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UK May Pull the Plug on Its Travel ‘Traffic Light’ System

Reports say a simplified system would rely more on vaccination status than country-by-country case numbers

The government of the United Kingdom is set to revamp its current travel ‘traffic light’ system in favor of a more simplified approach. According to reports from the BBC, the new system would allow fully vaccinated UK travelers to go to countries with similarly high vaccination rates and avoid quarantine when returning.

The three-tier travel traffic light system – red, amber and green – was introduced in May. The intent was to open up international travel to UK citizens while limiting the spread of COVID-19 from overseas and protect against new variants coming into the country.

The amber and green categories are likely be removed, leaving only countries on the red list. According to government health authorities those are countries that should not be visited “except in the most extreme of circumstances.” Travelers returning from those countries must self-isolate for 10 days in a government-approved hotel.

Find a list of current red, amber and green countries here.

The system, which has not been seen by everyone in the industry as an unmitigated success, has been reviewed periodically since its introduction, with the next checkpoint scheduled for Oct. 1. However according to sources, changes could come sooner, perhaps as early as next week.

The government has reportedly tapped travel industry leaders to come up with changes to replace the current traffic light system for international travel. The BBC reports one industry source as saying the new system could “allow vaccinated travelers to go to countries with similarly high levels of vaccination as the UK without the need for quarantine.”

It is likely any industry-led proposal would also include scrapping the requirement for fully vaccinated travelers to undergo COVID testing as a prerequisite for traveling back to the UK. Eliminating the mandate for COVID tests would bring UK rules in line with much of European Union.

Such a move would also give traveler confidence a shot in the arm. UK travel industry insiders say the fear factor brought on by category changes is a huge barrier to recovery.

“We had the traffic light system over the summer,” said Sean Doyle, chief executive of British Airways. “There was some progress made, but I think it’s not fit for purpose. It needs to be simplified and adapted in the same way that we see in Europe and in the US.”

However no policy changes will be made until they are approved by the Chief Scientific Officer and the Health Secretary. In the meantime, the government is remaining mum on any changes, saying only “Our international travel policy is guided by one overwhelming priority – protecting public health.”