International Travel

I have taken the liberty of providing a link to the speech that I made on travel in the relevant debate in Parliament recently. Please be assured that I have raised this issue in Parliament on a number of occasions:

Aviation, Travel and Tourism Industries - Thursday 10 June 2021 - Hansard - UK Parliament

International travel boosts businesses and underpins the UK economy. More than that, however, it brings people together, connects families who have been kept apart, and allows us to explore new horizons. While travel abroad this past year has been difficult, the hard work and sacrifices of the British people have allowed us to make enormous progress in tackling this pandemic, which made the first steps towards unlocking international travel possible. I am pleased that the Government has made a number of changes to further progress the safe, sustainable and robust restart of international travel.

As you will know, international travel is currently governed by a traffic light system. It categorises countries based on risk alongside the steps people will need to follow when returning from each category of country. This system protects the public and the vaccine rollout from COVID-19 variants of concern. 

Since 19th July, the Government no longer recommends against travel to amber list countries, providing peace of mind to people wishing to travel to amber list countries for leisure. Most people covered by the amber list rules, who have been fully vaccinated with an NHS vaccine, do not need to quarantine on arrival in England or take a COVID-19 test on day 8, provided it is at least 14 days after having completed their full vaccination course.

In practice, this means that amber and green list countries have the same requirements for those who have been fully vaccinated in the UK. However, those returning to England from an amber list country who are not fully vaccinated still need to abide by the standard amber restrictions, including both the day 2 and 8 PCR testing as well as the pre departure test and self-isolation. Children under 18 are also exempt from self-isolation and the day 8 test. They still need to complete a pre departure and day 2 test. Children between the ages of 5 and 10 only need to complete a day 2 test. 

It is important for people to note that travel will continue to be different this year. Passengers will still need to complete their passenger locator form when returning to the UK. If they are returning from an amber list country, they must provide proof of their pre-departure test and full vaccination status via the NHS app or the inclusive letter.

I am pleased that the policy on fully vaccinated passengers arriving from amber list countries has now been extended to include those who have been vaccinated in the United States and in Europe (EU Member States, EFTA countries and a number of European micro-state countries). This means that those vaccinated in the US and in Europe will not have to take a day 8 test or quarantine. They will, however, still be required to take a pre departure test before arrival into England as well as a PCR test on or before day 2 after arrival. The rules will also apply to British nationals vaccinated in these countries and returning to England.

Children under 18 who are ordinarily resident in the US and Europe will also be exempt from quarantine and the day 8 test. Children aged 11 and over will still need to complete a pre departure and day 2 test. Children between the ages of 5 and 10 will only need to complete a day 2 test, and children aged 4 and under do not need to take any tests.

Passengers vaccinated in Europe by a vaccine approved by the European Medicines Agency (and those vaccinated as part of the vaccine rollout in Switzerland) will be required to provide proof via an EU Digital COVID Certificate. Those vaccinated in the US will be required to provide proof via the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Card. The policy does not currently cover those who have proof of recovery from COVID-19.

As you may know, the coming changes to quarantine instructions for amber list countries will be extended to people fully vaccinated in the US and Europe only. While this may be frustrating, these measures are just the first step in recognising vaccines given in other countries. I understand that there are UK nationals resident in countries not included in the latest announcement who have been fully vaccinated, which is why the Government is working with international partners to ensure that our certification regimes are robust, and I hope to see this policy extended further in due course.

In the meantime, the Test to Release scheme remains an option for travellers returning from amber countries to shorten their quarantine period, by paying for a private test and being released early if they receive a negative COVID-19 test result.

While the risks posed by these variants remain significant, restrictions for inbound passengers such as ten-day managed quarantine, home quarantine, and stringent testing will remain in place. They apply to people differently depending on whether the destination visited is categorised as ‘green’, ‘amber’ or ‘red’.

The full list of countries in each category, as well as further detail on what you must do if you have been in these countries, can be found at the following link:

Since 17th May, people in England who have had the vaccine are able to demonstrate their COVID-19 vaccination status for outbound travel using the NHS App or letter. In due course, the app will also allow people to show evidence of recent negative tests or natural immunity as they travel out of the country. I understand that the Government is working with the devolved administrations to ensure this facility is available to people across the UK. 

More broadly, the UK continues to play a leading role in the development of international standards around a digital travel certification system which will allow people to travel safely.

Testing remains an essential part of protecting public health as restrictions begin to ease, with arrivals who are not exempt required to book both pre-departure, and post-arrival tests before travelling. Arrivals travelling from ‘red list’ countries will need to book a quarantine package before departure, and arrivals from ‘amber’ and ‘green’ countries will be required to book test packages before travelling from one of the Government’s approved list of providers. Testing post-arrival remains an important tool to manage the risk of imported cases, allowing the Government to monitor positive tests and ensure people isolate, as well as identify and genomically sequence variants of concern.

I am assured that Ministers are working with the travel industry and private testing providers to see how they can further reduce the cost of tests for the British public, while ensuring travel is as safe as possible. Thanks to this work, the cost of some tests have already fallen significantly, with some companies offering prices as low as £44. 

I understand that key factors in the assessment of each travel destination include the percentage of the destination’s population that have been vaccinated; the rate of infection; the prevalence of variants of concern; and the country’s access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing.

I am pleased that to give passengers more certainty when travelling, a ‘green watchlist’ has been introduced to help identify countries most at risk of moving from ‘green’ to ‘amber’. The watchlist will provide greater assurance for those who wish to travel abroad. While the watchlist will warn travellers of potential changes in advance, it is important that Ministers act with a safety first approach and the Government will, therefore, not hesitate to act immediately should the data show that countries risk ratings have changed. I am assured that the allocation of countries will be kept under review and respond to emerging evidence, with a particular focus on variants of concern.

The Department for Transport continues to speak to and work with travel operators on their decision to run flights to amber and red list countries. Flights to these regions remain operational, given that some travel to these destinations is essential, such as to visit an ill relative. Ultimately, it is an operator's responsibility to decide what flights they run, and passengers are urged to follow the Government's travel advice when deciding where to travel.

Many countries have rules in place about who can enter and what you can do when you are there. This includes 'green list' countries, who may have restrictions on UK travellers. The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) therefore advises people to check the entry and testing requirements before travelling, to ensure their entry will be permitted.

Foreign travel advice can be found at the following link:

Portugal has now been moved to the amber list, following increased concern about the spread of variants of coronavirus. I understand that there has been an almost doubling in the COVID-19 test positivity rate in Portugal since the first review for traffic light allocations, far exceeding the ONS estimated national positivity rate in the UK. More significantly, according to data published on GISAID, 68 cases of the Delta variant of concern have been identified in Portugal, including cases of the Delta variant with an additional, potentially detrimental, mutation. 

I appreciate that this will be a source of disappointment for many holidaymakers, but protecting public health is the Government's absolute priority, and the decision has been taken to minimise the risk of new variants being imported into the UK. The Government has also been clear that a cautious approach to reopening international travel is necessary, and therefore of the need to act swiftly with regards to classification changes. The FCDO travel advice has now been updated to reflect the latest risk assessments. Please continue to check these for the latest information.

As you are aware, the Government moved India, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE from the red to the amber list on 8th August, as the situation in these countries has improved. At present, the FCDO continues to advise against all but essential travel to Pakistan and Turkey, and these countries remains on the red list, based on the current assessment of Covid-19 risks. 

Key factors in the assessment of each travel destination include the percentage of the destination’s population that have been vaccinated; the rate of infection; the prevalence of variants of concern; and the country’s access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing. Unfortunately, whilst there are no known variants of concern in the country, Pakistan still has a low vaccine rate, and its coronavirus numbers are rising fast with a 9 per cent positivity rate.

I appreciate that this will be a source of disappointment for many travellers, but protecting public health is the Government's absolute priority, and has also been clear that a cautious approach to international travel is necessary at present. The data for all countries will be kept under review. Please continue to check these for the latest information.

Currently, all travellers arriving in England from abroad must follow entry rules, regardless of vaccination status.

When travelling, people can show their Covid-19 vaccination status as proof of their status when travelling abroad. As there are not currently many countries that accept proof of vaccination, people will still need to follow other rules when travelling abroad, such as getting a negative pre-departure test.

However, the Government believes that Covid-19 status certification could have an important role to play both domestically and internationally as a temporary measure in the future. Vaccination also remains the most effective way for people to protect themselves and communities, both at home and abroad, as we work to defeat this virus.

As we look to the future, it is especially promising that there is also now evidence that vaccines are effective at protecting against infection and transmission. Analysis on the direct and indirect impact of the vaccination programme on infections suggests that vaccines have prevented between 6.4 and 7.9 million infections. I therefore welcome the Government's hopes that later in the summer, people who are fully vaccinated will not have to quarantine when travelling from amber list countries. 

Government announcements which concern updates to the red, amber and green lists stipulate a date and time that updated restrictions for inbound passengers for a particular country come into effect. These measures are brought in as quickly as possible, but the Government does need a short period of time to operationalise the changes at the border.

The Government have been consistently clear that travel is not risk free, and that it will take decisive action when updating the traffic light system in order to protect our vaccine rollout from variants of concern. Protecting public health is the Government's absolute priority, and rapid decisions are taken to limit any potential spread of coronavirus to the UK. I am satisfied that the current traffic light policy provides the rapid response necessary to limit the spread of variants of concern through international travel.

I understand the European Commission has proposed a 'digital green pass' certification scheme, to allow travel across Europe. The aim is to provide proof that a person has been vaccinated, as well as test results for those who have not yet been inoculated. The Health Secretary has stated that Britain is working with the EU and countries around the world on reviving international travel.

While the Government continues to prioritise public health, I welcome that we are in a position to continue to safely reopen international travel this summer, particularly after a challenging year for the aviation and travel industries, upon which so many hundreds of thousands of jobs rely.

The risk posed by individual countries will remain monitored and the green, amber and red lists will continue to be updated every three weeks. The traffic light system will also be reviewed at checkpoints later in the year, taking into account the latest domestic and international data.