BREAKING: Countries for UK’s traffic light system confirmed

The transport secretary has revealed which countries holidaymakers can return from without having to quarantine, opening the door to summer trips and a potential rebound for the air travel industry 

After a month of speculation, the UK Government has finally announced which countries people will be able to travel to this summer without having to quarantine upon their return to England. 

The so-called “green” nations include Portugal with the addition of the Azores and Madeira; Australia; New Zealand; Singapore; Brunei; Iceland; Faroe Islands; Gibraltar; Falkland Islands; and Israel.

Heathrow Airport arrival
International travel for non-essential purposes will be allowed from May 17. Heathrow Airport

Arrivals from these territories will be required to take a pre-departure test as well as a PCR test on or before day two after their arrival back into England – but will not be required to quarantine unless they receive a positive result. 

Amber arrivals – will need to quarantine for a period of ten days and take a pre-departure test, and a PCR test on day two and eight with the option to test to release on day five to end self-isolation early. 

The red list, which has been in place since February, includes nations such as Turkey, the Maldives and Nepal which have been added today. Arrivals from these countries face the toughest measures which include a ten-day stay at a managed quarantine hotel and the COVID testing of the Amber list. 

International travel for non-essential purposes – which has been banned since the beginning of the third lockdown in January – is set to resume in around two weeks’ time on May 17. 

Testing centre
Pre-departure COVID-19 testing is a pillar of the government's travel strategy. Heathrow Airport

Grant Shapps, transport secretary, commented: "Today marks the first step in our cautious return to international travel, with measures designed above all else to protect public health and ensure we don’t throw away the hard-fought gains we’ve all strived to earn this year. 

“This is a new way of doing things, and people should expect travel to be different this summer – with longer checks at the borders, as part of tough measures to prevent new strains of the virus [from] entering the country and putting our fantastic vaccine rollout at risk.”  

The strategy being adopted by the government comes from a report published by its own Global Travel Taskforce which was published in early April. It set out the requirements for a traffic light system and the testing conditions for arrivals. 

Airlines hit back against the measures saying that it would make air travel “unviable and unaffordable” for many.  

Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK, the industry body representing British-registered carriers, said: “The insistence on expensive and unnecessary PCR testing rather than rapid testing – even for low-risk countries – will pose an unsustainable burden on passengers… It is also a further setback for an industry on its knees and the UK’s wider economic recovery, with many businesses and exporters reliant upon our domestic and international connectivity and a thriving aviation sector.” 

Commenting on the ‘green list' announced today, Elise Weber, co-founder of Airbus subsidiary Skytra, said: "While any initiative that gives the green light to travellers flying again is very welcome, the very nature of a traffic light system is that it’s changeable: countries could be back on the amber or red list within a month, meaning passengers will undoubtedly end up booking and cancelling at the last minute. Throughout the COVID period airlines have had to deal with an enormous number of vouchers, exchanges and refunds. Our data indicates that up to 30% of tickets issued by airlines have not been reported yet, which could indicate a significant number of vouchers and refunds still pending. Financial liabilities towards customers can only decrease if airlines can properly plan and execute their schedules. A good example is the North-American market where traffic is building back strongly compared to Europe. Clearly, we need some sort of system to get travel going again while the vaccine roll-out continues, but until we have worldwide alignment on international travel this volatility will continue for at least two to three years. In the meantime, the industry has to take advantage of the support and tools on offer to manage this, improve predictability and make smarter decisions.