Why scrapping the traffic light system wouldn’t affect most British travellers

Sep 9, 2021

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The U.K. government’s traffic light system for international travel has been quite a rollercoaster ride for British travellers this year.

Each destination has been given a green, amber or red status with the following entry requirements for travellers returning to the United Kingdom from each destination:

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Green

  • Passenger locator form
  • Pre-departure COVID-19 test (can be from a lateral flow device) taken in the three days before departure
  • Post-arrival COVID-19 test (must be a PCR test) taken on or before the second day of your return

Amber

  • Passenger locator form
  • Pre-departure COVID-19 test (can be from a lateral flow device) taken in the three days before departure
  • Quarantine for 10 days at home, unless you are fully vaccinated
  • Pre-book a COVID-19 test package to take PCR on day two
  • Eligible for Test to Release programme to purchase and take an additional test after five days of quarantine if you are not fully vaccinated. If negative, you can leave quarantine early, but you must still take the day eight test, even though you’ve left isolation.

Red

  • Only U.K. nationals and residents are permitted to enter (no visitors)
  • Passenger locator form
  • Pre-departure COVID-19 test (can be from a lateral flow device) taken in the three days before departure
  • Pre-book a quarantine hotel stay through the government, starting at £2,250 for a solo adult traveller. Hotel quarantine stays include transport to and from the airport; food and drink; security at the hotel; and a PCR testing package for mandatory tests on days two and eight of quarantine
  • Not eligible for Test to Release programme.
Photo by d3sign / Gettys

The lists are updated every three weeks and, if you are abroad in an amber country that is moving to the red list, you face a mad scramble to return to the U.K. in just a few days if you wish to avoid the expensive and restrictive hotel quarantine.

But this week, The Guardian reported that the U.K. government may scrap the traffic light system from 1 October, replacing it with a simple “do not travel” list to which all red countries would move.

All other destinations (those currently considered green and amber) would then be considered the same: acceptable for travellers.

The “do not travel” list would be regularly reviewed and destinations added or removed from time to time depending on the COVID-19 situation in these destinations.

While this sounds like a positive change for the U.K.’s aviation industry, which has been decimated by the pandemic, the reality is this probably wouldn’t have much impact on British travellers deciding if, how and when to travel abroad.

This is because 80% of people in the U.K. who are 16 and older are now fully vaccinated, and this number will increase slightly by 1 October.

For that 80%, the traffic light system has effectively already been scrapped. This is because, since 19 July, fully vaccinated travellers have not needed to quarantine on return from an amber country, meaning all amber destinations are effectively green. Travellers under 18 who are unvaccinated but travelling with a vaccinated adult can also skip quarantine.

Related: Government scraps quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated amber arrivals from 19 July

These travellers already have their red “do not travel” list, with all other destinations being OK to travel to provided they can fulfil the entry requirements of those countries and the testing requirements on return to the U.K.

But all other testing requirements are expected to remain. This means you’ll still have to purchase a pre-departure lateral flow/antigen test before your flight back to the United Kingdom and the more expensive second-day PCR test through an approved provider.

Related: What kind of COVID-19 test do I need to travel and how much does it cost?

Bottom line

As the U.K. reaches the final stages of its vaccination programme, the traffic light system has already become less useful to travellers.

Constantly changing entry requirements for each destination and the inconvenience and high cost of numerous U.K. government-mandated COVID-19 tests remain significant barriers to the resumption of foreign travel for leisure purposes in the U.K.

With that said, scrapping the traffic light system won’t affect most British travellers; simply removing the second-day PCR test requirement for all vaccinated travellers is likely to have much more of an impact.

Featured image by Leon Neal/Getty Images

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