Traffic light travel: How the UK’s new system for holidays will work

The UK government will roll out a traffic light system that will categorise countries based on their Covid-19 risk level, which it said will help restart foreign travel.

Countries will be sorted into green, amber and red categories, each determining what restrictions and precautions people will need to take before and after travel. A “green watchlist” also being established to keep Brits informed about green countries that could quickly slip into the amber category.

International travel is set to resume after 17 May, according to the government’s roadmap for easing England’s lockdown rules. However, ministers are unlikely to confirm the list of countries and whether or not travel can resume until early May.

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Additionally, the traffic light system itself will be reviewed at three dates at the end of June, July and October. These reviews will determine if the rules for each of the three categories, such as testing and quarantine requirements, can change as the pandemic eases.

Here’s how the traffic light system will work.

Green countries

This is a list of countries with the lowest Covid risk level. People arriving in the UK from a green country will need to take a pre-departure test in that country, confirming they do not have coronavirus before they fly.

A laboratory test, known as a PCR test, will also be required on or before the second day after they have arrived back in the UK. There will be no need to quarantine unless they receive a positive result.

People wishing to travel to a green country from the UK will need to consult the rules of the destination country and travel provider they are using.

All tests must be booked and paid for prior to travel, using a list of government-approved providers.

Amber countries

Those arriving in the UK from countries in the amber category will have to quarantine for 10 days at home after travel.

A pre-departure test in the country of origin will still be required, as well as a PCR test in the UK on the second and eighth days of quarantine. Again, all tests must be booked and paid for prior to travel from government-approved providers.

Should they wish to use the government’s “test to release” programme, an additional PCR test can be paid for on the fifth day. If they test negative at that time, they can end self-isolation early.

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Red countries

People arriving from red-list countries will be required to quarantine for 10 days in a designated quarantine hotel.

They will still be required to take a pre-departure test, and a PCR test on the second and eighth days of quarantine.

The quarantine stay in a hotel must be booked and agreed to be paid before departing for the UK, using a government-approved facility. There will be no option to end self-isolation early.

How is the list being decided?

The government plans to keep the list of countries under constant review. Each country’s status will be determined based primarily on data relating to new variants, to avoid the risk of transmission in the UK.

A country’s vaccination rate, infection rate, presence of new variants, ability to test those new variants through genomic sequencing and access to reliable scientific information will be taken into account.

When will we know about which countries are green, amber or red-listed?

The government said it is too early to predict which countries will be on which list over the summer.

It plans to lay out the list by early May of which countries will fall into which category, as well as confirming whether international travel can resume.

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Separately, the first date at which the system will be formally reviewed is on 28 June, assessing whether the rules of each category can be relaxed. This will then be followed by reviews no later than 31 July and 1 October.

What else might be required for travel?

Passenger locator forms, used at airports to determine where a person will be staying after arriving in the UK, will be digitised by autumn.

These forms include passport details, UK address, Covid test booking reference numbers and a quarantine hotel invoice if coming from a red list country.

Additional powers will be awarded to the Civil Aviation Authority to enforce rules on airlines for breaching consumer rights, while a Covid-19 charter is set to be laid out from 17 May to inform passengers of their rights while the list is in place.

What about Covid travel passports?

The government is still reviewing the possibility of using vaccine certificates to ease outbound travel rules for those who have received their jabs.

It is also assessing how inbound international travel, using Covid passports from countries of origin that offer them, could work.

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Ministers are also seeking ways to reduce the cost of private tests, as each PCR test can cost around £150.

To contact the author of this story with feedback or news, email Emily Nicolle

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