Change to the traffic light system but for how long?


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The Government announced on 17 September that there will be new changes to international travel and the current "traffic light system".

From 4 October 2021, the Government has advised that they intend to reduce the current red list and replace the green and amber list with a Rest of the World category (ROW). Whilst this announcement has been made by the Government it is important to remember that this actually only affects England and is not necessarily going to be the same in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

The rules for travel will still depend on whether or not the traveller is fully vaccinated. Under the new rules, those that are fully vaccinated at least 14 days before traveling will not be required to undertake a pre-departure test before arriving in England from a ROW country. In addition, from later in October, the requirement to have a PCR test on return will be relaxed and passengers will be able to use authorised lateral flow tests instead. 

The PCR test has previously been heavily criticised for being too expensive and adding significant costs to international travel, pricing many out of the opportunity to go abroad. However there is at present little clarity on what these authorised lateral flow tests will cost.

If you are unvaccinated, or your second vaccine is less than 14 days before travelling, then you will still need to undertake a pre-departure test, together with additional testing after arrival in England.

Under the new changes, only passengers from Red Countries would need to quarantine in Government approved hotels on arrival back in England. 

There has been significant pressure from the travel industry to modify the current system for international travel. It has been hard-hit by the current restrictions with many popular destinations being either significantly restricted or completely impracticable for those unable to quarantine after returning from their holiday.

Grant Shapps MP has indicated that the measures are an attempt to "reduce costs, take advantage of higher levels of vaccination, and keep us all safe". Whilst the changes are likely to be welcomed by those in the travel industry and passengers alike, it is still important to consider what rules and requirements are needed for the specific country that you are travelling to. 

Many countries are still restricting travel depending on whether an individual is fully vaccinated or not and so it is important to check what requirements are needed before travel. There are also different rules in different countries as to the requirement for mask wearing and the use of so called vaccine passports or proof of double vaccination in public areas and/or restaurants abroad. 

Passenger locator forms are presently required for entry into most countries, and additionally for those returning to England. Whilst these can be completed relatively easily particularly by the "tech savvy" there will be many travellers who are simply put off by the "faff" and form filling required these days for international travel.

There could also be some disparity between guidance from the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and countries on the ROW list. If you travel to a country where the FCDO advises against all but essential travel then this could invalidate your insurance. For example, currently, there are areas of Kenya where the FCDO advises against all but essential travel, however, Kenya will be added to the "amber" travel list from 22 September, and so it will be on the ROW list from 4 October.  Needless to say, it is always sensible to check the position on the FCDO website if you are intending to travel abroad. 

The question will also remain for how long these changes will last. The Government has confirmed that the latest changes will be implemented from 4 October, however, will the changes be relaxed or tightened any further as the year progresses? 

There are concerns that the levels of Covid-19 may fluctuate during the autumn and winter months which may well slow the continued easing of international travel and so these current changes may be with us for some time. It is important to consider too whether all countries will welcome British travellers if the rates of infection increase significantly in the UK whilst rates in other countries drop. But as the vaccination programme continues to progress and more of the population become fully vaccinated, the hope will be that international travel may continue to open up which will be welcome to many wishing to jet away to sunnier climates.

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