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UK COVID-19 Travel Restrictions: When is the Right Time to Visit the UK?

As we know with UK politics, three-word slogans have been the preferred method of conveying ideas. Whether it is ‘Get Brexit Done’, ‘Build Back Better’, or ‘Hands Face Space’, it seems like the Government’s PR engine believes the public cannot cope with more than three words at a time without getting confused. When it comes to the UK’s international travel rules, the ‘red’, ‘amber’, and ‘green’ traffic light system has now been made even more simple with the recent ditching of the amber list. In this article, we will explain the UK’s new travel restrictions, including the scrapping of the amber list.

What is the new system for international travel?

Sajid Javid and Grant Shapps recently announced a change in the present traffic light international travel system. This new system for international travel for England includes:

  • Removal of the amber list – countries will either be on the red list or not
  • Less onerous and expensive system for fully vaccinated travellers arriving in the UK coming from non-red list countries – this includes the scrapping of the need to have two PCR tests and replacing this requirement with less costly lateral flow tests. In addition, there will be no need to have a pre-departure COVID-19 test.
  • Eight countries are being removed from the current red list
  • The list of nations for which the UK government recognises full vaccinations is being increased by 17 countries and territories, including Japan and Singapore.

Announcing the changes, Grant Shapps stated, “Today’s changes mean 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. Public health has always been at the heart of our international travel policy, and with more than 8 in 10 adults vaccinated in the UK, we are now able to introduce a proportionate updated structure that reflects the new landscape”.

Will the new travel rules apply in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland?

Because of the UK’s devolved government system, it will be for each nation to make their own decisions regarding if they wish to follow England’s lead. Given the pattern of actions so far through the pandemic, it is likely that the devolved nations will follow suit, although the precise details of any implementation and the dates which apply may vary. Wales has already said it will follow England and remove Turkey, Pakistan, the Maldives, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Oman, Bangladesh and Kenya from their red list. Scotland has advised it will be looking to simplify its traffic light system but has made it clear they have no intention to ditch the requirement for PCR tests. The Northern Ireland Executive, for their part, have said they will also ditch the traffic light system, but they are still to decide whether to alter rules on pre-departure and post-arrival testing. Unfortunately, all of this will only add to the confusion for those wishing to travel to the UK from non-red listed countries.

Which countries are being removed from the red list?

Eight countries are being removed from the red list from 4 am on 22nd September, including Bangladesh, Egypt, Kenya, the Maldives, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Turkey.

What has been the response to the relaxing of COVID-19 travel restrictions?

While the changes were only announced on 17th September 2021, as of 19th September, half-term travel bookings have doubled, according to Thomas Cook, and are three times higher than in August 2021. Alan French, the chief executive of Thomas Cook, expressed his optimism regarding the simplification of the travel rules, “Based on our bookings already today, I would expect this weekend to be the biggest of the year so far as people take advantage of the great deals on offer, the new easier rules on testing and the simplified system for international travel”. Ferry company DFDS also saw a spike in bookings, as did online travel booking website Skyscanner, and travel agent and flight operator Tui. Jet2.com and Jet2holidays have also reported “an immediate and massive surge in bookings”. Martin Nolan representing Skyscanner told the Telegraph, “It’s clear from our most recent booking figures that travellers are delighted with the latest travel news, not just for holidays and leisure travel, but also for those who will now be able to be reunited with loved ones abroad”.

Will travel restrictions for the US be relaxed?

Under the current US COVID-19 travel rules, it is not permitted to enter from the UK and Ireland, although it is possible for US nationals to come here. There are exemptions available for some, but this requires an application to a local US embassy, and there is no guarantee of securing permission to travel to the US. Boris Johnson intends to persuade US President Joe Biden on his current trip to the US that Britons should be allowed to travel there. It is unclear how Mr Biden will respond, especially given the considerable rise in cases in the US in recent weeks, with average daily deaths related to the virus now exceeding 2,000, although new cases are reportedly starting to dip slightly. According to a government spokesperson talking on the matter, “The Prime Minister will make an impassioned case for Brits who’ve been double jabbed to be allowed to travel to the US. There are a lot of family links, business links, and millions of tourists usually travel every year”.

Wrapping up

As we enter Autumn and Winter, it is expected that cases of COVID-19, including hospitalisations and deaths, will likely rise again as a function of more people spending time indoors and the reduced level of vitamin D available from sunlight. Levels of optimism vary according to the scientist spoken to, but Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, believes that the current level of vaccinations in the UK plus the high levels of natural immunity from the real virus should avert any sort of crisis this winter. Whether this happens and if any rise forces the government to revisit its travel policy remains to be seen. We can only hope this winter will be much smoother sailing than last year due to the protection from vaccinations.

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