Travel bosses blast Government plans for ‘amber watchlist’

What are the current travel traffic light rules and how would an ‘amber watchlist’ work?

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 are 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.

Amber Watchlist: Ministers are considering introducing the category to highlight countries which are amber but at imminent risk of turning red.     

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.  

Travel bosses today warned the industry is in the ‘last chance saloon’ as the Government’s traffic light system continues to wreak havoc with summer holidays amid fears ministers will introduce a new ‘amber watchlist’.   

The Government is considering rolling out the new category to identify countries which are currently amber but at risk of imminently turning red.

It is thought that Spain would be put on the list while there are fears that fellow holiday hotspots Greece and Italy could also follow suit. 

Moving a country from amber to red at a moment’s notice would force travellers to scramble to return home or face having to pay £1,750 for a mandatory 10 day stay in hotel quarantine.

Travel experts said there are approximately one million British tourists currently in Spain along with 150,000 in Greece and 50,000 in Italy which means the fate of an estimated 1.2million holidaymakers is now hanging in the balance. 

Ministers are under mounting pressure not to go ahead with the move with Tory MPs warning it could cause a massive collapse in bookings, further decimating the beleaguered aviation sector. 

Many Conservative MPs believe the red, amber and green system is now far too complicated and are demanding it be simplified. 

But Digital Minister Matt Warman dismissed the concerns this morning as he said the system works fine as long as people ‘apply their common sense’. 

He did not rule out introducing the new amber watchlist category, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps due to provide an update on travel rules on Thursday this week. 

He said ‘the point’ of such a watchlist is to ‘try and give people a sense of the direction of travel that a country is going in’. 

Whitehall sources last night told the Mail that the plans could be scrapped as the backlash grows and after it emerged that Rishi Sunak had written to Boris Johnson to warn that the Government risked damaging the travel sector by imposing more ‘draconian’ measures than the UK’s EU rivals.

As of today fully-vaccinated arrivals to the UK who have been double jabbed in the US or the EU will no longer have to quarantine when arriving from amber list countries after a rule change. 

The Chancellor said UK border policy was ‘out of step with our international competitors’ in a way that threatened to damage jobs.

Meanwhile, aviation bosses have called for the Government to scrap the requirement for returning travellers to take a PCR test and to replace it with a cheaper and faster lateral flow test. 

In a ray of hope for millions of holidaymakers, industry experts last night released optimistic data which they say shows how 17 countries could be added to the quarantine-free green list or green watch list.

Countries including Germany, Austria, Poland and Canada, are among the countries most likely to go green due to low infection rates, according to travel experts.

It comes as it was revealed:

  • That free coffee and cinema tickets could be next incentives to beat Covid vaccine hesitancy in youngsters after the Government unveiled plans to to hand out Uber rides and takeaways to encourage Britons to go get the jab;
  • That all over 50s across the UK will be offered a booster shot of Pfizer by Autumn in a bid to battle back variants;
  • Meanwhile, Covid cases fell for the eleventh day in a row, with infections dropping by 16 per cent in a week to 24,470 and deaths stay low at 65;
  • New figures also revealed a 10-year age drop in Covid patients due to the impact of the vaccine roll-out;
  • But Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg warned that enforcing Covid vaccine passports was ‘not a British way to behave’; 
It is thought that Spain would be added to a new 'amber watchlist' while countries like Italy and Greece could also follow suit

It is thought that Spain would be added to a new ‘amber watchlist’ while countries like Italy and Greece could also follow suit

Rishi Sunak

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson is under pressure not to go ahead with the new category, with Rishi Sunak having written to the PM to express his concerns

Tory MPs fear that formally creating the new amber watchlist would prompt a massive collapse in bookings to holiday hotspots like Greece

Tory MPs fear that formally creating the new amber watchlist would prompt a massive collapse in bookings to holiday hotspots like Greece

Moving a country from amber to red at a moment's notice would force returning travellers to undertake a costly stay in mandatory hotel quarantine. A beach in Tarragona, Spain, is pictured last month

Moving a country from amber to red at a moment’s notice would force returning travellers to undertake a costly stay in mandatory hotel quarantine. A beach in Tarragona, Spain, is pictured last month

Fears of mass scramble back to UK as 1.2million holidaymakers in Spain, Italy and Greece face anxious wait for new amber watchlist

Airlines could face a mass scramble of tens of thousands of British holidaymakers trying to get home from the likes of Spain, Italy and Greece if all three end up on an amber watchlist.

An estimated 1.2million UK tourists are currently in the three countries – many of whom will be now fearing they could be moved from the amber list to red list at very short notice, if ministers press ahead with the new category.

The total number of Britons in the three countries is made up of an estimated one million in Spain, plus 50,000 in Italy and 150,000 in Greece.

And flight prices for returning from those nations to the UK could soar very quickly if demand skyrockets at a moment’s notice.

Hundreds of thousands more Britons will be planning to head out to the three countries over the next few weeks during the summer holidays, but thousands of these are known to have already cancelled.

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, told MailOnline that many people are postponing because they ‘can’t be bothered with the faff of worrying and they can’t be bothered with the threat of higher testing costs’.

An exclusive poll for MailOnline last week found just 10 per cent of people intend to travel abroad for a summer holiday this year, while 4 per cent intend to travel both abroad and domestically in the coming weeks.

 

Aviation and tourism chiefs are increasingly concerned that the crucial summer holiday season is slipping away as ever-changing traffic light rules continue to put off many people from heading abroad. 

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, which represents the aviation industry, said: ‘The EU must be looking at us in incredulity. 

‘We have totally squandered the vaccine dividend we had built up. 

‘No wonder passengers have no idea whether they’re coming or going. Green is the only way forward for the industry – this is the last chance saloon now for saving the summer.’

Mr Alderslade told Times Radio this morning: ‘We’ve now only got six to eight weeks until the end of the summer, and tens of thousands of jobs are under threat in the travel and aviation sector.’

Probe into testing kits pricing 

By Az Munrallee for the Daily Mail

Many of the Government’s cheapest Covid test kits are unavailable to holidaymakers, probing an investigation by the British advertising watchdog.

Private firms offering tests are listed on the Government’s website, with some advertised at £23. But analysis of the 50 least costly options found two thirds could not be ordered or appointments for on-site tests were not available until next month.

The Advertising Standards Authority is now investigating the issue following complaints over ‘inconsistent pricing’ of the kits that are mandatory for travel.

Unvaccinated amber list holidaymakers from England must have a test before they return to the UK, and have two PCR tests when they return during their quarantine. Vaccinated travellers need a test before they arrive and another when they return.

Consultancy firm Fideres, which carried out the analysis, said consumers should expect to pay around £114 for a two-test kit. The cheapest swabs for those returning from an amber list country was £78. The firm’s Paul Vella said: ‘The Government is reporting prices… without actually checking if these low prices are available.’

He also told The Guardian that travellers are being ‘misled’ and steered into ‘using more expensive providers’.

The Department of Health said: ‘We do not endorse or recommend any private Covid-19 test provider. All private providers must meet the minimum required standards.’

Travel expert Paul Charles said it would be a ‘disaster’ if the Government introduces the new category as he called on ministers to abandon the traffic light scheme entirely, warning firms are facing a ‘crunch week’.      

The chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, told MailOnline today that British tourists have already been cancelling holidays to Spain, Greece and Italy.

He said: ‘The ministerial dithering last week has already led many people to cancel because they can’t be bothered with the faff of worrying and they can’t be bothered with the threat of higher testing costs, so they are postponing.

‘And that’s why ministers have got to get a grip this week and put confidence back into booking. At the moment they’re doing their very best to delay the recovery in the travel sector and it’s threatening tens of thousands of jobs.’

Mr Charles said ‘thousands’ of people have cancelled in the past week because of discussion over the amber watchlist and warned that ‘people aren’t prepared to take the risk’.

He continued: ‘They’re not paying balances due and that’s where it’s hurting, and that’s why ministers have to make an urgent decision on saving the rest of the summer. They are doing a very good job of harming the sector.’ 

Meanwhile, Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye told the BBC the Government must ‘get rid of the requirement for everyone to have a PCR test and replace it with a cheaper, simpler lateral flow test and only use the PCR test if people test positive, for genomic purposes’ to further open up travel. 

The Government is facing a growing backlash from Tory MPs over its handling of international travel, with many backbenchers of the belief that ministers are being overly-cautious given the success of the UK’s vaccination drive. 

​​Huw Merriman, the Conservative chairman of the Transport Select Committee, told The Times the plans for an ‘amber watchlist’ represented a ‘giant red flag’ which could cause a collapse in bookings.

He said: ‘The Government has used the vaccine dividend to make some positive strides in the last few weeks, making it easier for those travelling in and out of the UK.

‘This is not the time to be adding further complexity, uncertainty and anxiety to an already beleaguered sector.’

Tory MP Henry Smith, the chairman of the all-party Future of Aviation Group, said: ‘We support the traffic light system of red amber and green. However, the way it is being implemented is very confusing, complex and is in many cases detrimental to that safe reopening. It’s more of a rainbow now.’  

However, Mr Warman this morning dismissed the concerns over complexity this morning as he failed to rule out introducing the bnew category. 

Asked directly about the prospect of a new watchlist, Mr Warman told Sky News: ‘The point of the watchlist that you refer to is to try and give people a sense of the direction of travel that a country is going in.

‘It is to try and provide people with as much information as possible when they make those decisions about where they might want to go on holiday.’

Mr Warman said that people would have to make ‘common sense judgements’ about whether to travel abroad for a holiday.

Told that many people believe the traffic light system, which also includes a green watchlist and an ‘amber plus’ list, is too complicated, the minister replied: ‘I don’t accept that it’s complicated in a way that is not something that the people can apply their common sense to.’ 

Labour has demanded…

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