England's COVID-19 travel rules simplified in boost to industry

·3-min read
A worker sanitises a sign at the International arrivals area of Terminal 5 in London's Heathrow Airport

By Sarah Young and Andrew MacAskill

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain simplified rules on Friday for international travel to England in a boost to the tourism industry, including scrapping the need for fully vaccinated passengers to take expensive COVID-19 tests on arrival from low-risk countries.

Under the new proposals, destinations will simply be ranked low or high risk, instead of red, amber and green. Eight countries, including Turkey, Pakistan and the Maldives, will be removed from the high-risk red band from next Wednesday which requires passengers to quarantine in a hotel.

From Oct. 4, vaccinated passengers arriving from low-risk countries will be permitted to take a cheaper lateral flow test, rather than the privately administered PCR lab tests now required. PCR tests for a family now can cost hundreds of pounds.

"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," Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said in a statement.

The British government sets policy for England, while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are in charge of their own rules.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has faced months of pressure to ease the restrictions. Airlines and travel companies blamed the testing and complicated rules for the slowness of a recovery in air travel over the summer and warned https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/uks-travel-sector-facing-new-wave-job-cuts-industry-body-warns-2021-09-14 that far-reaching changes were needed or more job losses would follow the 100,000 already lost.

The industry, already on its knees after 18 months of restrictions, is facing a cliff edge as a government furlough scheme ends later this month with winter approaching, when fewer people travel and businesses tend to make a loss.

RECOVERY LAGS

Unvaccinated travellers returning from low-risk countries will be required to take a pre-departure test, plus PCR tests on day two and day eight, and to self-isolate for 10 days on arrival, the government said.

England will also expand the list of countries from which it recognises vaccinations, after the success of a pilot with the United States and Europe. Another 17 countries and territories will be added to the list, including Japan and Singapore.

Data shows that Britain's travel recovery is lagging. UK flights were down 39% compared with pre-pandemic levels for the two weeks to early Sept. 6, while France, Spain and Italy were down between 24% and 28%, according to Eurocontrol.

The travel company Thomas Cook described the changes as "a shot in the arm for the travel industry” while airline bosses, such as EasyJet Chief Executive Johan Lundgren, urged the government to go further by eliminating any screening of vaccinated travellers from low-risk countries.

The British Airline Pilots Association said the changes were good news for the industry. But workers in the sector would be among those most hurt by the end of the government's furlough programme, which has paid salaries of staff sent home during the pandemic and expires at the end of this month.

"But there is still a way to go before UK aviation can truly take off again and the industry remains precariously placed after a dire summer season," BALPA Acting General Secretary Martin Chalk said. "With furlough ending it is going to be hard for cash strapped airlines to get back up and running as demand returns."

($1 = 0.7247 pound)

(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill, Costas Pitas, Guy Faulconbridge and Sarah Young, Editing by Angus MacSwan, Philippa Fletcher, Peter Graff and Jonathan Oatis)

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