A major update to the UK’s current travel rules is expected later today, with transport secretary Grant Shapps expected to announce significant changes to the way UK travellers can move internationally.
The transport secretary confirmed that the update will happen today, tweeting: “I’ll set out measures to simplify international travel later today in order to reduce costs, take advantage of higher levels of vaccination, and keep us all safe,” adding three transport-themed emojis representing aviation, cruise ships and rail travel.
Yesterday, 16 September, marked the three-week point at which the industry expected a change to the “traffic light” lists of countries that were implemented in May, but the announcement was moved to today, with industry sources suggesting that it will address a much larger overhaul of the current system for travel.
Government leaks to the media in the past week have suggested the top changes will be the removal of the amber list, with just two lists remaining – one of countries deemed safe for travel, one unsafe – and PCR tests being scrapped or reduced for the fully vaccinated.
The Times this morning reported that the red list could be “more than halved”, with countries including Turkey likely to be removed “in time for [October] half term”.
In other news, cross-channel rail operator Eurostar have confirmed that their trains will not stop in Kent, where they previously stopped at Ashford and Ebbsfleet, until 2023.
Follow the latest travel news below:
Data analysts agree upcoming announcement looks promising
Two prominent data analysts have shown enthusiasm for the transport secretary’s upcoming announcements, which he hinted at on Twitter an hour ago.
“And Grant Shapps confirms the update we’ve all been waiting for will come later today… ‘take advantage of higher levels of vaccination’ – things we like to hear, let’s hope ministers mean it!” tweeted analyst Ben McCluskey in response.
Analyst Donal Kane tweeted a similar upbeat message, saying: “ So today supposedly we’ll get news on: Reduction in testing requirements (for vaccinated, anyway), Amalgamation of green and amber, Reduction in size of red list. All welcome, but they could and should go further.”
He added that he would like to see broader acceptance of vaccine certification “from many more countries” and a reduction in the severity of red list restrictions for vaccinated travellers returning to the UK.
Lucy Thackray17 September 2021 14:42
‘Wrong to rule out’ any backward steps on travel rules, says Downing Street spokesman
Asked about whether the travel rules changes to be announced today are likely to be permanent, a Downing Street spokesman has cautioned that “the pandemic is still ongoing and there is always the chance of unexpected challenges, such as an even more transmissible or more deadly variant emerging,” the BBC reported.
However, the spokesman added that the successful rollout of the vaccine “is enabling us to move steadily and remove restrictions, as you saw when we came out of Step 4” – referring to the widespread lifting of restrictions that took place across England on 19 July.
“I think it would be wrong to rule out anything in the future but it is important to note that we continue to make steady progress to ease restrictions, and that is very much the intention of the approach we will be taking,” said the spokesman.
Lucy Thackray17 September 2021 14:21
Revert to pre-pandemic style of FCO advice, says AITO chair
The chairperson of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) has urged the government to revert to a pre-pandemic style of travel warnings on foreign countries, ahead of the transport secretary’s announcement later today.
“What we need the government to do is allow the world to open up, allow the industry to trade again,” Gemma Antrobus told ITV news.
She said she was hoping the government would “make it a very clear process of ‘you can go’ or ‘you can’t go’, which we already had in place with the Foreign Office prior to the pandemic” – referencing the reports that there will be simply two categories for countries going forward: safe or unsafe for travel.
“Let’s go back to a place where the world has opened up… and allow consumers to take the risk into their own hands,” said Antrobus.
Also appearing on ITV news, The Independent’s travel correspondent Simon Calder added: “What I hope we will see this afternoon is something that will give travellers much more confidence – because that’s what we are lacking.”
Lucy Thackray17 September 2021 13:43
‘Now is the worst time to abandon all these safety protective systems’ – Independent Sage member
Zubaida Haque, a member of the Independent Sage advisory group, has urged ministers not to ease travel restrictions.
Speaking to Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2, she said: “Now is the worst time to abandon all these safety protective systems.
“Vaccines have changed the game. But it hasn’t changed the game in terms of you still falling ill. The Delta variant is significantly more difficult.”
But Ms Haque said: “I do have so much empathy for the travel industry and for people wanting to travel, particularly those wanting to see loved ones.”
She also criticised the government’s performance, saying: “The whole traffic light system has been chaotic, it has been expensive, it has been really unclear. And the worst part of it is that government has tried to do all of this chaotic stuff while still trying to continue with porous border restrictions.”
Simon Calder17 September 2021 13:33
Today’s update will ‘reduce costs, take advantage of higher levels of vaccination’, says Shapps
The transport secretary Grant Shapps has confirmed on Twitter that there will be an update on UK travel rules later today.
Shapps tweeted: “I’ll set out measures to simplify international travel later today in order to reduce costs, take advantage of higher levels of vaccination, and keep us all safe,” adding three transport-themed emojis representing aviation, cruise ships and rail travel.
Lucy Thackray17 September 2021 13:11
UK should not ‘completely remove all controls on travel’ says variant expert
One of the scientists behind the UK’s variant-tracking efforts has warned against a large reduction in PCR testing for travellers.
Alan McNally is a professor in microbial evolutionary genomics, and worked on setting up the UK’s lighthouse laboratories.
Responding to the rumoured updates to the PCR testing requirements for travel, Professor McNally said: “It kind of makes sense if you look at the rates of Covid in the UK right now, they’re high, so probably lateral flow tests will be sufficient for travellers.
“But I don’t think we can just completely remove all controls on travel and travel-associated Covid, we know from the past that travel-associated Covid is very high risk to this country.
“The devil’s in the detail in this and I would really hope there will be a very strong mandate that any lateral flow positive test from travel have to get a confirmatory PCR test because in my opinion we still that genome level surveillance of Covid cases being introduced into the UK from abroad.”
He added: “I do think it’s vitally important we do genome surveillance on travel Covid cases.”
Lucy Thackray17 September 2021 12:41
Changes could come in immediately after gov announcement, expert predicts
A prominent Covid data analyst has predicted that the changes to the travel system being announced today could come in with immediate effect, rather than the usual delayed start date after each announcement.
When asked when he thinks any large-scale changes to the UK travel system will come in, analyst Tim White replied: “I don’t see why [the government] would wait. They should have announced changes yesterday. Delaying that to combine with this reform is understandable but if they’ve made decisions it will just draw criticism to be delayed further.”
There is still no official time for the travel update, though it is understood that it will take place at some point this afternoon.
Read travel correspondent Simon Calder’s predictions for what may change in the expected overhaul of the travel rules:
Lucy Thackray17 September 2021 12:07
Today’s update needs to ‘deliver to save jobs’
The Department for Transport’s travel update, expected for later today, needs to “deliver to save jobs”, a key industry figure has said.
The PC Agency CEO Paul Charles tweeted: “The lifting of UK travel restrictions and testing rules is more urgent than ever. @jet2tweets today became another airline cancelling more flights and holidays due to further weakening of demand, especially for short breaks. Friday’s announcement needs to deliver to save jobs.”
The travel PR boss has been campaigning for the easing of restrictions for months, citing the impact the UK’s strict rules are having on the industry.
Airline Jet2, along with TUI and easyJet, has cancelled numerous flights into autumn due to the ongoing uncertainly around where UK travellers will be able to go, and what the restrictions will be.
Lucy Thackray17 September 2021 11:46
Skyscanner reboots travel map for vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers
In anticipation of the UK’s travel update later today – which, it is suggested, will lay out different rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers – flight booking platform Skyscanner has updated its interactive map tool which shows the different restrictions for those who have and have not had their jabs.
“Since its launch last summer, Skyscanner’s live travel map has been used over 34 million times to help travellers negotiate the complexities of Covid-19 restrictions. Its latest refresh will let vaccinated travellers see how the latest rules and regulations will affect their travel,” read a statement from the flight price aggregator.
Users of the map can select their vaccination status to see which countries have low, moderate or major restrictions for their vaccination status, identified in the traffic light colours of green, yellow and red.
Lucy Thackray17 September 2021 10:46
Travel update: the public view from Newcastle Airport
Holidaymakers at Newcastle airport have been expressing their frustration at the tangle of red tape surrounding overseas trips – which the government may finally ease in an announcement now expected this afternoon.
Norman Smith, a company director, is about to fly off on his first holiday for two years: a week in Benidorm.
“We’re normally fairly seasoned travellers, three or four journeys a year. It’s all about Covid,” said Smith.
“Booking the trip was fairly simple, as usual. However the red tape really comes across as someone’s making a lot of money for things that really we don’t need to do.
“As an example, we’ve got a test we’ve brought with us. We do the test ourselves and then they send us a form back to say we’ve complete the test.
Simon Calder17 September 2021 10:35