:
Our travel correspondent assesses the likely moves on testing, the red list and vaccination recognition in Friday’s update
‘Travel restrictions are merely a show of being see to do something to appease the public’
A leading travel industry figure has demanded that the government ease its “onerous, unnecessary restrictions” on holidays abroad.
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership, told The Independent: “Let’s hope the government does the right thing and ensures those that want and need to travel can do so freely without the need for onerous, unnecessary restrictions which are no longer about a public health measure but merely a show of being see to do something to appease the public.
"Just ask the government about the many exemptions to testing they have in place. Data analysing international arrivals test positivity rate for the three weeks ending 1 September showed a positivity rate from all countries (including red list) of below one per cent compared with 4.27 per cent in the UK.
“If the government continues to restrict travel to low risk countries for the fully vaccinated – which is at odds with the rest of Europe – then they need to ensure the travel industry including travel agents are given government support to help them keep hold of their businesses, jobs and livelihoods.”
Travel update: the public view from Newcastle Airport
Holidaymakers at Newcastle airport have been expressing their frustration at the tangle of red tape surrounding overseas trips – which the government may finally ease in an announcement now expected this afternoon.
Norman Smith, a company director, is about to fly off on his first holiday for two years: a week in Benidorm.
“We’re normally fairly seasoned travellers, three or four journeys a year. It’s all about Covid,” said Smith.
“Booking the trip was fairly simple, as usual. However the red tape really comes across as someone’s making a lot of money for things that really we don’t need to do.
“As an example, we’ve got a test we’ve brought with us. We do the test ourselves and then they send us a form back to say we’ve complete the test.
Skyscanner reboots travel map for vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers
In anticipation of the UK’s travel update later today - which, it is suggested, will lay out different rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers - flight booking platform Skyscanner has updated its interactive map tool which shows the different restrictions for those who have and have not had their jabs.
“Since its launch last summer, Skyscanner’s live travel map has been used over 34 million times to help travellers negotiate the complexities of Covid-19 restrictions. Its latest refresh will let vaccinated travellers see how the latest rules and regulations will affect their travel,” read a statement from the flight price aggregator.
Users of the map can select their vaccination status to see which countries have low, moderate or major restrictions for their vaccination status, identified in the traffic light colours of green, yellow and red.
Changes could come in immediately after gov announcement, expert predicts
A prominent Covid data analyst has predicted that the changes to the travel system being announced today could come in with immediate effect, rather than the usual delayed start date after each announcement.
When asked when he thinks any large-scale changes to the UK travel system will come in, analyst Tim White replied: “I don’t see why [the government] would wait. They should have announced changes yesterday. Delaying that to combine with this reform is understandable but if they’ve made decisions it will just draw criticism to be delayed further.”
There is still no official time for the travel update, though it is understood that it will take place at some point this afternoon.
Read travel correspondent Simon Calder’s predictions for what may change in the expected overhaul of the travel rules:
Our travel correspondent assesses the likely moves on testing, the red list and vaccination recognition in today’s expected update
UK should not ‘completely remove all controls on travel’ says variant expert
One of the scientists behind the UK’s variant-tracking efforts has warned against a large reduction in PCR testing for travellers.
Alan McNally is a professor in microbial evolutionary genomics, and worked on setting up the UK’s lighthouse laboratories.
Responding to the rumoured updates to the PCR testing requirements for travel, Professor McNally said: “It kind of makes sense if you look at the rates of Covid in the UK right now, they’re high, so probably lateral flow tests will be sufficient for travellers.
“But I don’t think we can just completely remove all controls on travel and travel-associated Covid, we know from the past that travel-associated Covid is very high risk to this country.
“The devil’s in the detail in this and I would really hope there will be a very strong mandate that any lateral flow positive test from travel have to get a confirmatory PCR test because in my opinion we still that genome level surveillance of Covid cases being introduced into the UK from abroad.”
He added: “I do think it’s vitally important we do genome surveillance on travel Covid cases.”
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