COVID-19: No prospect of amber watchlist this week - as next travel update confirmed for Thursday

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There is no prospect of an amber watchlist being introduced at the latest travel review this week, Sky News understands - as a minister confirmed the next update will be on Thursday.

Government sources have said Boris Johnson rejected the idea in the wake of a backlash over fears of more disruption for holidaymakers and the travel industry.

It comes after the prime minister said he wanted a "simple" and "user-friendly" system for travellers which can also help stop the importation of new variants of COVID-19.

"I understand how much people plan, prepare, for the summer holidays," Mr Johnson said earlier on Monday.

"But we have also got to remember this is still a dangerous virus and we must try and stop variants coming in, must stop importing variants from abroad, so we have to have a balanced approach.

"What I want to see is something that is as simple and as user-friendly for people as possible."

The PM said that because of the risk from new variants of the virus, there was a balance to be struck when it comes to travel.

"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.

Speaking on Sky News on Tuesday, education minister Gillian Keegan confirmed the review of changes to the traffic light system would take place on Thursday 5 August.

She also suggested the system would revert back to just red, amber and green, with the amber-plus list - which, at present, only includes France - being removed.

"The latest will be set out by the transport minister on Thursday which is when the three-week review comes," Ms Keegan said.

"But, of course, what we are trying to do is tread this careful balance between opening up travel - but also keeping the country safe.

"I know there has been a lot of speculation in the press about what the system is going to be, and obviously we have explored many options," she said.

"But, effectively, what we want to do is keep it simple enough for people to really understand and obviously be able to take their own decisions based on the system - so we have the red list countries, the amber list countries and the green list countries.

"In the amber list countries, if you are double vaccinated you don't have to isolate, and if you're not double vaccinated than you do on your return."

Pressed on whether France would be moved back into one of the three main categories, Ms Keegan said the transport secretary on Thursday would "set out more in terms of what is happening with amber-plus and also with France in particular".

She also confirmed that Clare Gardiner, head of the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) which advises on the travel rules, has left her post without a successor being appointed.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "The Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) is part of the UK Health Security Agency and is led professionally by the chief executive. The former director general (DG) has returned as planned to a role in national security.

"The JBC continues to operate routinely under robust interim arrangements. A formal open competitive recruitment process has concluded and the new DG will be announced imminently."

There had been speculation that a new amber watchlist, made up of destinations in danger of moving to the red list with little warning, could be included.

However, the suggestion sparked fierce opposition from the travel industry and some Conservative MPs, with reports of cabinet ministers being divided on the idea.

There were fears people would cancel trips to amber watchlist destinations to avoid the prospect of a £1,750 bill for hotel quarantine should their holiday destination be switched to the red list while they are away.

Spain was understood to be one of the countries being considered for the list, which could have caused problems for up to a million British tourists currently on holiday there.

There were also concerns that Greece and Italy could have followed.

Labour's shadow transport secretary, Jim McMahon, said the government was in "total chaos over its border policy".

"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 to provide them with the information they need to build confidence, with clear information on the direction of travel of infections in each country," he said.

And shadow secretary of state for child poverty Wes Streeting called on the government to address the "absolute mess" over the travel rules by the end of Tuesday.

"(Gillian Keegan) talked about the need for simplicity, that is why we've argued for a much simpler system - a red list, a green list - simple to follow, simple to understand," Mr Streeting told Sky News.

He urged ministers to speed up talks with other countries over an international vaccine passport system, and said the government "absolutely needs to get a grip" on its own foreign travel rules.

"I think what we've needed to see this morning - and what we need to see by the end of the day - is senior government ministers from the Department for Transport, or from the business department or from the Treasury, or perhaps the prime minister himself, coming out and being crystal clear with the country about what the travel arrangements are, how they are going to change in the coming days.

"And I think Boris Johnson needs to knock heads together in the cabinet because they are fighting like rats in a sack at the moment."

The latest developments come after an exemption from isolation for fully-vaccinated travellers from the US and EU arriving into England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland came into force on Monday.

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