Boris Johnson to unveil 'traffic light' rating system for foreign trips

3 April 2021, 23:37 | Updated: 5 April 2021, 15:51

Downing Street has unveiled plans for a "traffic light" system for foreign travel as restrictions ease.
Downing Street has unveiled plans for a "traffic light" system for foreign travel as restrictions ease. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

Boris Johnson is expected to outline further details of a traffic light system for international travel later today in a key Easter Monday update to the nation.

Mr Johnson has been chairing a Cabinet meeting to sign off the latest lockdown easing in England with the next major step in the roadmap arriving on April 12 when outdoor hospitality can resume.

Ahead of today's press conference, Downing Street has confirmed that a risk-based "traffic light" system will be introduced for foreign travel as restrictions relax - but people in England are still advised not to book summer holidays abroad.

Mr Johnson is expected to set out full details of how the plans will work later today. Currently all leisure travel is illegal under the "Stay in the UK" regulations and the new "traffic light" system will only come into force from 17 May, at the earliest.

Mr Johnson is also expected to confirm plans for nationwide weekly tests and so-called "vaccine passports".

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Ahead of the PM's announcement, No10 said: "We want to see a safe return to international travel, but it is crucial we continue with our cautious approach in light of third waves in some countries and the risk posed by variants of concern."

When travel is permitted, a red, amber or green rating will be assigned to countries, with Covid tests required pre-departure and post-arrival from all destinations.

Travel from green countries will not require quarantine, while arrivals from red and amber countries will still be required to quarantine or self-isolate upon arrival.

Each country will be assigned a risk level based on a range of factors, including vaccination numbers, case rates, Covid variants and the country's "access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing".

But the government has warned it is "too early to predict which countries will be on which list over the summer", adding: "as such, we continue to advise people not to book summer holidays abroad".

It is thought that hesitancy towards the vaccine in European nations could mean that they are deemed higher risk than countries with a faster vaccine rollout such as the US and Israel.

However, despite reports that fully vaccinated people may be able to avoid quarantine from amber countries, this does not currently appear to be part of the planned system.

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Hotel quarantine is still expected to remain in place for "red" list countries.
Hotel quarantine is still expected to remain in place for "red" list countries. Picture: PA
Travellers will still be required to take pre-departure and post-arrival Covid tests.
Travellers will still be required to take pre-departure and post-arrival Covid tests. Picture: PA

The government's announcement follows a review by the government's Global Travel Taskforce, which has been looking into how the UK's borders can be reopened safely.

Reacting to the review the prime minister said: “We have made huge strides over the past few months with our vaccine programme and everyone in the country has made huge sacrifices to get us to this stage in our recovery from Covid-19.

“We are doing everything we can to enable the reopening of our country so people can return to the events, travel and other things they love as safely as possible, and these reviews will play an important role in allowing this to happen.”

The government said all their reviews will "continue to update on their findings in the coming weeks".

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But, one top scientist has told LBC he has concerns about the new system, describing it as "another botched attempt to convince people that we are handling the virus properly, but we are not".

Gabriel Scally, president of epidemiology and public health at the Royal Society of Medicine, said he is not for "pulling up the drawbridge" but "managed isolation or managed quarantine facilities are really required" to avoid the spread of new variants.

Criticising the new plans for assigning each country a risk level, Prof Scally added: "You can't really differentiate between people, I don't think, as to what country they come from, or how they got there or why they are coming there. The virus doesn't care about that.

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"We know enough about international travel to know that you can travel anywhere around the world and you can swap plans and you can move through a hub and you mix with lots of people on the way. You could pick up the variant from someone on your way."

Professor Robin Shattock, head of immunity at Imperial College London, has also warned the traffic light system has the potential to be "leaky" to new Covid variants.

“There are always possibilities of getting around that type of system. It might be a way of starting to release some travel, but it will need to be monitored very carefully," he explained.

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Under the current rules in England leaving the UK without a reasonable excuse is risks a fine of £5,000.

The law says people must not "leave England to travel to a destination outside the United Kingdom, or travel to, or be present at, an embarkation point for the purpose of travelling from there to a destination outside the United Kingdom" without a reasonable excuse.

These include work, studying, elite sports, medical reasons, care and assistance to a vulnerable person or a wedding of a close family member.

There is also a £200 fixed penalty notice for failing to fill in a travel declaration form - giving personal details and a reason for travel - for those planning to leave the UK.

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The rules on international travel are likely to relax at different paces across the UK.

Last Saturday, First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford told LBC's Matt Frei he "will be taking a tougher approach than the UK government has so far" on foreign travel.

"Out of all the things in the UK roadmap the thing that has worried me the most is the date of the 17 May for the reopening of international travel."

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He added: "Back in September the difficult time we had in Wales was because we had people returning to Wales from France, from Spain, from Germany, from Italy, from Bulgaria, from Turkey, bringing coronavirus back with them.

"They had gone on a summer holiday to places where the virus was in greater circulation and they ended up bringing it back to Wales.

"I don't want to see everything we have done over the last couple of months put at risk by a premature reopening of foreign travel. This is the year to stay at home - come on holiday to Wales."