How The UK's Covid Traffic Light System Will Work

What you need to know about testing, quarantine, and the countries on the green, amber and red lists.

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Foreign travel is set to resume from May 17 – and there are some new rules to get your head around if you’re planning a summer holiday.

A risk-based traffic light system is being introduced, where countries will be labelled green, amber or red, with different rules for returning travellers depending on what list their holiday destination is on.

The government has made its first announcement of which countries fall into the green list, and the lists will be available on the government’s website.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps confirmed in a Downing Street press briefing on Friday that the following countries will be green-listed from May 17:

  • Ascension and Tristan da Cunha

  • Australia

  • Brunei

  • Falkland Islands

  • Faroe Islands

  • Gibraltar

  • Iceland

  • Israel

  • New Zealand

  • Portugal including Madeira and Azores

  • Saint Helena

  • Singapore

  • South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands

Meanwhile, Turkey, Maldives and Nepal will be added to the red list, for now.

The lifting of restrictions on travel abroad was “necessarily cautious”, Shapps said, with the lists set to be reviewed every few weeks. “We must make sure the countries we reconnect with are safe,” he said.

In earlier indications, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) also updated its advice on visits to Spain’s Canary Islands and the Greek islands of Rhodes, Kos, Zante, Corfu and Crete, saying it was no longer advising against “all but essential travel” to these destinations.

However, Spain, Greece and France – all popular holiday destinations with Brits – have not yet been added to the official green list.

How the traffic light system will work

Green destinations

These are destinations with the lowest risk. Arrivals to the UK will have to take a pre-departure test at their holiday destination, then another PCR test on or before day two of their return to the UK.

No quarantine or additional tests will be needed unless a positive result comes back. However, if your test comes back positive, you will need to self-isolate at home for 10 days, following the usual self-isolation rules.

Those coming back from green destinations will be required to book “test packages” from a government list of providers before travelling – you can find the full list here. The rules apply whether or not you’ve been vaccinated. Prices for the test packages start from around £160 and go up to nearly £600.

Amber destinations

These are places with a moderate risk. The government has asked people not to travel to amber destinations for holidays and says travel to these destinations should only be for essential or unavoidable reasons, such as work, needing to attend a funeral or caring for a family member abroad.

However, this is guidance and not law, and some travel operators are still selling holidays to some amber destinations, sparking confusion in this area.

If you do decide to go, you must take a pre-departure test before leaving your destination. Those coming back from amber destinations will also be required to book “test packages” from the government list of providers before travelling, even if they’ve been vaccinated.

Arrivals to the UK will be required to quarantine for 5-10 days, depending on the testing package purchased. This quarantine can be completed at home.

Once in the UK, those in quarantine will need to take a PCR test on day two and day eight after their return, with the option to pay for an extra test on day five to end self-isolation early. This is called the ‘test to release’ system. Under the system, you pay for a private PCR test (£60-£100) and can end your isolation as soon as you receive a negative result. If you use the test to release system, you must still complete the day eight PCR test. If you receive a positive test result, your isolation period resets and you’re back at day 0.

Red destinations

Travel to these countries will be most heavily restricted and travel is restricted to essential reasons only. Returning travellers must stay for at least 10 days in a quarantine hotel, at a cost of £1,750 per person.

Travellers will have to take a pre-departure test, plus a further PCR test on day two and day eight of their quarantine. If you get a positive test result from your day-8 test, you will need to quarantine for a further 10 days – the day of the test becomes day 0. You can’t use the early “test to release” scheme if you’ve visited a red listed county.

Arrivals from red countries will need to book a “quarantine package” before departing on their travels. The rules apply whether or not you’ve been vaccinated.

Countries may change categories

If you book a green listed country in May, there’s no guarantee it’ll remain in this category later this year. The allocation of countries’ categories will be kept under review and will respond to “emerging evidence”, with a particular focus on variants of concern, the government said.

To help travellers plan ahead, a “green watchlist” will be set up to flag which countries are most at risk of moving into the amber category. However, the government warned it would not hesitate to “act immediately” if data showed a destination’s risk rating had changed.

Covid passports might be needed

All arrivals in the UK will be subject to the same testing and quarantine rules, whether or not you’ve been vaccinated. However, some countries have indicated that people will not be required to take outbound testing if they can prove they’ve been vaccinated.

Grant Shapps previously said the NHS app – which is currently used to book medical appointments and order repeat prescriptions – would be able to display evidence that someone in England has been vaccinated or tested.

While there were doubts over whether the app would be ready for use as a vaccine passport by the time international travel resumed, the government has now said the function will be accessible – and that those who can’t use the app can request a paper version from NHS by ringing 119 from May 10.

Travel is the story of our summer. The rules (and traffic lights) are always changing, but one thing’s clear, we dream of being Anywhere But Here. This seasonal series offers you clear-headed travel advice, ideas-packed staycation guides, clever swaps and hacks, and a healthy dose of wanderlust. z

HuffPost UK