England readies major shake-up of Covid-19 travel rules

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British Airways plane at Heathrow [Credit: Timothy Bolitho/Shutterstock.com]
British Airways CEO Sean Doyle said, "We welcome the simplification of the traffic-light system." Photo Credit: Timothy Bolitho/Shutterstock

The current traffic-light system for arrivals into England will be replaced by a single red list with simplified measures for the rest of the world, U.K. transport secretary Grant Shapps announced Sept. 17. The new system will come into effect at 4 a.m. on Oct. 4.

White House [Credit: Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock.com]
Easing restrictions

Beginning in November, the Biden administration will again allow inbound travel, requiring all foreign nationals flying into the U.S. to be fully vaccinated.

Additionally, pre-departure Covid-19 tests will be scrapped for people arriving in England from countries not on the red list and who are doubly vaccinated. The government also has indicated that vaccinations from 17 further countries, including Canada, Israel, Japan and Singapore, would be accepted.

Shapps has also indicated that second-day PCR tests will be replaced by cheaper lateral flow tests beginning at the end of October.

Testing for unvaccinated passengers from non-red countries will continue to include pre-departure tests, day-two and day-eight PCR tests.

"Today's changes mean a simpler, more straightforward system," Shapps said. "One with less testing and lower costs, allowing more people to travel, see loved ones or conduct business around the world while providing a boost for the travel industry.

"Public health has always been at the heart of our international travel policy, and with more than 8 in 10 adults vaccinated in the U.K., we are now able to introduce a proportionate updated structure that reflects the new landscape."

The government also announced that Turkey, Pakistan, the Maldives, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Oman, Bangladesh and Kenya would be removed from the red list at 4 a.m. on Sept. 22. The rules for international travel are devolved in the U.K., and it remains to be seen whether Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will follow suit.

Business travel industry reacts

The business travel industry welcomed the planned simplification of the traffic-light system, although some criticized the delay in its implementation and others called for a wider international travel overhaul, including the opening up of U.K.-U.S. traffic. Several industry executives issued statements on the change. 

Business Travel Association CEO Clive Wratten: "We are delighted that the government has finally simplified the restrictions around international travel. It is imperative that there is no more yo-yoing nor re-introduction of unnecessary regulations. Safe travel is essential for our economy and position as a truly global Britain. We ask the government to now lead the way in establishing international protocols that safeguard the future of the travel industry. It is only once all countries have the confidence to open their borders that our industry can truly recover."

American Express Global Business Travel chief commercial officer Andrew Crawley: "We are pleased the government is introducing a more streamlined system to minimize confusion and give travelers more confidence. However, waiting weeks to implement reforms means our economy will miss out on billions in revenue that the travel industry could be generating -- especially since this is usually one of the busiest periods for business travel. The U.K. economy is losing more than £4 billion a week due to restrictions hindering recovery. Previous travel system changes have been brought in within days. Why do we have to wait weeks? The government must do better."

Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss: "To ensure that Britain's global ambitions are met, the vaccination status of those travelers receiving a full dose in countries like India and Hong Kong must be recognized, ensuring they are able to take advantage of the simplified travel rules. Additionally, the red list should focus purely on variants of concern, in order to protect public health, therefore it's imperative to rapidly and continuously remove countries that don't pose a threat, in order to open travel back up to countries like South Africa.

"We urge the U.K. government to use the Prime Minister's upcoming visit to the USA to work with the Biden administration to remove transatlantic restrictions for U.K. citizens, just as the U.K. has done for U.S. travelers, helping loved ones to reunite safely and businesses to restore ties with our largest trading partner.

"The U.S. already allows entry for travelers from Dubai, Turkey and much of South America for example. With the high rate of vaccination in the U.K. -- 81% of U.K. adults have received both jabs -- there is no reason to deny U.K. citizens from entering the U.S. safely, and no reason to delay."

British Airways CEO and chairman Sean Doyle: "We welcome the simplification of the traffic light system, and the changes to the testing requirements allowing U.K. travelers to benefit from our world-leading vaccination program and finally giving customers and business the confidence to book the journeys they've been waiting for. 

"Based on the scientific evidence, with fewer than 1% of people returning from low-risk countries testing positive for Covid (lower than the U.K.'s rate), we urge ministers to keep this policy under review, eliminating all testing for fully vaccinated travelers as soon as possible in the future, in line with most other European countries." 

Association of British Travel Agents chief executive Mark Tanzer: "Today's announcement is a good step in the right direction, but it will not in itself be enough to undo two years of damage to the overseas travel industry, caused as a direct result of government policies. Targeted financial support for travel agents and tour operators is the only way to make good this damage and stem further job losses following on from the nearly 100,000 jobs which have already been lost in the outbound travel sector.

"As these new measures apply to England, we urge the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to update their international travel policies as soon as possible."

Source: Business Travel News

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