Pressure is mounting on ministers to add more countries to the UK’s travel “green list” after data showed that fewer than one in 200 people returning to the country from “amber list” destinations is testing positive for coronavirus.
The next review of the traffic light system, which has been panned by the travel and airlines industry, is due next Monday.
At the moment, the vast majority of popular holiday destinations are on the “amber list”, meaning that people have to quarantine on their return to the UK.
But analysis from the Times showed that only 89 of 23,465 passengers who travelled to the UK from these destinations between May 20 and June 9 tested positive for the coronavirus.
There were no positive cases identified in passengers returning from 151 of the 167 countries on the list, while no variants of concern were identified at all.
The findings prompted the airline industry to renew calls for an overhaul to the current system, which they warned risks a second “lost summer” for travel and tourism businesses.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of trade body Airlines UK, said: “No cases from green, zero variants from amber, and a very low positivity rate. And lots of countries with no cases at all. This is clear evidence of the Government treating international travel differently from the domestic economy.
“The Prime Minister said he was interested in ‘data, not dates’. He should be good to his word”.
And Airport Operators Association (AOA) chief executive Karen Dee said: “These figures are very encouraging and show that a meaningful restart of travel can be achieved while protecting public health. The data is timely, given the first review of the traffic light system is coming up on 28 June.
“The UK and devolved governments should now ease restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers, introduce rapid and affordable testing and expand the green list.”
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee of Conservative MPs, added that it was time for the UK to “reap the benefits” of its vaccination programme.
Plans to scrap isolation for double-jabbed raise hopes
Health secretary Matt Hancock fuelled hopes this morning that vaccinated Brits could soon find themselves exempt from isolation rules thanks to a testing system that is currently being trialled.
“We are piloting that approach that if you’ve had two jabs, instead of having to isolate if you’re a contact, then you have a testing regime,” Hancock told the BBC.
His words met with enthusiasm from several airlines, includiing Virgin Atlantic. A spokesperson for the airline said: “With world-leading vaccination programmes in both the UK and US, and data showing the low risk presented by many Caribbean countries, there is a clear opportunity to safely open up travel with these countries and designate them ‘Green’.
“Furthermore, vaccinated travellers should be free from testing and quarantine, consistent with the approach taken by the US and the EU.”
And Thomas Cook chief executive Alan French said: “We’ve long argued that the government should take into account people’s vaccination status when it designed the current traffic light system so it’s great to see that this is going to happen hopefully in time for the summer holidays.”
However, even if the government does elect to ease its own restrictions on travel, holidaymakers could find themselves limited by the rules in their destinations of choice.
Due to growing alarm over the spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19, the EU is yet to put the UK on its travel “white list”, meaning people will not be able to travel freely around the bloc.
And some countries, like Italy and France, have gone further and put in place their own rules meaning that Brits will have to isolate on arrival.
A government spokesman said: “Our top priority is protecting the health of the public and our enhanced borders regime is helping minimise the risk of new variants being imported into the UK.
“We are committed to protecting the country against the risk of variants.
“Every essential check that has been introduced — from testing to the passenger locator form — is helping prevent the new coronavirus variants making it into the UK. It is important to note that not all tests in this data were sequenced for variants
What are the rules?
- Green: Travellers returning from green countries have to take a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours of departure, and then take a PCR test on or before the second day of their return to the UK (even if fully vaccinated). They will not have to quarantine.
- Amber: Holidaymakers returning from “amber” destinations have to isolate at home for 10 days. Amber travellers also have to take a test before departure and book and pay for two PCR tests on day two and day eight of their home quarantine. If they want to release quarantine early, they can pay for a PCR test on day five (but will still have to take the test on the eighth day, as well).
- Red: Brits coming back from “red” countries have to quarantine for 10 days in hotels chosen by the government. The stay costs £1,750 per person, with pre-departure tests and tests on days two and eight.