Airlines and hospitality companies have put pressure on the government to relax travel restrictions imposed following the UK’s successful vaccination program to slow the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic has devastated the UK travel industry, with the number of people flying over London’s Heathrow Airport, the busiest in the nation, plummeting 73% over the past year.
The government has created a traffic light system to manage the reopening of air traffic. Destinations with low COVID-19 and high vaccination rates will be placed on the ‘green list’ that allows for pleasure travel and does not require self-isolation when returning to the UK. Only essential travel is allowed to countries on the “Amber List”, but travelers must self-isolate for 10 days on their return home. The government has banned most travel to “red list” destinations, and anyone traveling from any of those countries must face a 10-day quarantine at a government-approved hotel at their own expense.
The lists are updated every three weeks.
The Department of Transportation said Thursday evening that the expansion of the Green List and plans to relax restrictions on fully vaccinated travelers were the result of the successful vaccination program. Almost 61% of UK adults are fully vaccinated and 83% have received at least one dose.
However, Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps said caution should still be exercised.
“It won’t be quite like 2019 and earlier, but we’re moving in a positive direction,” Shapps told Sky News.
Health officials are concerned about the possibility of travelers transferring potentially more dangerous variants of COVID-19 to the UK from countries with low vaccination rates. The Delta variant, identified for the first time in India, has already become the dominant version of the virus in the UK.
Regardless of UK policy, officials in the European Union are considering quarantining UK travelers as they have concerns about the Delta variant, which is 40 to 60% more transmissible than previous versions of COVID-19. In minutes released from government meetings earlier this month, experts said the Delta variant could also be linked to a higher risk of hospitalization, although “the numbers are still small” and there is no evidence that the variant is more lethal.
Diana Holland, Unite deputy general secretary, said the government needed to change its approach to make the travel industry and consumers safer.
“The traffic light system is just not working,” she said. “It is impossible for a multi-billion dollar industry to make plans for the future when the carpet can be pulled from under your feet every three weeks.”
The government added more than a dozen countries and areas to its green list on Thursday, including popular holiday destinations of Malta, Madeira and the Balearic Islands. All destinations except Malta have been added to the watch list.
The changes, which come into effect on June 30 at 4 a.m., expand the Green List to 27 countries and territories.
The newly added countries are: Malta, Madeira, Balearic Islands, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, Antigua, Barbuda, Dominica, Barbados and Grenada .
The UK has also redlisted six countries, including the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Uganda. This brings the number of countries covered to 56.