Ministers will reduce England’s red list of travel to a dozen countries, but plans to replace the requirement of a negative PCR test with a side-flow test to avoid isolation are on the line.
Destinations like Brazil, Mexico and South Africa are set to be taken off the red list on Thursday, meaning returning passengers won’t have to isolate themselves in a hotel for 11 nights at a cost of over £ 2,000.
The move means border restrictions will be at their peak since the third lockdown began nine months ago.
The Foreign Office has also announced that it will fundamentally revise its travel advice. Currently, he still advises people not to travel to certain non-redlisted countries for all but essential reasons based on Covid grounds.
This is separate from the health rules which are run by the Department of Transport, but important because the gap meant travelers to countries not on the Red List were not covered by normal travel insurance and therefore had to pay a lot more. The FCDO no longer advises against non-essential travel to 32 countries and territories – including Algeria, Ghana and Malaysia – and will only re-impose it for reasons of Covid “in exceptional circumstances such as if the local health system is overwhelmed ”.
As current Covid vaccines have resisted the Delta variant, which is dominant in the UK and increasingly spoofs other variants overseas, government insiders are increasingly convinced that the decision to reducing the red list is sure.
However, ministers also hoped to be able to announce that PCR tests – which travelers must test negative with to avoid the isolation of non-redlisted countries if they are fully vaccinated – were being replaced with markedly lateral flow tests. cheaper.
A source familiar with the discussions said the idea was still “on hold” and “not yet settled”, raising concerns that the change could be delayed beyond the mid-term in October, when many people would seek to take advantage of it. . relaxed travel rules.
The final decision will be made at a meeting on Thursday morning and is expected to be announced in the afternoon. As sanitary restrictions are a devolved matter, it will be up to the administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to decide whether to follow suit.
Brazil and South Africa have faced the toughest restrictions longer than almost any country, as they were both redlisted in January over fears that the Gamma and Beta variants discovered in the two respectively. countries are more resistant to vaccines. Pockets of beta cases arose in the UK, but Delta was subsequently imported from India and began to outperform most other variants due to its high transmissibility.
There are 54 countries on the Red List, which include all of mainland South America and southern and eastern Africa. The London-based World Travel and Tourism Council, which represents companies in the sector, said the sector’s recovery would continue to be “slow” due to policies such as the red list.
The government has been criticized by Tory MPs – including former Prime Minister Theresa May – for not unlocking international travel as quickly as many other countries. Over the summer, she said it was “incomprehensible” that the UK – being “one of the most vaccinated countries in the world” – was “most reluctant to give its citizens the freedoms that these vaccinations should support ”.
Gradual changes have been made to the rules, including more recently the removal of the traffic light system that classified countries as red, orange or green. There is now only one Red List and all other countries that are not on it are treated the same. However, there are still different rules for those who are fully vaccinated and those who are not, in part with the aim, according to government sources, of encouraging everyone to receive both vaccines.
Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps said this week: “We are accelerating toward a future where travel continues to reopen safely and stay open for good, and today’s rule changes are good news for families, businesses and the travel industry.
“Our priority remains to protect public health, but with more than eight in 10 people now fully vaccinated, we are able to take these steps to reduce the cost of testing and help the industry continue to recover. “