Ministers consider changing rules to make foreign travel cheaper and simpler
By Patrick Daly, PA Political Correspondent
Cabinet ministers will be reviewing the current travel traffic light system and whether to scrap the requirement for foreign travellers to take PCR tests, the Environment Secretary said.
George Eustice said that while no decisions have yet been taken on a potential shake-up of Covid travel rules that reportedly could make going abroad cheaper and simpler, the Covid Cabinet sub-committee is expected to meet on Friday to look at the current restrictions.
The group is set to consider whether to merge the green and amber lists to form one category of low-risk countries while reducing the number of destinations on the red list.
There is also speculation that minsters will agree that fully vaccinated arrivals will no longer need to take a pre-departure lateral flow test or a post-arrival PCR test.
This would save travellers around £100 per trip.
The Environment Secretary told Sky News: “My understanding is that no decisions have actually been taken yet, although I understand there may be a meeting today to review this. We regularly review those travel restrictions.”
Mr Eustice said the travel industry’s concerns that current testing protocols are “unnecessary” and “onerous” have been heard.
“The Government will be listening to that and the Covid sub-committee of Cabinet that decide these things will be considering that probably later today,” he added.
Mr Eustice stressed, however, that there are issues in switching to using lateral flow tests instead.
The senior Conservative said the “difficulty” with using the rapid-result tests, which are “cheaper and simpler to do” than PCR tests, is that they are “not able to pick up” coronavirus variants of concern that could potentially evade vaccines rolled out in the UK.
Labour said it will support a change to the travel testing regime as long as it is “based on evidence”.
While there is talk that the changes could see rules eased for fully vaccinated travellers, those who have not been jabbed could face tougher restrictions.
Currently, travellers who have not had both doses of a coronavirus vaccine must take one PCR test and are not required to self-isolate after arriving from a green list destination.
According to reports, they could be required to quarantine at home and take two tests when arriving from a low-risk location under the new system.
The changes would come into force ahead of the October half-term break.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’s expected announcement, which could come on Friday or possibly overnight, will only apply to England, but recently the devolved administrations have implemented rule changes for travel announced in Westminster.
It is anticipated that people arriving from red list countries will continue to be required to spend 11 nights in a quarantine hotel, at a cost of £2,285 for solo travellers.
There are currently 62 countries on that list but this is expected to be reduced.
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.”
Labour’s shadow policing minister Sarah Jones said her party has been “calling for ages” for ministers to scrap the amber travel list because it has “always added to confusion”.
“People never quite understood what the system was,” she told Sky News.
“We’ve been calling for a proper process to work out an international vaccine passport so we can get people safely moving around.”
The travel sector has been desperate for the testing and quarantine rules for international travel to be relaxed.
Heathrow said this week it has gone from being Europe’s busiest airport in 2019 to number 10 on the list, behind rivals in cities such as Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt.
Speculation that travel restrictions might soon be overhauled sent shares in airlines soaring.
AJ Bell financial analyst Danni Hewson said: “October half-term is the next big opportunity for the travel sector and any changes that can make travelling less unsettling and testing less expensive will yield dividends.”