UK travel rules relaxed as amber list scrapped

Fully vaccinated travellers from recognised nations no longer have to self-isolate on arrival

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The UK government relaxed its rules on Monday, reopening the country to millions of international passengers for quarantine-free travel.

New measures aimed at making travel to the UK “easier and cheaper” have significantly reduced the burden for fully vaccinated passengers entering the country.

Fully vaccinated passengers arriving in England from approved countries and unvaccinated travellers under the age of 18 are not required to complete a pre-departure lateral flow test, take a day-eight post-arrival PCR test costing about £65, or self-isolate upon arrival.

The only Covid requirement which remains is a single test taken two days after the arrival.

The changes made by the UK government apply only to England, but Scotland and Wales have adopted the same measures.

As of Monday, 18 nations had been added to the list of countries from which the UK government recognises vaccine passports. The UAE missed out in the original announcement, but was added shortly after.

This means there are now more than 50 countries and territories from which travellers can enter England without being required to self-isolate if they had received two doses of the approved Covid-19 vaccines, namely Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Moderna, in addition to the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The new system has swapped the old green, amber and red lists for a two-way scheme, which places countries either on the red list or off it. The changes came into effect at 4am on Monday.

Jamie Smith, a British citizen, said the relaxation of rules had made his long-awaited trip to Dubai possible, after the Covid-19 pandemic forced him to reschedule it five times.

“Finally the day has come, another negative PCR test completed and we’re ready to head to Heathrow to escape empty petrol stations and rain for sunny Dubai,” he said on Twitter.

The reopening of UK travel for millions of people around the world comes as 54 nations deemed to be high-risk remain on the red list.

Reports suggest this figure could be slashed to as low as nine later this week. Destinations such as Brazil, Mexico and South Africa are tipped to be opened up for quarantine-free travel.

People arriving from a red-tier destination will still be required to spend 11 nights at a quarantine hotel costing £2,285 for solo travellers. But under 11s were already exempt from pre-departure testing.

The government’s changes come ahead of the UK school half-term, in the last week of October.

In recent weeks Heathrow Airport in west London has been hit by problems at Border Force and e-gates in arrival lounges, which have caused huge queues. Passengers have reported being kept in corridors for hours, making it impossible to ensure social distancing.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the lifting of some of the restrictions would offer a boost for the travel industry.

“We are accelerating towards a future where travel continues to reopen safely and remains open for good, and today’s rule changes are good news for families, businesses and the travel sector,” he said.

“Our priority remains to protect public health but, with more than eight in 10 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.”

Some airlines have accused the government of being too slow to relax and simplify the rules for international travel.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, a trade body representing UK carriers, said things were moving in the right direction.

"The removal of these restrictions will make it easier and cheaper for people to travel," said Mr Alderslade.

“We’ve seen a good response to the announcement in terms of bookings and, given current trends, we would hope to see more countries come off the red list and further mutual recognition of vaccine status.

“There is still much to do though. This is not job done, and ministers need to keep in mind that we remain an outlier on arrivals testing for vaccinated passengers.

In the short-term, the removal of PCR testing by the October half-term week is critical, he said.

"We look forward to clarity on the start date for this as soon as possible.”

A date has yet to be announced for when eligible fully vaccinated travellers arriving in England will be able to use a cheaper lateral flow test rather than a PCR version for the day-two test.

The Department for Transport said the Government “aims to have it in place for when people return from half-term breaks”.

Updated: November 22, 2021, 9:00 AM