International travel could resume in time for summer holidays, as the UK government outlines plans for a traffic light system.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has confirmed that a colour coded system will be used in England to categorise countries based on risk, although requirements for travel in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have yet to be announced.
Mr Shapps has said that people in England can now “start to think” about booking overseas summer holidays, but warned that travellers will be subject to Covid-19 testing before and after departure.
The Cabinet minister said it is the first time in “many months” he was not advising against booking foreign trips, with his comments coming less than a week after Downing Street published a document urging people “not to book summer holidays abroad until the picture is clearer”.
Here’s how testing for foreign holidays will work under current plans, and how much it is expected to cost.
Will travellers have to take a test to go on holiday?
Mr Shapps has announced a “framework” for the resumption of overseas leisure travel, which includes requiring all arrivals to take a pre-departure and post-arrival Covid-19 test.
Post-arrival tests must be the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) type tests, which is used to detect the presence of an antigen, rather than the detecting antibodies.
Travellers will have to take the tests even if they are visiting low-risk ‘green’ countries.
The government’s Global Travel Taskforce has confirmed that people arriving home from abroad will be subject to rules such as home quarantine and strict testing, but these will be differently applied depending on the country visited.
Under the traffic light system, countries will be rated using a colour coded system, labelling them as either red, amber or green.
Based on the colour code of a country, the following rules will apply:
Green destinations – Arrivals will have to take a pre-departure test and 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.
Amber destinations – Arrivals must quarantine for 10 days, take a pre-departure test and a PCR test on day two and day eight after their return, with the option of a “test to release” on day five to end self-isolation early.
Red destinations – Travel to these countries will be restricted along the same lines as the Government’s current “red list”, meaning returning travellers must stay for 10 days in a quarantine hotel, as well as take a pre-departure test and a further PCR test on day two and day eight after returning.
Plans for travel requirements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have yet to be confirmed.
How much do PCR tests cost?
PCR type Covid-19 tests cost about £120 each, according to Mr Shapps.
However, he argued that the cost of these tests that will be required for foreign travel need to be driven down, following criticism from the travel industry.
The cost of the tests has been met with furious backlash, with the travel industry arguing that people returning from low-risk countries should instead be allowed to take lateral flow tests, which are cheaper and quicker to return results.
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said the requirement for PCR tests was “a blow to all travellers” and risked “making flying only for the wealthy”.
Mark Tanzer, boss of travel trade organisation Abta, argued that permitting the use of lateral flow tests would “make international travel more accessible and affordable whilst still providing an effective mitigation against reimportation of the virus”.
Mr Shapps has responded by saying he is looking to “drive down the costs” of the tests needed for international travel to resume.
He said: “Costs are definitely a concern, it’s one of the factors this year, and we have to accept we’re still going through a global pandemic.
“And so we do have to be cautious and I’m afraid that does involve having to have some tests and the like.
“But, I am undertaking today to drive down the costs of those tests and looking at some innovative things we could do.”