The government has announced plans for a new traffic light system to pave the way for the return of international travel in a boon for sun-starved Brits.
However, the travel industry is up in arms over plans to make those travelling to the least at-risk countries take costly PCR tests before their departure and return.
Countries will be categorised based on risk, including a watch list for nations to move from “green” to “amber”.
The traffic light system is expected to replace the current ban on foreign travel due to expire on 17 May.
All travellers will be expected to pay for PCR tests on their return to the UK at around £120 each, including those returning from countries on the safe “green list”.
People who have been fully vaccinated will also be required to take the PCR tests on or before the second day of their arrival back in the UK over fears that “green list” countries could still harbour new Covid variants.
How the traffic light system will work:
- Green: Passengers will not be required to quarantine on return to the UK, but must take a pre-departure Covid test, as well as a test on return to Britain
- Amber: Travellers will need to quarantine for 10 days, as well as taking a pre-departure test and two PCR tests on return
- Red: Passengers will have to pay for a 10-day stay in a managed quarantine hotel, as well as a pre-departure test and two PCR tests
Ministers have not yet announced which categories countries will fall into under the new system.
Under the proposals, the deeply divisive “intention to travel” form – which requires travellers to specify their reason for leaving the country – will also be scrapped.
And work is also ongoing on a “digital travel certification system” – or “vaccine passport” – to help facilitate international travel.
Any system, the report said, would be “interoperable” with other systems being developed by a host of other private sector players, including aviation group IATA and airlines such as BA.
It also raised the prospect of launching bilateral routes to other countries with similar arrangements to test the system, something that airlines have been calling for.
The Global Travel Taskforce is expected to make its recommendations to the government over the next few weeks, with the labels to be made public in early May.
Ministers will then review the scheme on 28 June that could reduce the need for stringent testing in time for summer holidays in July and August.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “The framework will help allow us to reopen travel safely and sustainably, ensure we protect our hard-won achievements on the vaccine rollout and offer peace of mind to both passengers and industry as we begin to take trips abroad once again.”
‘Unsustainable’ costs will make travel ‘unviable’
However, the plans were met with furious backlash last night from both Tory MPs and businesses in the travel industry, who warned the restrictions meant holidays would be reserved for the wealthy.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said: “This does not represent a reopening of travel as promised by ministers, and the insistence on expensive and unnecessary PCR testing rather than rapid testing – even for low-risk countries – will pose an unsustainable burden on passengers, making travel unviable and unaffordable for many people.
“It is also a further setback for an industry on its knees and the UK’s wider economic recovery, with many businesses and exporters reliant upon our domestic and international connectivity and a thriving aviation sector.”
Joint research by travel trade body ABTA and the Airport Operators’ Association (AOA) suggests that the cost of a PCR test in the UK is double that in other European countries.
According to the bodies, a UK pre-departure PCR test costs on average £128 per person, while the average pre-departure test cost across eight key destinations only comes to just under £62.
They called for the government to consider whether people who have been vaccinated can be exempt from testing when travelling to green list countries.
The report said that the government would work with private providers to see how it could bring down the cost of tests.
“This could include cheaper tests being used when holidaymakers return home, as well as whether the government would be able to provide pre-departure tests”, it said.
Henry Smith, the Conservative chairman of the all-party Future of Aviation Group, added: “I remain concerned that this is unduly burdensome and costly for the average passenger.
“It won’t provide confidence for travellers to book up holidays from 17 May. I think this will seriously impinge upon an aviation and travel revival, certainly for this spring and probably into summer.”