UK streamlines pandemic travel rules

By Guillermo Ximenis

London, Sep 17 (EFE).- Starting Oct. 4, fully vaccinated people traveling to England from countries classified as low risk for the pandemic will not have to take a Covid-19 test prior to departure, the government of the United Kingdom said Friday.

And while those visitors will still have to get tested after arrival, they will be allowed to opt for a rapid test instead of the currently mandated PCR test, which is much more expensive.

Another aspect of what UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps called a “simpler, more straightforward system” will be to abandon the classification of countries as red, green or amber in favor of a binary division between high-risk and low-risk.

Unvaccinated people coming from low-risk countries will remain subject to requirements for a pre-departure test, two PCR tests at a six-day interval after arrival and to self-isolate for 10 days once they are in England.

The obligation to quarantine for 10 days in a government-approved hotel – at a cost of up to 2,285 pounds (2,675 euros/$3,137) per person – will remain in place for arrivals from high-risk nations, regardless of vaccine status.

The new guidelines apply only to England, as the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland set health policy in their respective jurisdictions.

Several European countries coded amber under the existing “traffic light” scheme, such as Spain, France and Italy, will join the low-risk category.

Eight countries now on the red list: Turkey, Egypt, the Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Oman, Bangladesh and Kenya, are to be removed from the list effective next Wednesday.

“Today’s changes mean a simpler, more straightforward system. 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,” Shapps said in a statement.

UK airlines, hotels and tour operators have been battered by the pandemic, which has seen London’s Heathrow Airport go from being Europe’s busiest in 2019 to 10th this year, with passenger volume down by 71 percent.

Johan Lundgren, chief executive of budget airline EasyJet, said Friday’s announcement was a “welcome step forward” even as he urged the government to go further.

“Since July 1 there has been no testing at all for vaccinated travelers within the rest of Europe, and this is why the UK will continue to fall further behind the rest of Europe if this remains,” he said.

British Airways CEO Sean Doyle had a similar take.

Praising the government for “finally giving customers and business the confidence to book the journeys they’ve been waiting for,” he urged the elimination of “all testing for fully vaccinated travelers as soon as possible in the future, in line with most other European countries.”

Shapps also said that England was ready to recognize vaccinations from an additional 17 countries and territories, including Japan, Singapore, Australia, Israel, Saudi Arabia and South Korea. EFE gx/dr

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