The Government published its report into the re-opening foreign travel today. You can read it here.
The good news is that holidays are still on track to be allowed from 17th May – but the lack of clarity on where or how this can happen means that there is little that you can do in practice.
The bad news is that everyone will need to take a PCR test – often priced above £100 – within two days of returning to the UK.
The reaction of low-cost airline Jet2 tells you all you need to know about this move. It immediately cancelled all flights until at least 23rd June. How many people will want to pay more for a PCR test then they did for the flights themselves?
The Government confirmed the reports which have been leaked over recent days. Destinations will be grouped into three categories – Green, Amber or Red. Unfortunately, the list of countries in each category will not be published until nearer 17th May.
Note that everything written below applies only to England. Both the Scottish and Welsh assemblies have implied that they will continue to restrict travel beyond 17th May.
How will each category be treated?
This is what each category will require from 17th May:
Green (potentially US, Caribbean, Malta, UAE, Israel)
Test required before your return flight and a PCR test within two days of returning to the UK. No quarantine required.
Amber (potentially Europe)
Test required before your return flight. 10 days of home quarantine required. A PCR test must be taken on Day 2 and Day 8 – you can be released from home quarantine early, on Day 5, if you take an additional PCR test.
Test required before your return flight. 10 days of hotel quarantine required, to include two PCR tests. No early release possible.
Can I use NHS PCR testing?
No. The Global Travel Taskforce findings specifically state that “NHS tests at no cost for those with symptoms will not be permitted for use in international travel.”
This is ironic, given that NHS PCR testing is currently running at less than 50% of capacity, according to this graph from the government data dashboard. The grey line is capacity whilst the blue is tests conducted (click to enlarge):
Other questions answered
Will a ‘declaration of travel’ form be required to leave the UK?
No. These will be scrapped on 17th May.
Will the cheaper lateral flow tests be accepted before a return flight?
It seems so. This would include the Qured test that British Airways is promoting and which we tested out.
However, you will still need to complete a PCR test within two days of arriving in the UK.
Will I still need to fill in a ‘Passenger Locator Form’ before I return to the UK?
Do I really need to pay £100+ per person for a PCR test when I return from a Green country?
At present, yes. The Government seems keen to stick to this. Including the pre-departure lateral flow tests, a family of four would still face a £500+ testing bill.
Additional costs will be required if the country you are visiting has any testing requirements of its own, which is highly likely.
Is there any firm decision on the introduction of ‘vaccine passports’?
It is certain that some countries will insist on proof of vaccination before you can enter. It not certain if the UK Government is willing to provide such proof although the signs are good.
Will countries still move between categories at short notice?
Hopefully not. There is discussion of a ‘Green watchlist’ category being introduced which would give early warning of countries which could be moved. The notice period may also be extended to 7-14 days.
Since a key factor in category assignment will be the level of vaccination, however, it is less likely than in Summer 2020 that countries will move to a more restrictive category.
How will airports cope, given that waits of 6+ hours at immigration are already happening?
The current ‘passenger locator form’ is not automatically checked on submission. This means that, when it is not complete, it has to be manually filled in by an immigration official.
The website will be changed so that incomplete forms cannot be submitted. They will also be linked to passport numbers so that those arriving from Green countries can begin to use e-gates again.
When will the rules be reviewed again?
Fresh reviews are set for 28th June, 31st July and 1st October.
These reviews would decide if the testing requirements could be changed so that, for example, home quarantine was no longer required for visits to an ‘Amber’ country.
Reviews of which countries sit on the Green, Amber and Red lists will be ongoing.
The immediate feedback from the travel industry to the report has been dismay at the lack of clarity offered. Airlines and tour operators are being expected to put schedules together with potentially less than 14 days notice from the publication of the initial Green, Amber and Red lists.
Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK which represents British Airways amongst others, said it was “a further setback for an industry on its knees”.
The requirement for PCR testing on the return is another blow. Whilst the Government is formally sticking to its 17th May re-opening date, in reality it is putting up significant hurdles for travellers, particularly for more price-sensitive travellers. The issue would be alleviated if NHS tests are accepted, although this is extremely unlikely.