New travel rules: Amber list scrapped and changes to Covid tests in major shake up

While the travel industry welcomed the move, some experts are warning about the consequences of changing the testing system, ITV News Political Reporter Shehab Khan reports

International travel is being made cheaper and easier for the vast majority of people in England, after the government announced an overhaul to the heavily criticised traffic light system.

The green list is set to become dozens of countries longer after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed reports that the amber list was being scrapped and the red list shortened.

Further changes mean fully vaccinated travellers will no longer need to pay for a pre-departure lateral flow test or a post-arrival PCR test when returning from countries not on the red list.

The changes to England's testing rules will come into force from Monday, October 4, while scores of countries will be added to the green list on Wednesday September 22, at 4am.

It is understood the government will still review the rules for each country every three weeks but they are expected to remain the same at least until the New Year.

So what is changing with England's foreign travel rules?

The amber list is gone - what does that mean?

The government appears to have listened to critics of the traffic light system by simplifying to 'Green for go' and 'Red for don't'.

Mr Shapps said the changes made international travel "simpler, easier to navigate and cheaper".

It means the green list has lengthened dramatically, with every country previously on the amber list joining it.

And eight countries have been taken off the red list and bumped up to green. They are: Egypt, the Maldives, Turkey, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Oman, Bangladesh and Kenya.

The new travel rules will save dad Jon a lot of stress and about £300 when taking his family away to Lanzarote, ITV News Midlands Correspondent Ben Chapman reports

The government added that more changes will come into effect from the end of October, with fully vaccinated passengers from a "select group of non-red countries" also able to replace their day two PCR test with a cheaper lateral flow test after arriving in England.

Ministers plan to introduce this by the end of October, aiming to have it in place for when people return from half-term breaks.

What about the red list?

Unfortunately, there are still a number of countries with coronavirus situations the government is extremely concerned about, meaning red list restrictions are remaining the same.

People arriving from red list countries will still be required to spend 11 nights in a quarantine hotel, at a cost of £2,285 for solo travellers.

The red list, which previously contained 62 countries, will be reduced to 54 when the changes come into force.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps outlines the new travel rules, which offer more freedom to those who are fully vaccinated

No more PCR tests for double-jabbed travellers - what about the unvaccinated?

People who have had both doses of a coronavirus vaccine will be able to save around £100 on travel to and from green list countries when the new testing rules are relaxed.

But travel is still being restricted for the unvaccinated.

Travellers who have not had both doses of a coronavirus vaccine must quarantine for 10 days at home upon their arrival from a green list country and they need take a lateral flow test before they depart and a PCR test on day two and eight when they return.

Travellers returning to England will have less restrictions Credit: PA

They can pay for another PCR test on day five of quarantine for early release.

What has the government said?

The transport secretary said travelling abroad now involves a "simpler, more straightforward system".

"One with less testing and lower costs, allowing more people to travel, see loved ones or conduct business around the world while providing a boost for the travel industry," said Mr Shapps. “Public health has always been at the heart of our international travel policy and with more than 8 in 10 adults vaccinated people fully vaccinated in the UK, we are now able to introduce a proportionate updated structure that reflects the new landscape."

Before the update, Environment Secretary George Eustice told ITV News it was "right to loosen" restrictions, but he did admit pressures on the NHS will be greater as the year progresses into winter.

"We do need to keep things under close control, monitor it. That's why the prime minister set out earlier this week his plan for the winter, some incremental steps that we will take to tighten restrictions again should it be needed."

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “Our top priority is to protect public health – decisions on our traffic light system are kept under regular review and are informed by the latest risk assessment from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and wider public health factors.”

Will the new foreign travel system be implemented UK-wide?

The update provided by Mr Shapps only applies to England, with each devolved nation having powers to control their borders.

Despite England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales often choosing differing border policies at the start of the pandemic, more recently they have implemented rule changes for travel announced in Westminster.

Following Mr Shapps' announcement, the Scottish Government said it had "significant concerns" around the changes to Covid testing before and after travel, and would not be following England's lead.

This means that travellers will still need to provide a negative test prior to departure and take a PCR test - rather than a lateral flow test - on day two after arriving in Scotland.

In a statement, the Scottish Government said: “A UK Government decision to implement proposals to remove the requirement for a pre-departure test in England and to use lateral flow tests on day two have not been adopted at this stage in Scotland due to significant concerns at the impact on public health.” Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said the Scottish Government “has concerns" that scrapping a pre-departure test for the vaccinated "will weaken our ability to protect the public health of Scotland’s communities".

He added: “While we want to maintain a four-nations approach to these matters, we need to consider urgently their implications.”

Meanwhile, Wales said it would "carefully consider" the UK Government's proposed changes and.

Welsh health and social services minister, Eluned Morgan, said: “These changes are not without risk – they weaken the line of defence on importing infection and increase opportunities for new infections and new variants to enter the UK and Wales.

“Vaccines can help reduce this risk but only if they are effective against new and emerging variants of concern and high-risk variants under investigation.”

Both administrations however said they would mirror the changes to the red list destinations.What does the travel industry think of the changes?

A number of travel bosses welcomed the easing of restrictions and said it would instill confidence in holidaymakers - but many urged ministers to go further and bring England's rules more in line with other European countries.

Turkey was one of eight countries to be removed from the red list Credit: AP

Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee said the easing of restrictions should encourage more people to travel over the winter, but added: “Ultimately, we need to return to a situation similar to prior to the pandemic, in which people can travel without further tests or forms to fill out.

"The UK and devolved governments should aim for this as soon as is safely possible.”

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said it was a “welcome step forward” which would make travel to Europe significantly easier.

“However, vaccinated travellers and those from low-risk countries will still have to do an unnecessary test after arriving in the UK, making travel less affordable for all," he added.

“Since July 1 there has been no testing at all for vaccinated travellers within the rest of Europe, and this is why the UK will continue to fall further behind the rest of Europe if this remains.”

British Airways chief executive and chairman Sean Doyle "welcomed" the changes but also urged the government to sweep away all testing requirements for fully vaccinated travellers.

He said: "Based on the scientific evidence, with fewer than 1% of people returning from low-risk countries testing positive for Covid (lower than the UK’s rate), we urge ministers to keep this policy under review, eliminating all testing for fully vaccinated travellers as soon as possible in the future, in line with most other European countries.”

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