International travel red list slashed to seven countries

The Department for Transport has confirmed the UK government’s red list has been slashed from 54 countries to just seven.

But the date when lateral flow Covid tests will be allowed in place of PCR tests on day two for arrivals is yet to be confirmed. At the government’s last update on international travel, it said this change would be introduced by the end of October.

However, the government confirmed that passengers will be able to send a picture of their lateral flow test as a minimum requirement to verify the accuracy of its results – and that the follow up PCR test will be free.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps tweeted to confirm South Africa is one of the countries removed from the list of countries from which hotel quarantine is still longer required for arrivals into the UK.

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The remaining countries on the red list are: Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Venezuela. Changes come into effect at 4am on Monday October 11.

Fully vaccinated passengers and eligible under 18s returning from countries and territories not on the red list, can do so with just a day two test. However,  passengers who are not fully vaccinated with an authorised vaccine returning from a non-red destination must still take a pre-departure test, a day two and day eight test and complete 10 days self-isolation, although they have the option of Test to Release on day five).

The DfT confirmed it will also recognise the fully vaccinated status from 37 more countries and territories, including India, Turkey and Ghana, Shapps confirmed. This means they are treated in the same way as fully-vaccinated UK citizens.

The update follows the scrapping of the amber list from Monday October 4. People arriving from non-red list countries who have been fully vaccinates with either Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Janssen – in the UK, US, EU and 18 other countries can avoid isolation so long as they test negative within two days of their arrival.

Yesterday, the Foreign Office (FCDO) relaxed its travel advice for more than 30 countries. While this was criticised by Aito for not offering many feasible destinations, Abta welcomed the news as a move to replacing general use of FCDO advice against travel due to Covid risks with “clear, country-specific advice”.

The next red list update is expected by October 28.

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said today’s update is “a sensible step forward in further opening up international travel” leaving “a much-improved system”.

But he stressed: “We now want to see the government put their plans into place to replace day two PCR tests with lateral flow in time for the October half term in England, which begins later this month.”

He urged the government to remove all testing for primary school age children to bring it in line with its approach for testing in schools.

“Specialist long-haul travel companies will breathe a sigh of relief that the restrictions – which have stopped them trading and making any money – are being eased,” said Tanzer.

But he warned: “Travel companies will need to check what the Foreign Office advice is for the countries that have come off the red list – it may be that the advice against travel changes straight away, or that there is a bit of a lag – as we saw with the Maldives recently – or that it remains in place due to ongoing Covid risk/there are other non-COVID related advisories.

“So it is really important members continue to check that.”

Shapps said: “With half-term and winter sun around the corner, we’re making it easier for families and loved ones to reunite, by significantly cutting the number of destinations on the red list, thanks in part to the increased vaccination efforts around the globe.

“Restoring people’s confidence in travel is key to rebuilding our economy and levelling up this country. With less restrictions and more people traveling, we can all continue to move safely forward together along our pathway to recovery.”

Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid added: “We’re now making it easier and cheaper for people to travel by allowing fully vaccinated travellers from non-red list countries to use lateral flow tests on day two of arrival, as long as they provide proof of use.”

Scotland and Wales also adopted the changes.

Scottish transport minister Graeme Dey said: “It’s important we continue to exercise caution which is why a red list of countries will be retained.” But he stressed: “If evidence and circumstances change, we will not hesitate to reintroduce restrictions to protect public health in Scotland.

He added: “The steps we are seeing now pave the way for growth in the travel and tourism sector who we have listened very carefully to and engaged with widely on throughout this difficult period.”

Welsh health and social services minister Eluned Morgan stressed the changes “are not without risk” adding: “We are concerned about the cumulative impact of the risk being carried in relation to opening up travel particularly from higher risk countries.”

But she accepted “it is not practical” to develop a separate border health policy in isolation from the other UK nations.

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