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The UAE and Bahrain will be removed from the UK's travel red list, the British government announced on Wednesday night, providing a major boost to tourism and allowing families to be reunited.
Passengers arriving from amber list countries need to isolate for 10 days on arrival in the UK but can be released after day five with a negative test result.
Travellers coming from countries with amber status who have been fully vaccinated with inoculations approved and administered in the UK, EU and US do not have to self-isolate but must provide a negative Covid-19 test within two days of arrival.
Several countries were upgraded to the UK's green list.
The move comes as a significant relief to the entire travel industry, which has been decimated by the pandemic.
The UAE was placed on the red list in late January. A decline in infections, a high vaccination rate and greater clarity on the virus strains means the UAE and Bahrain, along with India and Qatar, will move from red to amber at 4am BST on Sunday, August 8.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Thursday that the UAE was deserving of a place on the amber list.
Currently, anyone arriving to the UK from a red list country is required by law to book a stay in a Managed Quarantine Facility for 10 days. The cost will rise from August 12 from £1,750 to £2,285. More than 100,000 passengers have passed through hotel quarantine in England in the five months since the system was set up.
The four approved vaccines are Moderna, AstraZeneca, Pfizer and later this year Johnson & Johnson, when it becomes available.
Proof of double vaccination will need to be confirmed with evidence of a NHS Covid Pass, EU Digital Covid Certificate or CDC certification. Without these official forms of proof, travellers from amber countries will need to self-isolate for 10 days at home, with friends or at a hotel.
Those who are not vaccinated, or have received doses of other manufacturers' vaccines, must self-isolate for 10 days. This can be done at home, with friends or at a hotel.
Green list upgrades
There was further good news for the global travel industry after the Department for Transport stated it was “cautiously reopening international travel” by adding Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia, Romania and Norway to the government’s green list for travel. Travellers from those countries do not need to be vaccinated but must present a negative Covid test within two days of arrival.
Also, the special restriction placed on France, which was placed on an amber watchlist that required passengers to self-quarantine for 10 days, even if they had been fully vaccinated, has been removed.
However, Georgia and Mexico, along with the French-run islands of La Reunion and Mayotte, have been added to the red list. “They present a high public health risk to the UK from known variants of concern, known high-risk variants under investigation or as a result of very high in-country prevalence of Covid-19,” the Department for Transport said.
The UK government’s move applies to travellers returning to England, but the devolved administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland announced they would follow suit.
Wales said it would "consider the latest changes announced by the UK government".
“We are committed to opening up international travel safely, taking advantage of the gains we’ve made through our successful vaccination programme, helping connect families, friends and businesses around the world,” Mr Shapps said.
“While we must continue to be cautious, these changes reopen a range of different holiday destinations across the globe, which is good news for both the sector and travelling public.”
Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, said the extension of the green list is “a positive step forward” but said the UK remains “a long way off a full and meaningful restart of international travel”.
Tim Alderslade, boss of Airlines UK, the industry body representing UK-registered carriers, described the announcement as “another missed opportunity”.
He added the travel industry has not had “anything like the reopening it was hoping for”.
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “While there’s some welcome progress, the Government is still being too cautious at a time when they should be opening up travel faster to help the sector’s recovery.”
UK travel: current green, amber and red list countries from 4am Sunday
Johan Lundgren, chief executive of easyJet, said: “Now summer is fully under way, this provides some reassurance to consumers by keeping the status quo for key holiday destinations, as well as adding some Green list destinations for last-minute bookers where there are still great flight and holiday deals available.
“But we remain disappointed at the double standards applied to travel versus the domestic economy. With infection rates remaining lower in much of Europe and the high vaccination levels in the UK, if not now, it is hard to know when the time is for much of Europe to genuinely turn green.
“And Government urgently needs to tackle this expensive testing regime which is adding unnecessary cost, especially for the fully vaccinated. No one wants to see flying become a preserve of the rich again – particularly when so many need to get away or reunite after such a long time.”
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of Abta – The Travel Association, said: “Today’s confirmation that France joins popular holiday destinations such as Spain and Greece on the list of countries that fully vaccinated individuals and their families can travel to without the need to quarantine on return is positive, particularly as we are now in the critical school holiday season.
“However, the Government is still failing to capitalise fully on the success of the vaccine rollout with a very cautious approach to the Green list and failure to relax restrictions on travel, including requirements for multiple tests even when visiting low risk destinations.
“As a result, the UK is falling behind our European competitors and the opening up of international travel from the UK is progressing at a snail’s pace – making it extremely difficult for travel agents and tour operators to generate enough income to kickstart a recovery, which is desperately needed to protect jobs, businesses and livelihoods.”
The UK government also said that data for all countries would “be kept under review” and authorities would “not hesitate to take action where a country’s epidemiological picture changes”.
“As we learn to live with this virus, we are continuing to take steps to safely reopen international travel based on the latest data and expert public health advice,” said Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
He added that vaccines had prevented around 60,000 deaths and 22 million infections in England, and more than seven in 10 adults in the UK have been double vaccinated. “We are building a wall of defence against the disease,” he added.
Industry pressed for loosening of rules
Before these changes, which came a day earlier than expected, business leaders said the UK travel industry had one final chance to save the summer season.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) called on the government to reopen travel as the UK learns to “live with Covid”, demanding that more travellers be exempt from quarantine on arrival.
John Foster, CBI policy director, said: “Restrictions must be relaxed if beleaguered businesses are to salvage any opportunity to trade their way towards recovery this year.”
Last week, the boss of Emirates airline's UK operation said he was frustrated the UAE had been kept on the red list for travel.
Richard Jewsbury, divisional vice president at Emirates, said he had presented data to the UK government showing high vaccination rates and low levels of infection in the UAE.