What is the traffic light system for holidays?
It’s a scheme that would categorise countries according to whether they were safe to travel to this summer. Based on criteria such as infection rates, vaccine rollout and border measures in place, countries would be designated green, amber or red.Holidaymakers would be able to visit green countries without quarantining on their return; amber countries would involve a period of quarantine; and red countries would be no-go zones. It would replace the travel corridor system, which operated last summer, causing chaos for holidaymakers every time a new country was removed from the list.
Why is this being considered now?
It is one of several options being considered by the government’s Global Travel Taskforce to enable the safe return of international travel this summer. The taskforce is due to report with recommendations on 12 April.
How does it differ from the travel corridor system?
Travel consultant Paul Charles, who devised a traffic light system in August 2020, said such a system would give consumers “maybe a week or two weeks’ notice of any changes” in the status of countries, instead of the 24- or 36-hour notice the secretary of state for transport gave last summer when travel corridors were announced, leaving consumers scrambling to buy flights home or facing two weeks’ quarantine on their return to the UK. Charles said a traffic light system would ideally be aligned to airlines which would cap the cost of flights, so that consumers could avoid paying out large sums of money if they had to return to the UK early.
I thought the roadmap said holidays abroad could go ahead from 17 May?
The roadmap for England specified 17 May as the earliest date on which international travel could resume, but in recent days scientific experts have warned against any international travel this summer. On Saturday, Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the scientific pandemic influenza group on modelling, a Sage sub-group, told the Today programme that the increase in cases in Europe made foreign summer holidays look “extremely unlikely.”
Scientific advisers believe lifting the ban on foreign travel could lead to another lockdown. “I don’t think people should be planning on summer holidays abroad until next year,” said Prof Kamlesh Khunti, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and Independent Sage at the University of Leicester.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace also sounded a note of caution, saying the government would do everything in its power to avoid undermining the success of the vaccination programme. “If we were to be reckless in any way, and import new variants that put it at risk, then what would people say about that?” he asked Sophy Ridge on Sky News. “We’ve got good direction of travel, we’re getting there, and I think we need to make sure we preserve that at all costs.”
What if I’ve already booked a holiday?
In February travel companies reported a surge in bookings in response to the roadmap. It’s too early to say whether or not those holidays will go ahead. While scientists are urging extreme caution, the travel sector is confident that travel will start to resume to some countries from 17 May.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, recommends waiting until 12 April to find out what the government’s taskforce recommends.
“Whether you have already booked or want to book, you should wait until the government’s travel taskforce reports on the next steps before deciding what to do about your travel plans. The government must also make safety, affordable tests, vaccine passports and clarity about refunds when travel is disrupted top priorities.”
Travel association Abta is reassuring consumers that package holidays are financially protected. “Through booking a package holiday, customers have the right to a replacement holiday or refund if the holiday is significantly altered by a change in situation at the destination. Many ABTA members are also offering flexible cancellation and rebooking policies, such as allowing customers to change their arrangements free of charge if needed.”
But European countries say they will be open to tourists …
In the past month several European countries have said they will be open to tourists from mid-May, including Greece, Cyprus, Portugal and Turkey. However, those announcements have coincided with a third coronavirus wave of across parts of Europe, with Germany, Italy and Poland hit hardest, prompting fresh lockdowns in some regions and the warnings from UK scientific advisers against lifting the ban on international travel too early. It’s clear that international travel will open gradually, with the UK initially making agreements with countries where the vaccine rollout is advanced and/or infection rates are low.
According to Charles at the PC Agency, these countries could include Israel, Singapore and the US, and one or two European countries. “Nobody expects the whole of Europe to open up overnight on 17 May,” said Charles. “Europe may be a little bit behind. There could be one or two countries like Portugal that are safe to visit. Other European destinations could start to open up in June.”