As ministers meet to decide on changes to the “traffic light” system for arriving travelers, airlines, vacation companies, travel agents and unions demand that the government expand ” green list ”of destinations without quarantine – and reveals the data on which the decisions are based.
They also want news on plans that have been widely leaked to allow fully vaccinated travelers to avoid quarantine.
These are the key question and the answers.
Just remind me what’s going on?
In the second of three weekly reviews of the risk management traffic light system, ministers decide whether countries should be shuffled between the “red list” (requiring hotel quarantine), the “amber list” (self-isolation) and the green list without quarantine.
Currently, 50 countries, including India, UAE, Turkey, Egypt, South Africa and all of South America, are on the red list. The only viable destinations currently on the green list are Gibraltar and Iceland.
The Orange List contains almost all of the UK’s favorite destinations, including Spain, France, Portugal, Italy, Croatia, Greece, and the United States.
The first traffic light review, on June 3, was fully disclosed before Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced Portugal would abruptly switch from green to amber – sparking an exodus of vacationers from the only destination holidays on the non-quarantine list.
The transport secretary can also make an announcement on when fully vaccinated arrivals from Amber List countries could avoid quarantine, and the testing regime for Green List countries.
Who decides – and what criteria are used?
A destination may be on the green list if coronavirus infection rates, ‘variants of concern’ and the number of connecting international passengers are low, while vaccine deployment, data reliability and genomic sequencing capacity are high.
The Joint Biosafety Center makes recommendations and decisions on country categories are made by ministers, including Grant Shapps and Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
But it seems there is more to decisions than data: there is no apparent reason why Malta should not be on the green list.
Despite a minister saying otherwise, the Mediterranean nation has a better immunization record than the UK, along with low rates and negligible variants of concern.
The travel industry calls for transparency about the data that drives decisions. Brian Strutton, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa), accused the government of “making political decisions on the shoe”.
He said: “No one knows why countries are categorized as green, amber, red. There has been no publication of the data that goes with it.
“How can an industry function if it doesn’t know what’s going on? We told the government to be open and transparent.
A spokesperson for the Department of Transport (DfT) said: “Our international travel policy is guided by an overwhelming priority – public health.”
Who is for the green list?
According to Mr Strutton of the pilots’ union, a wide range of destinations: Malta, the Balearic and Canary Islands of Spain; some of the Greek islands; the United States and certain Caribbean islands.
“I expect an expansion of the green list. In fact, there must be. We’re almost at the point of no return for travel this summer. If we don’t start flying to a suitable destination very, very soon, then we’re going to have bankruptcies and business failures.
“I hear suggestions like ‘Maybe in August’. Well, that won’t be good enough. We need to fly now.
Analysts agree that Malta is clearly a favorite. Paul Charles, managing director of travel consultancy The PC Agency, adds that Madeira should be back to green; with the rest of Portugal it went from green to amber three weeks ago.
He says he doesn’t expect more than five countries to be added, even though data indicates more should be eligible.
Robert Boyle of Gridpoint Consulting – former chief strategy officer at BA’s parent company, IAG – warns: “Several countries should have been added in the last review based on their case rate, and none have. summer.
“So if the traffic lights will stay stuck on amber / red on the next exam, everyone can guess at this point.”
What about trips to or from the red list?
Robert Boyle said: “I suspect Malaysia could be added to the Red List, as it was one of the few Amber List countries where recent arrival test figures have shown high levels of positive tests. (8.3%) and there is a high number of reported cases. rate. It is already on the list of German countries reported as a “high incidence area”.
Writing in his blog, he speculates that one of the UK’s favorite countries could move in the opposite direction: “It is possible that Turkey will go from red to amber because cases have gone down well. “
Many people are hopeful that Qatar and the United Arab Emirates will turn from red to amber. But the original reason for their high risk rating, that they have global aviation hubs, has not changed.
Some British expats see Malta as a great place to ‘whitewash’ their Red List status. If the Mediterranean nation goes green, it will provide an attractive and inexpensive place to spend 10 full days and eliminate the need to stay in a quarantine hotel.
What could happen in terms of vaccination as an alternative to quarantine?
At some point, the UK government will surely adopt the ‘quarantine or vaccination’ model that the travel industry has demanded, and some other countries have been using for months. The question is when.
Speaking at the Downing Street press conference on Wednesday, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “We will continue to work with other countries, with the travel task force, to see how we can build on all this very good progress, on the progress of vaccination. , so that we can have the use of double vaccination – with testing – to further open up the economy. “
“We are looking at all of this right now to see how we can further open up our economy and of course make sure we are working with other countries to make travel easier on a global scale as we need to put the travel industry back on. foot. . “
But Mr Zahawi added: “No one is safe until we are all safe.”
Travel agents don’t feel safe. Jill Waite, Director of Pole Travel in Manchester, said: “Consumer confidence is at an all-time low. Even if we add more countries to the green list, companies won’t get there now.
“We have lost a lot of summer income, which normally allows us to get through the winter. So we are all going to fight now until at least next March. “
The government has a “checkpoint” to review the operation of the entire traffic light system – as opposed to which country goes into which category – on Monday, June 28. Therefore, other announcements may be delayed until then.
Paul Charles expects an imminent ruling that fully bitten British citizens returning from Orange Nations should avoid quarantine. It is not clear whether vaccinated foreign travelers would enjoy the same privilege.
In addition, the current requirement for people coming from low-risk destinations to take a PCR test after arrival is likely to be dropped – not least because if people returned from abroad in droves, the testing system current will not be able to to keep up with demand.
When would such changes be introduced?
This is the crucial question. The travel industry wants them as soon as possible, ideally July 19, when domestic restrictions in England are relaxed. But some sources suggest that nothing will happen until August.
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of Abta, the travel association, said: “We would really like to see an announcement that if you’ve been doubly vaccinated you don’t need to quarantine. It would be a big confidence boost for now and for later in the summer. It would make money for businesses. “
The growing number of coronavirus cases in the UK may make ministers shy. But according to Robert Boyle, continuing to prevent the British from going abroad could be counterproductive.
‘I think the short-term risk for the number of UK cases of millions of UK holidaymakers crowding together on crowded UK beaches could be much higher than if they were allowed to fly abroad “he said.
What about the attitude of overseas countries?
Many destinations are alarmed by the increasing number of UK cases and the prevalence of the Delta variant. Countries like Germany, the Netherlands and Italy are insisting on quarantining UK arrivals.
But as tourism-dependent countries seek to balance public health and national wealth, British holidaymakers should be warmly welcomed around the Mediterranean this summer.