May 8, 2021

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COVID-19 second wave: UK delays taking decision on allowing international flights to early May

Which traffic light did you get? The UK will assign green, amber and red to decide who gets to travel where and how.
Image Credit: AP

London: The UK will decide by early next month whether Britons can resume taking international holidays on May 17, with destination countries rated according to their COVID-19 risk in a traffic light system.

Different testing and quarantine regimes will be compulsory according to whether a destination is rated green, amber or red under the new system, the Department for Transport said Friday. It’s still too early to say which nations will fall in which category, with a decision due to be announced in “early May”, it said, giving the same timeframe for a decision on whether travel can resume on May 17.

“The framework announced today will help allow us to reopen travel safely and sustainably, ensure we protect our hard-won achievements on the vaccine rollout and offer peace of mind to both passengers and industry,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.

The failure to confirm whether international travel will resume May 17 prolongs the uncertainty facing an airline industry that’s reeling from over a year of COVID-19 restrictions. The government has said that’s the earliest day foreign holidays can resume, but officials have warned that a further delay could be required if coronavirus infections continue to surge elsewhere in the world.

UK green lighting ways

Countries will be categorized based on factors including the percentage of their population that have been vaccinated, the rate of infection, the prevalence of Coronavirus “variants of concern” and the destination’s access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing.

Restrictions will be formally reviewed on June 28, with further reviews no later than July 31 and October 1.

Extend the pain

Tim Alderslade, CEO of the industry body Airlines UK, called the proposals a “further setback for an industry on its knees.”

Traffic lights

Under the new system British residents going on holiday abroad will be required to purchase COVID-19 testing packages and quarantine packages from approved providers, prior to departure, depending on the traffic light rating of their destination. Countries in the safest green category that are in danger of being elevated to amber will be placed on a public watchlist so that travelers have advanced warning of a possible change in rating and can plan accordingly.

“This does not represent a reopening of travel as promised by ministers,” Alderslade said. “The insistence on expensive and unnecessary PCR testing rather than rapid testing – even for low-risk countries – will pose an unsustainable burden on passengers, making travel unviable and unaffordable for many people.”

While Britain said in February that its rapid vaccination rollout could allow a resumption of travel as early as May 17, a new wave of outbreaks in mainland Europe has put that target at risk. A second summer lost to the coronavirus crisis would likely trigger a spate of airline failures and bankruptcy filings, alongside a repeat of 2020’s bailouts, job cuts, and jetliner deferrals and cancellations, according to consultants IBA Group.