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England eases Covid travel curbs and simplifies traffic light system

Coronavirus pandemic updates

Restrictions on international travellers entering England have been eased with the simplification of the “traffic light system” and the scrapping of tests before departure for those who have had two Covid jabs.

Grant Shapps, transport secretary, said travellers who were fully vaccinated against coronavirus would, from the end of October, be able to replace the current PCR test taken on the second day after arriving in England with a cheaper lateral flow test.

The cost of paying for tests has been a deterrent for some people living in England wanting to take trips abroad, as well as on “inbound” travel to the country. PCR tests cost from about £70, while lateral flow tests can be as cheap as £25.

Shapps also said the government was from October 4 axing its “amber list”, leaving just two travel categories: a red list of no-go countries and a green list of those considered relatively safe.

Eight countries will be removed from the red list from 4am on September 22: Turkey, Pakistan, The Maldives, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Oman, Kenya and Bangladesh.

The changes do not apply to people flying into Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, which set their own rules and restrictions.

People who have not been double vaccinated will still need to self-isolate for 10 days on their arrival in England from non-red list countries and take three tests, one prior to departure and PCR tests on days two and eight after arriving.

Thomas Cook, the online travel agent, said it was expecting its best weekend for bookings this year following the announcement.

Alan French, Thomas Cook’s chief executive, said that reservations for foreign breaks over the October school half term were already double the number it had had for holidays in August. “We’d also expect a flood of interest in city breaks of two and three nights,” he said.

The removal of Turkey, a popular late summer destination, from the red list was also welcomed by travel industry executives who have blamed the government’s traffic light system and stringent testing requirements for a dismal holiday season.

“This is a significant and welcome step towards recovery,” said Stewart Wingate, Gatwick’s chief executive, of the changes.

Many in the sector called on the government to go further and abolish more restrictions.

“We urge ministers to keep this policy under review, eliminating all testing for fully vaccinated travellers as soon as possible in the future, in line with most other European countries,” said Sean Doyle, British Airways chief executive.

Shares in large UK airlines rose this week on expectations that the rules would be eased. British Airways’ owner IAG rose 5 per cent on Friday, easyJet gained 4 per cent and Jet2 owner Dart Group added 5.5 per cent.

The government’s approach to international travel has changed repeatedly since the start of the pandemic 18 months ago, reflecting the balancing act between protecting public health and supporting the economy. Shapps described the new system as a “proportionate updated structure” that reflected the fact that 44m people in the UK were now vaccinated.

“Today’s changes mean a simpler, more straightforward system,” he said. “One with less testing and lower costs, allowing more people to travel, see loved ones or conduct business around the world while providing a boost for the travel industry.”

At the same time England will expand the list of countries from which it recognises vaccination, after the success of a pilot with the US and Europe. Another 17 countries and territories will be added to the list, including Japan and Singapore.

More than 50 countries — including Mexico, South Africa and Thailand — remain on the red list.

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