What are the new UK travel rules?

Traffic light system scrapped in England clearing path for restriction-free travel to dozens of countries

The UK government has overhauled Covid travel rules for England, replacing its traffic light system with a single, vastly reduced red list and fewer testing requirements.

The red list was reduced to seven countries – Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Venezuela – while 47 nations will be removed from the onerous quarantine requirements as of 4am on October 11.

Ministers discourage all but essential travel to and from red list destinations.

The UK government sets rules only for England. It is up to the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to decide whether they wish to adopt the same measures.

England travel rules for the fully vaccinated

Fully vaccinated people entering England from most non-red list countries will not have to isolate on arrival or take a pre-departure test or day eight post-arrival test. The rules changed first for US and EU citizens, followed by 18 other countries.

They will have to take a test only on day two post-arrival.

After the announcement on Thursday, eligible travellers vaccinated in more than 37 new countries and territories including Brazil, Ghana, Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, South Africa and Turkey, will from 4am on Monday, October 11,be treated the same as fully vaccinated returning UK residents, as long as they have not visited a red list country or territory in the 10 days before arriving in England.

They must fill out a passenger locator form in the 48 hours before arriving in England.

They also must be able to prove they have been fully vaccinated for 14 days by presenting either a digital or paper-based document displaying, at a minimum, their forename and surname; date of birth; vaccine brand and manufacturer; date of vaccination for every dose; country or territory of vaccination and/or certificate issuer.

If the document does not display this information, they must follow rules for non-vaccinated travellers or risk being denied the right to board their flight.

Fully vaccinated travellers from the US will need to prove they are US residents.

Previous changes mean that fully vaccinated UAE residents can now travel to England with the same freedom as fully vaccinated UK, US or European citizens.

A technical glitch affecting UAE to UK travel was overcome and, in an interview with The National's Editor-in-Chief, Mina Al-Oraibi last month, UK Transport Minister Grant Shapps revealed that the country was going on the UK-approved vaccine programme list.

Acceptred vaccines are Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Do I need a PCR test for travel?

All travellers, whether vaccinated or not, have to take a PCR test two days after arriving in England.

This rule is expected to change in the coming weeks, to swap PCRs for the less expensive lateral flow tests.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Friday that an announcement would be made on changing the PCR test to a lateral flow test "in the coming days".

He said ministers were eager to have the change rolled out in time for the half-term break, but declined to give a date on which the rules may be altered.

Replacing post-arrival PCR tests with the less-expensive lateral flow tests could save the average family about £200 ($272) per trip.

England travel rules from red-list countries

If a country is on the red list, the 10-day hotel quarantine, at a cost of £2,285 ($3,137) per person, still applies. This includes two Covid-19 tests to be taken on day two and day eight.

Travellers must also take a pre-departure test at least three days before travel and a passenger locator form must be filled in at least 48 hours before setting off.

England's travel rules for the unvaccinated

For those who are unvaccinated or do not qualify under the fully vaccinated rules, a pre-departure test must be taken three days before arriving in England.

They must also book and pay for day two and day eight tests to be taken after arrival in England and a passenger locator form must be filled in within 48 hours of travelling.

After entering England, they must self-isolate at home or in the place they are staying for 10 days. If their day two or day eight tests come back with a positive result they must continue isolating for 10 days after the day they took the test.

So if a person tests positive for Covid on day two of isolation they must remain in their home or hotel for 12 days in total.

If they test negative, they may be able to end quarantine early through the Test to Release scheme.

Which countries are on the UK's approved vaccine provider list?

Although the amber list has been nominally abolished, it remains in all but name for the countries not on an approved list.

Passengers who have a valid vaccination certificate from the countries and territories on the scheme will be treated as if they had been vaccinated in the UK and can follow the rules for fully vaccinated travellers.

The countries and territories approved to administer vaccines outside Europe and the US by a relevant public health body added in September were: Australia, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Dominica, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and the UAE.

From 4am Monday 11 October, eligible travellers vaccinated in more than 37 new countries and territories including Brazil, Ghana, Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, South Africa and Turkey, will be treated the same as fully vaccinated returning UK residents, so long as they have not visited a red list country or territory in the 10 days before arriving in England.

If a fully inoculated traveller from these countries or territories has received mixed doses of the approved vaccines, that is deemed permissible.

When is the next travel update?

The next update to England's travel system is expected in three weeks' time.

The government usually issues a statement on either a Wednesday or a Thursday.

This means that people can expect another update on October 27 or 28.

The half-term school break will begin on Friday, October 29. Schools will reopen on Monday November 8.

What are the travel rules for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

The other parts of the UK have at times followed different avenues to England when it comes to deciding travel rules.

Previously, Wales used the same rules as England to keep things as simple as possible. But this has now changed, with the Welsh government still deciding whether to abolish PCR tests for returning passengers.

After some deliberation, however, it has decided to align with England in abolishing the traffic light system.

The Scotland and Northern Ireland governments have decided to align with England's rules on testing too, although Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has done so “with some reluctance".

“We have also considered the practical consequences of not having an aligned position,” she said last month.

“In particular, we have to be realistic about the fact that people living in Scotland could decide to return here via airports in England, if different rules are in place for Scottish airports. The result of this would be a disadvantage to our aviation and travel sector, but without any significant public health advantage.”

Updated: October 14th 2021, 2:52 PM
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