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Covid-19: Amber watchlist travel idea scrapped

A proposal to create an “amber watchlist” of countries at risk of moving to red in the travel traffic light system has been abandoned, government sources have told the BBC.

On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he wanted a “simple” and “balanced approach” to pandemic travel.

The sources said no new categories would now be added.

Tory MPs and travel industry figures earlier warned a complex system risked putting people off from travelling.

The government had been considering the idea of a new level in the government’s traffic light system for overseas travel, ahead of the next review this week.

It would have warned people when a destination was at risk of a sudden shift from amber to red – meaning that travel would be banned for everyone except UK nationals and residents, who would be required to quarantine in a hotel on their return.

As opposition to the proposal gathered, Mr Johnson said he wanted to prevent new coronavirus variants entering the UK, though he recognised the desire to go abroad.

“We also have to recognise that people want, badly, to go on their summer holidays, we need to get the travel industry moving again, we need to get our city centres open again and so we want an approach that is as simple as we can possibly make it,” he said.

The prime minster said the UK’s economy and society were about “the most open in Europe” but he said caution was still needed.

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The travel industry reacted with relief at the news that the watchlist would not go ahead.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the air travel industry body Airlines UK, said: “This is a victory for common sense. The PM has hit the nail on the head – people want a clear and consistent travel system that they can understand and that is workable.”

He urged the government to go further and include more countries on the green list, exempting them from quarantine requirements.

Labour said scrapping the watchlist idea showed the Tories were “in total chaos” over their pandemic borders policy.

What are the traffic light system rules?

  • Green country: When returning from a country on the green list you must take a Covid-19 test before departure and have proof of a negative result. You also need to book a test for day two after your return
  • Amber country: A Covid test is needed three days before returning, and a PCR test two days after arriving. People who are not fully vaccinated in the approved countries need to self-isolate for 10 days, although this can be shortened for people in England by using the Test to Release scheme – paying for a test on day five
  • Red country: Regardless of your vaccination status you must take a test before departure and, on arrival, self-isolate for 10 days in a government-approved quarantine hotel

Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon called on the government to publish the data behind its decisions and provide “maximum clarity” to passengers and the travel industry.

He said clear information about what was happening with infections in each country was needed to build confidence about travel.

Mr McMahon said: “Not only have ministers failed to protect our borders, allowing the Delta variant to reach the UK in such force, but time and time again they’ve refused to be straight with the public and industry.”

Earlier, the idea had also faced opposition from the Conservative benches, with Huw Merriman, chairman of the Commons Transport Committee, telling the BBC that an amber watch-list would be a “massive red flag” that would cause travel bookings to collapse.

Others said increasingly complex travel rules would put the UK at a competitive disadvantage compared to other nations which were more open for international travel.

Mr Merriman later welcomed the scrapping of the amber watchlist, saying: “To deliver confidence and stability, the traffic light system needs to be red, amber and green, and nothing in between.”

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The government already has a green watchlist, which features more than half the countries on the green list and signals they are at risk of moving to amber.

The next update to the travel list system is due on Thursday.

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