Overseas Travel

‘Traffic Light’ System Is Gone, but PCR Tests Will Remain for Now

Brits – vaccinated or otherwise – returning from their holidays abroad will still be forced to fork out for expensive PCR tests at least until the end of October, the Department for Transport has announced, despite the scrapping of the ‘traffic light’ travel system. The Telegraph has the story.

The Department for Transport warned that expensive PCR tests will still be required for fully jabbed travellers returning from holiday until the end of next month, and may not be removed before the back end of the half-term week, which starts on October 25th.

Even if the Government scraps them in time, fully vaccinated travellers will still face lateral flow or rapid antigen tests, which the Telegraph found on Friday being sold by Government-approved private providers for as much as £150.

Airline and airport chiefs said the “unnecessary” continued testing of jabbed holidaymakers and business travellers made travel less affordable and put the U.K. at a disadvantage to Europe.

It came as the Government removed the traffic light system by merging its Green and Amber Lists of countries, which means unvaccinated travellers will have to quarantine on return from any foreign country. Eight ‘winter sun’ countries including Egypt, Kenya and Turkey will come off the red list.

Johan Lundgren, the Chief Executive of easyJet, said: “Since July 1st, there has been no testing at all for vaccinated travellers within the rest of Europe, and this is why the U.K. will continue to fall further behind the rest of Europe if this remains.”

John Holland-Kaye, the Chief Executive of Heathrow Airport, said: “The decision to require fully vaccinated passengers to take more costly private lateral flow tests is an unnecessary barrier to travel, which keeps the U.K. out of step with the rest of the EU.” …

The Department for Transport told industry chiefs it could scrap PCR tests for the fully jabbed by October 23, but officially it said it aimed “to have it in place for when people return from half-term breaks”.

A Telegraph analysis of lateral flow/antigen tests on the Gov.uk website found the most expensive to be £150, offered by The Private GP Clinic in Sevenoaks, Kent, which compared with the cheapest at £14.99 offered by O Covid Clear.

Worth reading in full.

More than 20 Countries Could Be Moved from the ‘Red List’ to the ‘Green List’ This Week

A good number of countries, including Egypt, Argentina and Turkey, could be moved from the ‘Red’ to the ‘Green List’ later this week in the latest travel review. But for unvaccinated Brits, it is possible this classification could soon become obsolete given that a new travel system is being cooked up based purely on vaccination status. MailOnline has the story.

The Government is expected to announce changes to the U.K. ‘traffic light’ system this Thursday in the latest review, amid reports the regime could be scrapped altogether by next month.

Paul Charles, CEO of the PC Agency travel consultancy, told MailOnline: “With no new Variants of Concern since early May, and with the U.K. having higher levels of Delta infection than most other countries, there is no reason to keep so many countries on the Red List. 

“It can be sharply reduced in size to help Global Britain, as well as the travel sector, recover strongly. There is no scientific basis anymore on which to prevent travel and enforce hotel quarantine from a vast swathe of the existing list.”

Ministers introduced new rules for travellers into Britain this year to slow the spread of the virus and stop new variants from abroad arriving in the country and causing havoc.

People coming from Red List countries have to quarantine in state-approved hotels for 10 days at a cost of £2,285 and take three tests – one before the return and two on days two and eight after arrival.

Those who are unjabbed coming from ‘Amber List’ destinations are forced to self-isolate for 10 days at home and take three tests. However, the double-jabbed only have to take two tests.

People coming from Green List countries don’t have to quarantine and have to provide evidence of two negative Covid tests – one before returning to the U.K. and one on day two.

However, Whitehall officials are said to be developing a new system based on Covid vaccination status rather than the prevalence of the virus in other countries…

This means that Amber and Green destinations could be removed, although the Red List will remain in place.

Worth reading in full.

Nearly a Third of Arrivals between March and May Suspected of Having Broken Quarantine Rules

Close to a third of people arriving in England and Northern Ireland between the months March and May are believed to have broken quarantine rules, but the Government can’t say exactly how many cases have been proved. BBC News has the story.

More than 300,000 cases were passed to investigators between March and May, according to figures seen by the BBC.

The Government was not able to say how many of these were found to have broken the rules or could not be traced. 

The Home Office has said it aims to pay home visits to all travellers suspected of not following the rules. …

From March 17th to May 31st more than a million people arrived in England and Northern Ireland from ‘Amber List’ countries. 

Figures for this period obtained under Freedom of Information laws show a total of 301,076 cases were referred to investigators for checks on whether they were self-isolating.

During this time, the highly contagious Delta variant of coronavirus – first detected in India – was spreading rapidly through the country.

Call handlers employed by the Department of Health and Social Care were tasked with contacting arrivals to check they were obeying the self-isolation and testing rules. 

Cases where the contact ended the call, refused to co-operate, indicated they would break the quarantine or testing rules, or could not be contacted after three attempts were referred to investigators at the Border Force Criminal Justice Unit and the police. 

Officers would then attempt to visit the contact at home to check they were following the rules. 

After April 26th, the Home Office hired private contractor Mitie to carry out home visits to international travellers required to isolate, from contacts supplied by NHS Test and Trace.

“We visit over 99% of the cases referred to this service by NHS Test and Trace,” a Government spokesman said. …

Lucy Moreton, of the Immigration Services Union, said the quarantine system “very much relied on the honesty of people to do the right thing, rather than any type of meaningful enforcement”.

Worth reading in full.

‘Traffic Light’ Travel System Could Be Scrapped Next Month – Only to Be Replaced by New System Based on Covid Vaccination

There’s good news and bad news on the travel front today. The good news is that the ‘traffic light’ travel system could be (partially) scrapped next month under plans being drawn up by ministers. The bad news is that officials have been told not to allow a return to normal but to create a new system based on Covid vaccination instead. The Telegraph has the story.

Officials have been told to develop a new system based on the vaccination status of travellers rather than the Covid rating of the country they are visiting.

It is likely to mean ‘Amber’ and ‘Green’ will disappear as separate categories, although ‘Red’ will continue with travellers still required to quarantine in hotels on returning from high-risk destinations.

Double jabbed holidaymakers can already travel to Amber countries without having to quarantine on their return after the Government ditched the requirement to self-isolate.

It means that for fully vaccinated travellers, visiting Amber or Green countries is exactly the same, requiring only pre-departure tests and then a PCR test within two days of returning to the U.K.

The proposed new two-tier system is only likely to have an impact on those who are not vaccinated. It is unclear, however, whether they would be required to continue to quarantine or face a more intensive testing regime on returning to the U.K.

The rethink of the traffic light system has been triggered by the Government’s promise to review it by October 1st when it was originally unveiled earlier this year.

It also coincides with the completion of the vaccination roll-out with all adults aged 18 and over offered both their jabs by the end of September.

Worth reading in full.

Handful of Countries Added to the Travel ‘Green List’

The Government’s ‘traffic light’ travel lists have been updated again, with just seven countries set to join the ‘Green List’. But Canada, which is one of these seven countries, currently has a ban on Britons travelling over anyway. BBC News has the story.

Canada and Denmark are among seven countries moving to the Green List in the latest changes to Covid restrictions.

Thailand and Montenegro are being added to the U.K. Government’s ‘Red List’ – meaning they are considered to be among the highest-risk destinations.

Finland, the Azores, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Lithuania are also moving to the Green List.

The changes will come into force at 4am on Monday.

Travellers coming from Green List countries do not have to quarantine when they come back to the U.K. – whether or not they have had two doses of a coronavirus vaccine. They still have to be tested before leaving the U.K. however and upon their return, and fill in a passenger location form. 

But while Canada is on the Green List, it currently has a ban on British nationals entering the country. 

Only U.K. or Irish nationals, or U.K. residents, are allowed in to the U.K. if they have been to Red List countries. They then have to pay to self-isolate in a Government-approved quarantine hotel. [Good luck to them!] …

Airlines U.K., which represents U.K.-registered carriers, said the “small number of green destinations” was making international travel “more expensive, burdensome and uncertain compared to other countries”. …

Charlie Cornish, Chief Executive of Manchester Airports Group which operates Manchester, London Stansted and East Midlands airports, said the changes to the travel traffic light system will make “little difference” to the recovery of the travel industry and called on the Government to “overhaul” it.

Worth reading in full.

Dozens of Covid Test Providers to Be Removed From Gov.uk Website

Following numerous reports of Government-approved travel testing companies failing to hand over thousands of results a week, despite holidaymakers parting with hefty sums for their services, more than 50 companies are due to be removed from the approved providers list on the Gov.uk site. Sky News has the story.

The move comes following a review of pricing and service standards from those offering day two and day eight tests for people arriving in the U.K. from overseas.

The review was announced earlier this month due to concerns that many of the companies – which are on a Government list of Covid testing services – lacked full accreditation and were charging too much.

Some 57 companies will be removed from the list as they no longer exist or they do not provide the relevant testing services.

82 companies – around 18% of those listed as offering day two and day eight tests – were found to be displaying lower prices on Gov.uk than they do on their own websites.

Those companies will be given a final warning this week and face removal from the list if they advertise misleading prices again.

There will also be regular spot checks to make sure prices are accurate, providers are legitimate, and that the company name has not simply been changed to get back on the list. …

In future, companies will be removed from the Government’s list if they do not correct problems within three days of their first warning. …

Analysis of the list by the Liberal Democrats at that time showed just 11% of the providers offered tests for under £50 but 24% of the providers were charging more than £200.

One GP clinic was listed as offering the tests for £575 on Gov.uk, although its own website said prices started at £399.

Worth reading in full.

English Rules on International Travel Have Changed 50 Times Since the First Lockdown, Analysis Shows

Feel confused about the rules on international travel? No wonder: analysis by PA news agency shows that, in England alone, they have been changed 50 times since the first lockdown. And next week, the Government will change them again! Sky News has the story.

The Green, Amber, and Red travel lists have been updated every three weeks since they were introduced in May with the list of quarantine-free travel corridors changing nearly every week during its existence between July 2020 and January 2021.

Many holidaymakers have been forced to cut trips short and rush home before tougher rules for arrivals from their destination were introduced, including Transport Secretary Grant Shapps who was caught out when Spain was removed from the travel corridors list after being on it for just 16 days.

The travel industry has expressed dismay at the “constant rollercoaster” of alteration and has called for regulations to be made simpler.

Chief Executive of travel trade association ABTA, Mark Tanzer, said fears about the status of a destination being changed are “reducing the public’s confidence about taking an overseas break” and urged the Government to be “much clearer about the data and rationale” behind its decisions. …

Johan Lundgren, the Chief Executive of easyJet, said: “It’s no wonder that consumers in the U.K. are confused.”

“Now is the time for the Government to simplify the rules around travel, make Green truly Green and restriction-free, remove expensive and unnecessary testing requirements for the fully vaccinated travelling from Amber countries, and put an end to this constant rollercoaster of changes,” he added. …

The next update to the traffic light lists is due next week.

Worth reading in full.

Firms Charging Well Over The Advertised Cost for PCR Tests

PCR test providers are charging British holidaymakers up to four times more than the official advertised price for tests. In a bid to force “cowboy” firms to bring their prices down, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has lowered the price of NHS Test and Trace tests for some travellers from £88 to £68, still costing more than £270 for a family of four. The Telegraph has more.

Companies are claiming they can provide tests for as little as £20, which pushes them to the top of the Government’s list of approved travel test providers because they are the cheapest.

But once the potential customer clicks on to the firm’s website, they find the real prices are up to four times more than they claimed.

Others were found to be offering a cheap price but it was only available at one of their sites and only if the customer visited in person. This meant that for the vast majority of those who click on to them, they will only be available at the higher price. …

The Telegraph investigation found 247 HomeTesting, using North London Laboratory, was listed by the Government at £20 for an on-site test but charged £80 when people clicked through to its website. It lowered the price to £69 after being contacted by this newspaper.

Abicare Health was listed at £20 for a self-swab at home on the Government website. But those arriving from Green List countries for a day two test would actually have to pay £75 for a home test. The firm has been contacted for comment. 

1Rapid Clinics, using Nonacus Ltd, was listed by the Government as charging £23 for a day two home test. But this price was only applicable if  the kit was collected from their site in Marylebone, London.

A test for a trip to a Green List country delivered to a prospective holidaymaker’s home would cost £84. An on-site test was listed at £70. The firm has been contacted for comment. …

Karen Dee, the chief executive of the Airport Operators’ Association, said the Government’s measures [of slightly lowering the cost of its own testing services] were “little more than tinkering” and did not “go anywhere near far enough to meaningfully cut the costs of travel.”

Worth reading in full.

Cap Cost of Covid Tests at £40, Government Told by Tory MPs

Brits are being priced out of holidays abroad due to the hefty costs of PCR tests, which Tory MPs say should be capped at £40 and scrapped altogether for holidaymakers returning to the U.K. from ‘low risk’ countries. The Telegraph has the story.

Senior Conservative MPs are calling on Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, to take immediate action to end “rip-off” prices of PCR tests that still average £75 per person and risk turning foreign holidays into the “preserve only of the wealthy”.

Writing for the Telegraph, Henry Smith, the Tory Chairman of the All-Party Future of Aviation Group said the Government should cap PCR tests at around £40 and scrap them for holidaymakers returning from “low-risk” countries.

“The rationale for the testing regime looks increasingly dubious. Why not, instead, sample a random group of arrivals rather than require everyone to pay for tests frequently run by shoddy companies failing to deliver tests on time and guilty of making hugely misleading price claims?” he wrote.

He was backed by Huw Merriman, Chairman of the Transport Select Committee, who published a letter he has sent to Mr Javid in which he urged the Government to give “serious consideration” to more “affordable” tests and rethink the need for PCR tests for passengers from Green and Amber List countries.

“The high cost, poor quality and lack of sequencing from PCR tests needs to be urgently addressed by the Government. They are an unnecessary barrier to affordable international travel,” he said. …

David Davis, a former Cabinet minister, said it would be “perfectly sensible” to cap test costs to prevent profiteering and axe the 20% VAT charge on PCR tests, which the Government say are necessary to prevent the import of Covid variants. …

Sir Graham Brady, Chairman of the powerful 1922 Conservative backbench committee, said: “Analysis of test results shows fewer positive test results than in the general population. If the Government is mandating so many tests, then it should also require providers to offer them at a reasonable cost.” …

Fewer than one in 50 travellers from Red or Amber countries are testing positive for Covid, while only one in 20 of those positive tests are being genome sequenced for variants because the presence of the virus in the samples is “vanishingly small” after being suppressed by the vaccine.

Worth reading in full.

Brit Complains of Rodent Infestation at £1,750 Quarantine Hotel

There have been numerous reports of “prison-like” conditions at quarantine hotels, where travellers from Red List countries must self-isolate for 10 days, costing them £1,750. Despite this, conditions appear to have reached a new low, with one Brit staying in a Heathrow hotel saying he has had to move room twice due to a rodent infestation. Sky News has the story.

Anthony, 25, who did not want to give a surname, said he has seen an animal in his room on two occasions.

He told Sky News: “It’s hell. It’s shocking. It’s a health & safety hazard… The hotel has to be shut down.”

Anthony is paying £1,750 to stay at Government-approved Mercure Heathrow Hotel on his return from a visit to Brazil, a Red List country.

He claims staff have apologised, offered him free beer, but no refund.

In a statement, Mercure Hotels said: “An external pest control professional has checked the hotel and concluded no evidence of pest activity. We take complaints such as this very seriously.” …

Anthony said: “There would have been rats wandering around when I was sleeping, crawling on tables & cutlery, sniffing cups, in the bin… Rats carry diseases.”

“At 1.30am I saw a rat come from behind the fridge into view,” he added.

“I talked to security. They moved me into a new room.”

As he changed room, he said another guest asked: “Have you got one in your room as well?”

Anthony said hotel staff have admitted those in other rooms have had similar problems with rodents. There is no cleaning service for the full ten-day stay due to Covid measures.

Worth reading in full.