Ministers are preparing to streamline the travel traffic light rules in a move which would pave the way for summer holidays to France to resume following a ferocious backlash from Tory MPs and aviation bosses.
Travel chiefs believe the current system is far too complex and confusing and some experts have claimed the Government is now poised to axe some of the more complicated categories to get back to the original red, amber and green approach.
Experts have claimed the existing ‘green watchlist’ – a category which refers to countries rated as green but in danger of being moved to amber – will be scrapped.
But crucially they have also predicted the ‘amber plus’ list – a category which currently only includes France and requires all travellers, including the fully-vaccinated, to quarantine on their return to England – will be dropped.
Moving France back to the normal amber list would provide a massive boost to the travel industry because double-jabbed Brits could return from there without having to spend 10 days in isolation.
Travel expert Paul Charles, director of The PC Agency travel consultancy, said he had been told by ‘high level sources’ that ‘amber plus’ and the ‘green watchlist’ will be ditched and that ‘simplicity is to return’.
Education Minister Gillian Keegan had earlier appeared to hint that changes will be made as she said the Government wants the rules to be ‘simple enough for people to really understand’ and to take decisions ‘based on the system so we have the red list countries, the amber list countries and the green list countries’.
Boris Johnson yesterday abandoned controversial Government plans to introduce a new category to the system: the ‘amber watchlist’. It would have been used to identify countries which are amber but at imminent risk of turning red.
The Prime Minister intervened to torpedo the proposals after they provoked a wave of fury from Cabinet ministers, Tory MPs and the travel industry, with critics blasting the idea of adding a further level of complexity to the already chaotic system amid warnings it would prompt a collapse in bookings.
Travel firms welcomed the U-turn but immediately pressed the PM to go further as they called for the current system to be scrapped completely and replaced with a single ‘red list’ of banned countries.
The problems caused by the traffic light rules were illustrated today by warnings that European hotels are rejecting holiday bookings from UK travellers for August because they fear they will just cancel.
Noel Josephides, director of Aito, the Specialist Travel Association, and chairman of tour operator Sunvil, told The Guardian: ‘Hoteliers are turning away bookings from the UK in August because they don’t trust us – and European travellers are taking our beds and availability.’
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is expected to update the travel rules on Thursday and it is thought he could add 10 countries to the green list, including Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany.
Mr Shapps is being blamed by some of his Cabinet colleagues for the latest travel rules debacle. Five Cabinet sources told Politico that they believed Mr Shapps and the Department for Transport were responsible for the chaos.
The Government is also under fire after it emerged the boss of the Joint Biosecurity Centre, which advises ministers on the travel rules has quit, with no successor in place.
The Guardian reported last night that Clare Gardiner had left her role as director general and it is currently unclear who is actually in charge of the body, with critics claiming it is ‘rudderless’ at a crucial time.
The Department of Health and Social Care said Ms Gardiner had ‘returned as planned to a role in national security’ and the JBC ‘continues to operate routinely under robust interim arrangements’ with a replacement to be ‘announced imminently’.
Boris Johnson is under pressure from aviation chiefs to scrap the Government’s traffic light travel rules and replace them with a single ‘red list’ of banned destinations
Travel experts believe ministers are preparing to axe the amber plus and green watchlist categories. Scrapping the former would mean reopening travel to and from France. A beach in Biarritz is pictured on July 28
Mr Johnson yesterday abandoned plans to introduce a new ‘amber watchlist’ after warnings it would have further decimated the struggling travel sector. Heathrow Airport is pictured yesterday
What are the travel traffic light rules and what was the ‘amber watchlist’?
The Government currently has three main categories in its international traffic light scheme. These are red, amber and green. There is also an ‘amber plus’ list, but plans for an ‘amber watchlist’ have now been ditched.
Below is a breakdown of the rules for each category:
WHAT IS CURRENTLY IN PLACE?
RED: Travel to the UK from a red list country is banned for non-UK nationals. Britons returning to the UK must take a pre-departure test and book a ten-day stay in hotel quarantine including tests at a cost of £1,750. Countries include Turkey, India, Kenya and the UAE.
AMBER: A pre-departure test is required before heading to Britain while non-vaccinated people have to quarantine for ten days at home and book tests on day two and day 8. They can also pay for a day 5 test under the ‘test to release’ scheme. The fully-vaccinated do not have to isolate but they do have to book a day 2 test. Countries include Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece.
AMBER PLUS: This category currently only features France. It means everyone returning from the country, including the fully-vaccinated, must quarantine at home for 10 days and take tests on day two and day eight.
GREEN WATCHLIST: This is a category for countries which are at risk of losing their green status (see below). Countries include Barbados, Croatia and Israel.
GREEN: Returning travellers must take a pre-departure test and book a day two test as well. Quarantine is not required for anyone unless the test is positive. Countries include Bulgaria, Hong Kong, Iceland and Malta.
WHAT WERE THE GOVERNMENT CONSIDERING?
AMBER WATCHLIST: Ministers had considered bringing in this category to highlight countries which are amber but at imminent risk of turning red. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is said to have been behind the plan, but it was opposed by Chancellor Rishi Sunak. Prime Minister Boris Johnson signalled yesterday it had been dropped.
WHAT COULD BE ABANDONED NEXT?
Ministers are preparing to streamline the travel traffic light rules by scrapping the ‘green watchlist‘ and the ‘amber plus‘ category, it was claimed today. Travel chiefs are pushing the Government to replace the whole system with a single ‘red list’ of banned countries.
WHAT COUNTRIES ARE ON THE GREEN WATCHLIST?
Anguilla; Antarctica/British Antarctic Territory; Antigua and Barbuda; Barbados; Bermuda; British Indian Ocean Territory; Cayman Islands; Croatia; Dominica; Grenada; Israel and Jerusalem; Madeira (mainland Portugal is amber); Montserrat; Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands; Taiwan; and Turks and Caicos Islands.
GREEN LIST COUNTRIES (NOT ON GREEN WATCHLIST)
Brunei; Bulgaria; Falkland Islands; Faroe Islands; Gibraltar; Hong Kong; Iceland; Malta; Singapore; South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands; St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
The latest coronavirus developments came as:
- It was revealed that travellers are getting caught in huge lines at Heathrow because a new £372m computer system keeps crashing;
- There were tears and joy at airports as families who have been separated for more than a year because of Covid travel restrictions are finally reunited after quarantine rules are loosened;
- Britain’s daily Covid cases fell to a five-week low with 21,952 positive tests in 12% weekly drop – as hospital admissions fall by a fifth but deaths jump to 24;
- Kate Garraway warned ‘there are MORE long Covid symptoms emerging’ as she gave an update on husband Derek’s road to recovery.
Major airlines and tour operators have signed a letter to Mr Johnson calling for a complete overhaul of the traffic light system.
They said simplified rules would help the UK travel sector recover while protecting the country’s health needs.
They called for the UK to adopt a US-style system, where fully-vaccinated citizens can travel to any countries that will allow them to enter.
Provided they take a pre-departure test on their return, double-jabbed American holidaymakers do not need to quarantine when they get home.
The Save Our Summer group, which co-ordinated the letter to the PM, accepted there would continue to be ‘a number of red countries which would be out of bounds’ to British travellers.
But the signatories said everywhere else would be accessible to the fully jabbed and the ‘easy-to-understand’ policy would build confidence among consumers.
The group also called for an end to the requirement for the fully-vaccinated to have a PCR test on the second day after returning from a green or amber country.
The letter, seen by the Mail, was last night signed by more than 300 travel firms.
It stated: ‘We urge Ministers to simplify travel urgently so that at least the key travel month of August can be salvaged.
‘The traffic light system should be either abandoned or made much easier, along the lines of the American system.
‘There would continue to be some red countries which would be out of bounds but the majority of destinations would be accessible to the fully jabbed.
‘This easy-to-understand policy would help the UK travel sector recover, build confidence quickly among consumers and still protect our country’s health needs with pre-departure testing.
‘We call on the Prime Minister to act swiftly so as to save tens of thousands of jobs and provide clarity for consumers hoping to travel to see loved ones.’
Signatories included small and large travel firms such as Trailfinders, United Airlines, Finn Air, Kirker Holidays and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
Last night Tory MP Henry Smith, whose Crawley constituency includes Gatwick, welcomed the proposal.
He told the Mail: ‘I’m in favour of anything that is simplified and more easy to understand.
‘The traffic light system could have provided that but shortly after it was announced there were all sorts of caveats.’
Diana Holland, the Unite union’s assistant general secretary for civil air transport, also urged the Government to take further action to support jobs.
She said: ‘The traffic light system is not working and there is disagreement within Government about how to move forward.
‘While the situation remains uncertain and complex, the Government must provide job-saving support to our aviation and travel industry.’
France and Germany had put in place sector-specific support for aviation but ‘the UK civil air transport sector has haemorrhaged jobs’, she said.
The Save Our Summer group also called for an end to the requirement for the fully-vaccinated to have a PCR test on the second day after returning from a green or amber country (Pictured: A beach in Tarragona, Spain, last month)
In a sign that fatalities may start to flatten out or even fall within the next week, Covid hospital admissions fell by nearly 20 per cent in England. Some 593 infected patients were admitted for medical treatment on July 31, the most recent day NHS figures are available for. For comparison, 734 patients were hospitalised the previous Saturday
Fiona Charrington, chief executive of Martin Randall Travel, said: ‘Some hoteliers are losing patience. If there’s a German company wanting to book or a British one, of course they will go with the one who is less likely to make last-minute changes.’ (Pictured: Tourists enjoying the sizzling temperatures in Greece)
What are the current travel traffic light rules?
There are currently three main categories in the Government’s international travel traffic light scheme: Red, amber and green.
But there is also an ‘amber plus’ list and ministers were considering introducing an ‘amber watchlist’.
Below is a breakdown of the rules for each category:
Red: Travel to the UK from a red list country is banned for non-UK nationals. Brits returning must take a pre-departure test and book a 10 day stay in hotel quarantine at a cost of £1,750.
Amber: A pre-departure test is required while non-vaccinated people have to quarantine for 10 days at home and book tests on day two and day 8. The fully-vaccinated do not have to quarantine but they do have to book a day two test.
Amber Plus: A new category which currently only includes France. It means everyone returning from the country, including the fully-vaccinated, must quarantine at home for 10 days and take tests on day two and day eight.