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Britain Announces Cautious and Expensive Route to Reopening International Travel

Britain Announces Cautious and Expensive Route to Reopening International Travel

Airlines reacted in horror to an official report from the UK government’s Global Travel Taskforce on Friday, saying recommendations from the committee to restart non-essential international travel put an “unsustainable burden on passengers” and would make overseas holidays unviable and unaffordable for the vast majority of people.

Announced by the UK’s Transport Minister Grant Shapps, the proposals officially set out a traffic light system in which travellers coming from ‘green list’ countries will face more relaxed entry requirements and no need to quarantine on arrival.

Controversially, however, Shapps said that even travellers coming from countries will high vaccination rates and low case numbers would be forced to pay for a pre-departure test and a second, more expensive PCR test within two days of arrivals.

“This does not represent a reopening of travel as promised by Ministers, and the insistence on expensive and unnecessary PCR testing rather than rapid testing – even for low-risk countries – will pose an unsustainable burden on passengers,” commented Airlines UK, a travel trade body that represents the likes of British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, easyJet and TUI

The trade body said the rules would make “travel unviable and unaffordable for many people,” and that the proposals were a further “setback for an industry on its knees”.

Under the proposals, international travel might be able to restart from May 17 but the list of countries that make the Green List won’t be announced until early May. The lack of clarity led holiday company Jet2 to delay the restart of its flight schedule until late June, with the airline placing the blame squarely at the feet of the British government.

Factors that will determine what countries make the list include the percentage of the population vaccinated, the rate of infection, the prevalence of mutant virus variants and genomic sequencing ability.

On Friday, Shapps tried to put a spin on the post-arrival testing regimen for green list countries, saying that reducing the current two test rule to just one post-arrival test would help families by “halving the cost” for COVID testing.

A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test costs around £100 per test, whereas airlines and industry insiders want the government to approve rapid antigen tests that are, on average, 70 per cent cheaper.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested earlier this week that rapid antigen tests could be used but, although Shapps made no mention of exploring this possibility on Friday.

Travellers coming from more high risk Amber List countries will still need to self-isolate at home for 10-days and pay for two PCR tests after arrival. Those coming from the most high-risk Red List countries will need to pay for a stay in a government approved quarantine hotel for 10 days.

Only a handful of countries are likely to make the coveted Green List on May 17 and most of Europe could remain on the Amber List for most of the summer.

“The framework announced today will help allow us to reopen travel safely and sustainably, ensure we protect our hard-won achievements on the vaccine roll-out, and offer peace of mind to both passengers and industry as we begin to take trips abroad once again,” commented Shapps.

A review into the rules will take place on June 28, at which point rules could be eased or potentially made more restrictive. Further reviews are pencilled in for July 31 and October 1.

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