Travel industry urges UK to remove 24 countries from red list

Experts tell The National the bloated list must be slashed when UK government updates foreign travel rules this week

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Travel industry experts have named 24 countries they believe should be removed from the UK's red list as they urged the government to overhaul rules around foreign holidays.

The UK government is expected this week to announce major changes to current travel restrictions as Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined his strategy to deal with Covid over the autumn and winter period.

There have been suggestions that the green and amber travel list will be scrapped entirely, with hotel quarantine retained for arrivals from a reduced number of high-risk, red list countries.

Speculation is mounting that costly PCR tests for fully vaccinated tourists could be ditched in a move that would be welcomed by struggling airlines and travel firms.

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency which spearheaded the Save Our Summer campaign, said his analysis showed there were around two dozen countries that could be taken off the red list due to their declining infection rates and low threat from variants.

These countries are: Argentina, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Oman, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Rwanda, South Africa and Uruguay.

He said the UK had higher levels of delta infection than most other countries and that there was "no scientific basis any more on which to prevent travel and enforce hotel quarantine".

But Mr Charles said the "jury is still out" on Turkey, which would likely remain on the red list over its infection data which he said was "difficult to interpret".

Last month, Turkish officials were optimistic about the prospect of being removed from Britain's red list but their hopes were dashed by UK Transport Minister Grant Shapps – but only Canada and six European territories were added to the green list.

UK travel: Green, amber and red list countries

"This Thursday, I hope we’ll see the prime minister abandoning the traffic light system and just having a red list, which itself will be reduced in size," Mr Charles told The National.

“A red-list focus only, along with a much smaller number of countries on that list as well as changes to the onerous PCR testing system, would boost consumer confidence enormously.

"We need to see the removal of pre-departure testing and the PCR Day 2 test for those fully-vaccinated and then future bookings would recover strongly."

Leo Jones, a commentator on UK airline and travel industry trends, said he agreed with the analysis by The PC Agency but issued caution to those hoping to book holidays to red-list destinations.

"We know what should happen, we believe there are around 24 to 26 countries that should be moving on to the amber or green list," he said.

"Again, it's all speculation. We've seen this movie so many times, when there are logical things we would like to see happen and then the government doesn't move with it."

More 300,000 people may have broken quarantine rules in England and Northern Ireland in the space of only three months, figures show, leading to criticism that the system was not working.

A Freedom of Information request showed that between March 17 and May 31 up to a third of people from amber-list countries may have avoided self-isolation entirely.

Heathrow demands removal of green-list testing

On Monday, Heathrow Airport urged the government to "streamline" international travel rules as it warned it had gone from being Europe's busiest airport in 2019 to number 10 on the list.

Under the airport's proposals, fully vaccinated arrivals from green-list locations would no longer be required to take a test, whereas those who are not fully vaccinated would need to take lateral flow tests pre-departure and post-arrival.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi hinted the government would abolish tests if they were deemed "unnecessary", after Britain's successful vaccination campaign which has fully inoculated 80 per cent of the eligible population.

"If we don't need a test, then we won't have that test. PCR tests did help us when we didn't have a successful vaccination programme", he said in a radio interview.

"As we have now double vaccinated at scale ... we won't have tests which are unnecessary, we will get rid of them."

Sean Tipton, a spokesman for travel agency body Abta, welcomed a move away from widespread PCR testing which he said was a "considerable barrier to travel" for families.

Travel used to be straightforward, now it's overcomplicated and that's putting people off
Sean Tipton

With summer holiday bookings for 2021 down 83 per cent on 2019, he said he feared for the future of the industry unless a significant number of restrictions were lifted.

Figures from Abta showed half of travel companies reported they have seen no increase in 2021 bookings compared to last year, and that 58 per cent of bookings with departure dates in July or August this year were postponed or cancelled.

"Travel used to be straightforward, now it's overcomplicated and that's putting people off", Mr Tipton told the National.

"Within the EU you can move around without restrictions if you've been double jabbed. That hasn't caused any problems. If I head off to Spain [on holiday] I just need to show I'm double jabbed.

"But coming back home you have to have two tests – one of which is a PCR test and they are not cheap. The logic doesn't seem to be there.

"From an industry perspective, all of these rules are extremely damaging. There have already been job losses and more are on the way."

Updated: September 16, 2021, 4:37 AM