Ministers are expected to announce an overhaul of the system on Friday amid reports that double jabbed passengers returning to England will no longer be asked to take a costly PCR test prior to departure.
It is also anticipated that the traffic light system will be simplified by merging the green and amber lists to form one list of “safe” countries and another list of red “no go” nations, which will still require more stringent testing and quarantine on return.
There are also reports that unvaccinated travellers face having to take two PCR tests after arriving in the UK from any other country. Anyone who has not had two doses could also have to self-isolate for up to 10 days on their return in a crackdown on jab “refuseniks”.
The moves come days after Boris Johnson announced his Covid winter plan to deal with any resurgence of Covid-19. The Government is banking on its vaccination programme to avoid a repeat of previous lockdowns.
Earlier this week the UK’s four largest airports called on the PM to reform the travel regime arguing it was “increasingly out-of-date and out-of-step”.
Asked on Times Radio today about plans to simplify the traffic light system, Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “Yes, I think that’s the right thing to do. It’s time to move on. So we just have two lists these, there’s the red list of countries where there’s very high levels of variants of concern. And there’s everybody else. And that’s exactly what the EU has already done.
“We really are taking a very cautious approach at the moment when others are moving ahead and getting their economies back up and running.”
The travel industry has been severely hit by the pandemic with Heathrow falling from the busiest airport in Europe in 2019 to the 10th.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said earlier this week that the need to take PCR tests on the second and eighth day after arrival in the UK was likely to be replaced by cheaper lateral flow tests for those who have had both jabs.
But health experts warned that relaxing travel controls risked leaving the UK vulnerable to new Covid variants.
The Department of Transport said decisions on the traffic light system “are informed by the latest risk assessment from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and wider public health factors.” The next review will take place by October 1.
Dr Simon Clarke, an Associate Professor in Cellular Microbiology at the University of Reading, said: “Anything we do to encourage foreign travel and travel around the world is going to up the risk and will make it more difficult to keep troublesome new variants out of the country.”
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