The new simplified UK travel rules explained
Pre-departure tests axed for fully vaccinated arrivals from non-red-list countries
New international travel rules are in force in the UK from today as the government’s “traffic light” system is replaced with simpler rules.
Under the new two-category system, countries and territories previously on the amber and green lists are merged in a “rest of the world” category, while the red list - due to be updated later this week - will remain for high-risk destinations.
Rules on testing have also changed, with fully vaccinated arrivals from non-red-list countries no longer required to take pre-departure tests - either PCR or lateral flow tests - in the three days before arriving in the UK.
Downing Street has simplified the UK’s travel rules following widespread criticism of the “confusing” traffic light system, said The Guardian. “Government sources have also suggested that slashing the number of red list countries could incentivise vaccinations,” according to the paper.
As the new system kicked off, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that the UK was “accelerating towards a future where travel continues to reopen safely and remains open for good”. The minister welcomed the rule changes as “good news for families, businesses and the travel sector”, adding: “Our priority remains to protect public health but, with more than eight in ten people now fully vaccinated, we are able to take these steps to lower the cost of testing and help the sector to continue in its recovery.”
Day two PCR test rules
For now, all travellers arriving in England from non-red-list countries will still need to book and pay for a PCR test two days after arrival, as well as complete a passenger locator form.
However, from the end of October, fully vaccinated new arrivals will no longer be required to take a PCR test on day two, and will instead only have to take a lateral flow test. If the test is positive, passengers will still have to isolate, as well as take a PCR test to confirm if they have the illness, which will be done at “no additional cost”, reported The Guardian’s assistant travel editor Nazia Parveen.
No specific date for the PCR tests rule change has been announced yet, but “ministers are aiming to have it in place for the half-term school break”, according to the BBC.
Whether other UK nations will follow England in removing day two PCR tests is also currently unclear. The Scottish government “says it is aiming to align its post-arrival testing travel policies with the UK government, and will announce this once it has been confirmed”, the Daily Record reported.
The Welsh government is also considering a travel rules rethink, but the country’s health and social services minister has warned that the changes are “not without risk”, reported WalesOnline. Eluned Morgan said that “our considerations will be underpinned by robust evidence and our main focus will continue to be on reducing the risk to public health in Wales”.
Sounding a note of caution, she warned that the changes “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.”
To qualify as vaccinated under the new rules, passengers must have had a full course of an approved jab at least 14 days before arriving in England, and the doses must have been administered in the UK, EU or US, or as part of one of 18 other approved overseas vaccination programmes.
The rules for new arrivals who do not meet these criteria are “more stringent” now that the green and amber lists have been merged, said the i news site.
Travellers who are not fully jabbed have to self-isolate “regardless of destination as they can no longer take advantage of the green list, which offered more lenient rules for people without a jab”, explained the newspaper.
Unvaccinated arrivals from any non-red-list country also still have to do a pre-departure test in the three days before arrival, followed by PCR tests on day two and day eight, and must also quarantine at home for ten days.
However, the Test to Release scheme will remain an option for unjabbed arrivals, who can pay for a private Covid test on day five and then end their quarantine if the result is negative.
Travelling to the UK from red list countries
The rules for new arrivals from red-list countries remain unchanged. These passengers must take a pre-departure test and pre-book a mandatory 11-night quarantine package in a government-approved hotel, at the minimum cost of £2,285 for one adult. The package includes two PCR tests, to be taken on day two and day eight of quarantine.
Only UK or Irish residents will be allowed to enter the UK from red-list destinations.
The rules apply to all UK arrivals from red-list countries, regardless of vaccination status.
Countries currently on the red list
A total of 54 countries are on the red list at the moment. But according to The Sunday Telegraph, the list will be “slashed to as few as nine this week”. The paper reported yesterday that Whitehall sources had claimed countries due to come off the list in time for the October half-term included South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Cape Verde and Indonesia.
These countries are currently on the red list:
- Cape Verde
- Congo (Democratic Republic)
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republic
- French Guiana
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
- Trinidad and Tobago