Strict hotel quarantine requirements will be dropped for travellers from dozens of countries, after ministers approved plans to slash England’s travel “red list” to just seven – down from 54.
The Guardian understands the decision was taken at a meeting on Thursday morning, following discussions about the safety of opening up the country’s borders, with an announcement due later on Thursday.
Brazil is expected to be removed from the red list, but those to remain on it will predominantly be in south America, including Peru, Colombia and Venezuela.
The step means thousands of people hoping to visit England who would have had to undergo an 11-night hotel quarantine at a cost of more than £2,000 may be able to avoid isolation altogether – depending on their vaccine status.
However, a row remains unresolved between Sajid Javid’s Department of Health and Social Care and Grant Shapps’ Department for Transport about when the testing requirement should be changed from needing a PCR test to a lateral flow.
The DfT will only promise the change will happen by the end of October – leaving open the possibility it will come into force too late for families planning a foreign break over half-term, who will then have to fork out more money for the expensive PCR tests.
Tory MPs and industry experts have warned that keeping the PCR requirement in place for longer is putting people off travel because it is significantly adding to the cost of a trip abroad – particularly for families who have to pay for several tests.
Travel rules changed earlier this week to scrap the “traffic light” system that graded countries red, amber or green, meaning now there is a simpler single red list.
People arriving from non-red list countries who have received any of four vaccines – Pfizer, AstraZeneca (including Covidshield), Moderna and Janssen – in the UK, US, EU and 18 other countries now have their inoculation status recognised, and can avoid isolation so long as they test negative within two days of their arrival.
Everyone else arriving from non-red list countries must still isolate for at least five days – but can use the “test to release” system to be freed.
The red list is next expected to be updated on 28 October.
In the run-up to Christmas, attention will turn to whether the tougher travel restrictions will be remain in force for some countries, or whether ministers will try to abolish the red list completely.