Another week, another travel update. You’ll be forgiven for feeling a pang of anxiety at the prospect.
During the pandemic, Grant Shapps’s tri-weekly announcement has prompted panicked scrambles home for Britons abroad, sometimes resulting in mandatory quarantine stints whether at home or in a designated hotel.
But, for the first time in months (I am touching wood as I type), we can cautiously prime ourselves for a fairly uneventful international travel update. Why? Because in the last update on October 4, the red list shrunk to seven countries in a clear policy shift away from case numbers, and towards variants of concern overseas. And the testing system has just been overhauled, which the Government will have little interest in changing again.
Paul Charles, CEO of PC Agency, is feeling confident about our travel prospects moving forward. “We are out of the woods. Governments realise that they cannot afford to go backwards too far again and damage their economies with extended border lockdowns.
“While there may be some occasional border shutdowns, as we saw with Morocco last week, the general direction is to open things up. We will have to get used to continuing testing and showing proof of vaccination, as well as ensuring we are up-to-date with boosters. The painful-to-fill-in Passenger Locator Forms will also be around for some time yet as some governments monitor movements across borders. But overall it’s onwards and upwards.”
That isn’t to say nothing at all will change in this week’s update, however.
Here, we take a look at the possible movements on the red list in this week’s announcement, scope for testing changes for unvaccinated arrivals, and possible additions to the list of countries whose vaccines the UK recognises for quarantine-free entry.
Will more countries be added to the red list?
Right now there are seven countries on the red list. These are Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Venezuela. Arrivals from these countries must enter a ten-day stint in a quarantine hotel at their own expense.
The Government has confirmed that the criteria for the red list is down to variants of concern. In a summary of the most recent changes to the UK’s travel rules, the Government issued a statement saying: “We remain concerned about the presence of Mu and Lambda variants in the small number of countries we have kept on the red list. We will keep this list under review.”
While the Mu and Lambda variant have failed to take hold globally in the same way that the Delta variant has, the Mu variant accounts for a “large portion” of Covid-19 cases in South America, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Both Mu and Lambda remain Variants of Interest for the WHO.
So, one would assume that if any countries are going to be added to the red list, the likelihood is they would be South or Central American countries.
Will any countries be removed from the red list?
The last update to the red list took place on October 4. Since the seven countries were left on the red list due to the presence of Mu and Lambda variants in these countries, we can assume that they will only be removed from the red list if a) the WHO no longer lists these variants as Variants of Interest (which as of October 26, it does), or b) Mu and Lambda cases disappear in these countries, or reduce to insignificant numbers.
It is worth noting that none of the countries on the red list have seen a sizable plummet of Covid-19. In fact, six of the seven countries have seen an uptick. Colombia’s cases per 100,000 over 7 days are up 8.23 per cent, Ecuador’s are up 168 per cent, Dominican Republic’s are up 48 per cent, Haiti’s are up 34 per cent, Panama’s are up 5 per cent. Only Venezuela’s cases are down, by 23 per cent.
Will the testing rules change again?
The UK’s testing rules for vaccinated arrivals have only just changed, so it is unlikely that we will hear any major announcements on this. Fully vaccinated arrivals need only take a lateral flow test up to two days after landing in the UK.
Unvaccinated arrivals must take a pre-departure lateral flow test 72 hours before coming home, and then a PCR test on days two and eight. They must also quarantine for 10 days. Given the ongoing drive to convince unvaccinated Britons to take the jab, it is unlikely that we will see testing rules relax for this group.
Will we recognise vaccinations from more countries?
This is the one area where we could see some movement. The UK remains off-limits to more than three billion people, regardless of their vaccination status, because we do not recognise vaccines administered in 102 countries. Arrivals from these countries must enter a mandatory 10-day quarantine, with two PCR tests on days two and eight, plus a lateral flow test before entering the country.
For some countries, we simply do not recognise the vaccine that has been administered nationally. Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, for example, and China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm, are not on the UK’s approved vaccine list.
Many of the 102 countries do administer vaccines that we use here in the UK, however. Mexico and Uruguay are among the countries issuing Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs, yet their residents must enter a ten-day quarantine on arrival in the UK. We are also not recognising vaccine certificates from countries such as Zambia, Senegal and Malawi, even though we have donated millions of doses of UK-made AstraZeneca to these countries.
Explaining the system, a spokesperson for the Department for Transport told Telegraph Travel: “We have always said we would take a phased approach to the roll out of our inbound vaccination programme to other countries and territories, building on the success of our pilot with the US and Europe.
“Decisions are made by Ministers, taking into account public health factors. These considerations include whether on the red list, vaccines used and the proportion of the population who have been fully vaccinated.
“Vaccine certification between countries and territories varies considerably. We need to ensure that certificates/apps meet our published minimum requirements on content, and that carriers are clear about the certification we shall accept.”
So if we are going to see any big movement in this week’s travel update, the most likely shift is that more countries will be added to the ‘recognised vaccine’ list. Which would be welcome news for many families still separated by the pandemic.
When will the travel update happen?
It is expected that Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, will Tweet the announcement at some point on the afternoon of Thursday October 28.