What does the ‘traffic light’ travel announcement mean for my summer holiday?

Apr 6, 2021

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said that he planned to lay out the U.K.’s path to a return to international travel in an address to the country on 5 April.

But, instead, what listeners got was minimal information, leaving the return to travel as a topic that is still very much up in the air.

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In his address, Johnson detailed that England still hoped to resume international travel on 17 May — a date originally set out in the roadmap out of lockdown in February. However, Johnson said that it was far too early to say if international travel would be safe by that date.

In a document published on 5 April after Johnson’s public address, a section outlining some Global Travel Taskforce findings said that it was still too early to tell if 17 May would be the date for travel’s return.

Related: UK PM Johnson outlines 17 May date for possible return to international travel

“The Government wants to see a return to non-essential international travel as soon as possible, while still managing the risk from imported cases and variants of concern,” the document said. “The Government hopes people will be able to travel to and from the U.K. to take a summer holiday this year, but it is still too soon to know what is possible.”

The government said that it was “not yet in a position to confirm that non-essential international travel can resume [from 17 May].” In a further blow to the industry, Johnson advised against booking summer holidays abroad just yet.

“For the moment, the Government advises people not to book summer holidays abroad until the picture is clearer,” the government statement said.

However, the Global Travel Taskforce did detail that when travel is permitted to resume — whenever that is — it will do so with a traffic light system based on the risk of the destination — red (high risk), amber (medium risk) or green (low risk).

Related: All 39 countries that are on the UK’s travel ban list

(Photo by Marco Bottigelli/Getty Images)

So far, we know that a green category would be the lowest and newest category. Arrivals coming from green countries will not need to self-isolate for 10 days. However, they will need to have a pre-departure and post-arrival test.

Countries placed on the green list will be determined based on their vaccination rate, infection rate, the prevalence of variants of concern and their genomic sequencing capability. However, it’s still too early to know which destinations will be on that green list.

“These decisions will be driven by the data and evidence nearer the time, which we cannot predict now,” the government said.

Notably, the green level is far stricter than travel restrictions were for the duration of summer 2020, when international travel from the U.K. was largely open. During last year’s summer travel period, the government deployed a travel corridor system wherein travellers arriving from countries that were deemed low-risk were allowed to enter England without having to quarantine at all. Additionally, no tests were involved. The travel corridor scheme was suspended in January.

Related: 4 things that need to happen before we can go on holiday

A green level where testing is required isn’t enough for some in the travel industry.

“The goal must be to have unrestricted travel to ‘green’ destinations,” said Mark Tanzer, CEO of Abta travel association. “The government must ensure that testing is required only where the public health risk justifies it, and that a cost-effective and efficient testing regime is in place.”

EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren said that the cause for concern is a two-test approach to low-risk countries — especially for families.

“The proposed two test system for the lowest risk ‘green’ countries adds unnecessary additional cost for customers,” Lundgren said in a statement. “An expensive testing regime could mean travel is simply out of reach for many hard-working families this summer, reversing the clock and making flying for only the wealthy. So if tests remain for green countries, they must be cost-effective, simple and in line with the lateral flow testing being used for the reopening of domestic sectors.”

It’s believed that travellers arriving from amber countries would be required to self-isolate at home for 10 days and take a total of three COVID-19 tests: one prior to travel, one on day two of quarantine and one on day eight of quarantine.

Related: Government details stricter quarantine measures, hotel quarantine to cost £1,750

Finally, red countries are believed to be an extension of those that are already on the travel ban — or “red list.” Currently, there are 39 countries on that travel ban list. Non-British nationals and non-residents are not permitted to enter England from those 39 countries. Those who are allowed to arrive in England from travel ban countries must undergo a 10-day quarantine in a government-supervised hotel, which starts at £1,750.

Related: The UK’s hotel quarantine takes effect today: Everything you need to know

Once the Global Travel Taskforce sets out more details on this traffic light system, which is expected to come later this week, we should have more details on what each level will mean. However, the Global Travel Taskforce update on Monday did detail that “countries will move between the red, amber and green lists depending on the data.”

(Photo by Tuul & Bruno Morangi/Getty Images)

Travel industry executives have expressed their disappointment and frustration with Johnson’s announcement on Monday.

“The business travel industry continues to be crippled by today’s lack of movement,” CEO of the Business Travel Association Clive Wratten said. He called Johnson’s outline on Monday “beyond disappointing.”

More specifically, they’ve expressed concern over a lack of clarity about when travel may be permitted to return and how the government communicates what countries are in which risk category. The lack of clarity, they say, including the fact that the prime minister has advised against booking any summer travel, will further hurt the already-crippled industry.

“It will be important that the criteria for each category — red, green and amber — are easily understood and predictable,” said Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association. “The system must both inform travellers what destinations are open under what conditions, and reassure them that the requirements won’t change last minute.”

Sean Doyle, British Airways’ chief executive, took a different approach, highlighting the optimism for summer holidays.

“We are optimistic that travel can resume on 17 May, and the British public should not lose hope, and we remain optimistic that this will happen,” Doyle said.

Lundgren echoed that sentiment, saying, “We are encouraged by the news that the data supports the roadmap laid out in February with the continued aim of reopening international travel on 17 May and we look forward to taking customers on their long-awaited holidays this summer.”

With summer travel still very much up in the air, it will be critical for the government to remain open and clear with would-be passengers. With the Global Travel Taskforce expected to provide more details to the public this week, it’s possible we could have a clearer picture.

Related: What is the Global Travel Taskforce, and what does it mean for your holiday?

However, we shouldn’t expect to get a firm date for a return to international travel for several weeks. As the government prioritises looking at data, it will plan to ensure that it’s looking at the most up-to-date information when classifying destinations as green, amber or red.

Featured photo by kamisoka/Getty Images.

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