Travel red list and hotel quarantine set to be scrapped

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Hotel quarantine – Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

The travel red list and hotel quarantine are set to be scrapped under plans, to be considered by ministers on Thursday, to ease restrictions in face of the declining Covid threat from abroad.

Ministers will meet to consider removing the final seven countries from the red list. Any traveller returning from them is currently required to quarantine in a UK hotel for 10 days at a cost of £2,285 per person.

Sources said it was “almost certain” that they would lift the restrictions on Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It is understood next week's Cop26 global summit on climate change in Glasgow, which delegates from the seven countries are attending, is a factor.

Ministers are also expected to consider a separate plan to scrap hotel quarantine, which even its pioneer, Australia, is abandoning in favour of vaccination as a defence against the importation of Covid.

It is expected to be replaced by a requirement for travellers to self-isolate at home for 10 days, irrespective of whether or not they are fully jabbed. This may not be announced on Thursday, and might not be enacted until the New Year.

Nearly 200,000 people returning from red list countries have been forced to quarantine in hotels since the regime was introduced at the height of the pandemic at the start of the year.

Although the red list will disappear with the removal of the seven countries, it is thought likely that ministers will keep it in reserve in the event of the emergence of new Covid variants or or a resurgence in the virus. Anyone returning from a red list country would then have to quarantine at home.

A source said: “There is a strong desire to abolish the red list, but a final decision will be taken on Thursday. It has been very much the expectation with the added pressure of Cop26.”

Earlier this month, there was a major cull of the red list when 47 countries were removed in one of the biggest reopenings of foreign travel since the start of the pandemic.

The moves come amid a dramatic weakening in the threat of Covid from overseas, with NHS data showing that Britons travelling to red list countries now have less chance of catching the virus than people who remain in the UK.

The proportion of positive test results from red list travellers in hotel quarantine dropped to 0.77 per cent in the middle of this month – fewer than one in 120 people. In contrast, the proportion testing positive in the UK stood at 1.14 per cent.

The red list and hotel quarantine was primarily set up to counter the risk from variants, but the only one now being detected is the delta strain – which is already dominant in the UK.

Paul Charles, the chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “There's no justification any more for keeping any country on the red list. They should follow Ireland, who made the same decision a month ago to take every country off its red list with immediate effect.

“It would be a popular move by the Government, especially with so many ministers coming for Cop26, including ministers from countries like Panama which are on the red list. It doesn't look good for them to be inviting countries that are still on the red list to Cop 26.”

Earlier this week, the Government also eased the testing regime for fully jabbed holidaymakers returning to the UK by replacing expensive PCR tests with cheaper lateral flow swabs. It follows the scrapping of the pre-departure tests for double vaccinated travellers coming back to the UK.

Unvaccinated travellers are still required to take pre-departure tests, two PCRs on arrival and have to quarantine on their return to the UK.

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