Traffic light system scrapped and testing simplified for UK travel

Sep 17, 2021

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The U.K. travel industry received a huge boost today with significant changes to the traffic light system and rigorous COVID-19 testing requirements for travellers.

The traffic light system, which has assigned foreign destinations to green, amber or red lists since May with different rules for each colour for anyone returning to or entering England, will be replaced with a single red “do not travel” list from 4 October 2021.

Eight destinations — including traveller favourites Turkey and the Maldives — will come off the red list on Wednesday, 22 September at 4 a.m.

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The following destinations will be considered safe to visit:

  • Bangladesh
  • Egypt
  • Kenya
  • The Maldives
  • Oman
  • Pakistan
  • Sri Lanka
  • Turkey

Government advice will remain that Brits should not travel to red-list destinations.

The more exciting news is the changes coming to the COVID-19 test requirements for some fully vaccinated travellers to enter or return to England.

From 4 October 2021, the pre-departure test is no longer required if you’re fully vaccinated in eligible countries (including the U.K., U.S., Switzerland, Israel, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and others, including the EU) and travelling from a destination that isn’t on the red list. And later in October, the Day 2 PCR test can be taken as a cheaper lateral flow/antigen test.

For months now, Brits have endured some of the strictest testing requirements for entry of any country, even if they were fully vaccinated or had recently recovered from COVID-19. Tests must have been booked through approved government providers; free NHS tests have been forbidden for the purposes of travel. The cost of these tests has added hundreds of pounds to the cost of a family holiday.

Related: Why scrapping expensive PCR tests would be great news for UK travellers

While arrivals before 4 October can expect to pay at least £76 for the cheapest lateral flow/antigen and PCR test combination, this price could drop as low as £33 per traveller with just one lateral flow/antigen test required.

Today’s news will be warmly welcomed by the U.K. travel industry, which has endured another very difficult summer despite the U.K. forging ahead with its vaccination programme. Allowing passengers to use lateral flow/antigen tests for their Day 2 test; ditching the pre-departure test for applicable travellers; and simplifying the overall restrictions and requirements for international travel are big steps toward boosting traveller confidence.

Watch out, though. For unvaccinated travellers, things are set to get a little tougher when the rules change. For all countries not on the red list (that is, the old amber and green lists), unless subject to an exemption, unvaccinated travellers or people without a vaccine from a recognised country will be required to adhere to the old amber testing and quarantine regime.

This will include a pre-arrival test, Day 2 and 8 tests and a 10-day quarantine.

Additional reporting by Melanie Lieberman and Nicky Kelvin.

Featured image by d3sign / Gettys

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