New travel rules for people entering England will come into force from 4 am on Monday, 4th October. Transport minister Grant Shapps says the changes will herald the introduction of a “simpler, more straightforward system” following complaints from travellers and industry bodies that a bewildering set of rules were destroying confidence in travel and doing little to protect the British public.
After initially not bothering to impose any restrictions at the start of the pandemic, England went on to introduce some of the toughest and most confusing travel rules of any country in the world. Annoyingly, the rules also made travel far more expensive for the vast majority of travellers.
Shapps has tried to alleviate many of these problems but while there are winners, there are also plenty of losers who will face a tougher set of rules to get into England. Here’s what you need to know to get your head around the new travel rules…
What are the new rules replacing?
In April, England introduced its much-criticised ‘Traffic Light’ system for international travel which categorised countries as either Green, Amber or Red.
While travellers from Green List countries (where infection rates were low and variants of concern were non-existent) could pretty much come and go as they pleased, travellers from Red List countries were made to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10-days.
The new set of rules should be more straightforward
The problem with England’s traffic light system was that rules were often changed at short notice and at one point the three-tier system actually consisted of five tiers with varying levels of confusing restrictions.
The new set of rules are a two-tier system that in most cases assesses risk based on the individual’s vaccination status rather than the country they are travelling from
What are the new rules in a nutshell?
In a nutshell, the new two-tier system consists of a ‘Red List’ where travellers still have to quarantine in a hotel and a ‘rest of the world’ category where fully vaccinated travellers can skip any form of isolation.
What are the specific rules for fully vaccinated travellers arriving from the ‘rest of the world’ category?
Fully vaccinated travellers still need to do three specific things:
- Book a ‘day 2’ COVID-19 test before travelling to England
- Complete a passenger locator form
- Take the ‘day 2’ COVID-19 test after arrival
Fully vaccinated travellers no longer have to take a pre-departure test or a ‘day 8’ test.
What counts as fully vaccinated?
This is where things get confusing. If you received a COVID-19 vaccine under an approved vaccination programme in the UK, Europe or the United States then you are classed as fully vaccinated.
But, for the time being, at least, fully vaccinated travellers from many countries won’t actually be classed as fully vaccinated. As well as the UK, Europe and USA, only travellers who received their shots in the following countries will be classed as fully vaccinated:
Australia, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Dominica, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan or the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Travellers under the age of 18 will also be treated as fully vaccinated, as will travellers who are taking part in a vaccine research study in either the UK or the USA.
Does England accept all COVID-19 vaccines?
No. England only accepts COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved by its own health regulator. So far, these are:
- Oxford / AstraZeneca (Vaxzevria)
- Pfizer / BioNTech (Cominarty)
- Moderna (Spikevax)
- J&J Janssen
England does, however, accept formulations of approved vaccines marketed under a different name – such as the Covishield which is produced in India.
But people vaccinated in India aren’t considered fully vaccinated. Why not?
It’s all to do with the proof of vaccination certificates issued by different countries. Officials claim many countries don’t supply enough information on their vaccination certificates so travellers are treated as if they aren’t vaccinated.
This even includes travellers from countries and territories such as Hong Kong where infection rates are almost non-existent.
Hong Kong has changed its vaccination certificate to comply with England’s rules but travellers with these new certificates will still be classed as unvaccinated until England carries out a periodic review.
So what are the rules for ‘unvaccinated’ passengers?
The big change is that travellers classed as unvaccinated must self-isolate for 10-days after their arrival in England. They must also:
- Book and pay for COVID-19 tests on day 2 and day 8 after arrival
- Take a pre-departure test within three days of travel
- Complete a passenger locator form
- Take the day 2 and day 8 test
What if I received a mix of vaccines?
Unlike some countries, England does recognise people who have had a mix of two approved vaccines as still being fully vaccinated. You may also have received the two doses from two different approved programmes.
What kind of COVID-19 test do I need to take?
The most important thing to remember is that free tests are not accepted because a certificate isn’t issued to prove you are COVID-19 negative.
For pre-departure tests, a cheap rapid antigen test is acceptable but for the time being at least, passengers must book expensive PCR tests for day 2 and day 8 tests.
Day 2 and day 8 tests must be booked through a government-approved supplier but costs and service levels can vary massively.
What happens next?
The system is far from perfect and a number of improvements are planned:
- Replacing day 2 PCR tests for fully vaccinated travellers with rapid antigen tests
- Classing fully vaccinated passengers from more countries as fully vaccinated
- Reducing the number of Red List countries or eliminating it altogether
But for now, the Red List remains
Whether fully vaccinated or not, travellers from Red List countries still have to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10-days.
The Red List was designed to protect the British public from dangerous variants of concern but the delta variant has taken hold in England and around the world, pushing other variants to the wayside.
Campaigners are therefore calling for the Red List to be scrapped altogether, especially as similar hotel quarantine schemes in other countries have already been shut down.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.