The government may give two weeks’ notice of a country at risk of losing its ‘green’ category status under the traffic-light system for restarting international travel, transport secretary Grant Shapps has revealed.
Shapps told MPs the government “would flag perhaps a couple of weeks in advance” if a country could change category as he confirmed there would be no relaxation of the requirement for PCR tests on arrivals from ‘green’ destinations when travel resumes.
However, he said the government would review the PCR-test requirement at the first review of the system in late June.
The government is expected to announce the destinations in the green, amber and red categories of the traffic-light system towards the end of next week, with a partial resumption of international travel due from May 17.
Shapps told MPs: “We’ll confirm in early May if non-essential international travel can resume on May 17.”
He said it is “a question for the scientists to let us know whether PCR or lateral flow tests would be the appropriate test [for arrivals].
“[But] while we most likely need to start off with PCR tests, we have incorporated three check points, the first on June 28, at which we’ll look at this guidance.”
Shapps insisted: “I’m very anxious to get the cost of these [PCR] tests down.
“Although PCR tests are required from a medical point of view, we’ve been working with private laboratories, pharmacies and supermarkets to encourage companies with logistical expertise to enter the market and drive down the cost, and we’ve seen some success.
“There are now test providers providing tests for £60 and one for £44.90.”
Asked to publish details of how destinations will be categorised, Shapps said: “We’ll have the Joint Biosecurity Centre look at four factors – the level of coronavirus in a country, the amount of vaccines they have dispensed, the concern over any variant, and the quality of the data.”
He told MPs: “I do appreciate concerns over when a country jumps from one category to another.
“We’re taking a couple of steps to try to help with that. One is a green watch list to be able to flag perhaps a couple of weeks in advance that we’re looking at a variation of interest.”
MPs quizzed the transport secretary on the length of border queues at Heathrow and asked what is being done to cut these ahead of the travel restart.
Shapps said: “I remind you that people should not be travelling right now. Indeed, you cannot travel without an exceptional reason.
“Border Force is currently checking every single person who enters the country to make sure they have completed the pre-departure test and locator form. I’m afraid that inevitably creates queues.
“But as we move towards unlocking international travel we will be addressing this issue, not least through beginning to automate the electronic e-gates for pre-departure forms.”
He added: “We’re working with Border Force on e-gates but it is not straightforward, not least because it requires both hardware and software.”
Aviation and maritime minister Robert Courts also appeared before MPs to answer questions about the restart of cruise and the discussions taking place between the Department for Transport (DfT), the Foreign Office (FCDO) and devolved administrations.
Courts said: “The DfT engages regularly with the FCDO, the devolved administrations and the cruise industry on the travel restart.
“The restart of domestic cruises has been confirmed and the Global Travel Taskforce advises that international cruises will restart alongside the wider restart of international travel.”
However, asked about Foreign Office advice on cruising, Courts said: “Travel advice is the responsibility of the FCDO.”