While there was plenty of movement at the last travel update, the number of viable holiday destinations on the green list remains limited.
Instead, many popular countries remain on either the amber list (with quarantine for people who aren’t fully vaccinated) or the red list (mandatory hotel quarantine).
Attention therefore shifts to the next review of the traffic light system, and the countries which carry the greatest potential for quarantine-free travel.
When is the next travel review?
Reviews of the UK’s traffic light travel restrictions take place every three weeks, with the previous update on Wednesday 4 August.
The last two announcements have broken with what had been an established tradition of the changes being unveiled on Thursdays.
It means the findings of the next review should be unveiled on either Wednesday 25 August or Thursday 26 August, shortly before children head back to school.
Unlike other major developments in the Covid response, travel updates tend not to be accompanied by a Government press conference – changes are instead tweeted by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
What happened at the last travel review?
At the last review it was announced that much-maligned amber-plus restrictions in France would be coming to an end, with the category being scrapped.
The shelving of plans for an “amber watchlist” meant that the nation returned to the original three-tier system of rules.
Seven countries moved from the amber list to the green list, having demonstrated they posed a low risk to UK public health: Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia, Romania and Norway.
No countries were forced to move from the green list to amber. However, Georgia, Mexico, Réunion and Mayotte all moved from the amber to the red list, where hotel quarantine is mandatory on arrival in the UK.
India, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE are going the other way, from red to amber, opening up the option of quarantine-free travel for fully vaccinated people.
Which countries could go on the green list at the next review?
Despite more nations joining the green list than in any other review, Paul Charles, head of travel consultancy the PC Agency, suggested that the changes had been overly cautious.
He said on Twitter: “While there is welcome progress with the Gulf hubs [UAE, Qatar, Bahrain] moving to amber, there are still many countries which should be on the green list; there is no guarantee that Government won’t switch a country at short notice; and no cap on test costs. Travel remains in a Government armlock.”
Ahead of the announcement, the PC Agency had identified 12 countries which could have gone green, based on them having significantly lower case numbers than the UK and a vaccination rate above 50 per cent of their adult populations.
The five nations which were earmarked by the analysis but remained amber in the review were:
- Bosnia and Herzogovina
- Czech Republic
If case rates remain low in these destinations, they should have vaccinated a sufficient number of people by the time of the next review to have a strong claim for green list inclusion.
Figures compiled by Reuters provide the latest data on Covid cases per 100,000 and an estimate of how much of the population has been fully vaccinated, based on the country’s overall number of doses administered.
This data gives an indication of their likelihood of moving to the red list:
- Poland: 3 cases per 100,000 people / 46.3 per cent fully vaccinated
- Canada: 28 cases per 100,000 people / 67.8 per cent fully vaccinated
- Bosnia and Herzogovina: 25 cases per 100,000 people / 13.3 per cent fully vaccinated
- Czech Republic: 11 cases per 100,000 people / 50.8 per cent fully vaccinated
- Lithuania: 134 cases per 100,000 people / 51.3 per cent fully vaccinated
Poland, meanwhile, reported just two cases per 100,000 people over the past week, although they have vaccinated a slightly smaller percentage of the population. By contrast, the latest figure for the UK for the same period is 277.4 cases per 100,000 population.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Mr Charles said: “When you take the criteria of the seven countries added to the [green] list today, then actually they equally apply to the countries that haven’t been added – like Poland, for example, or the Czech Republic or even Canada.
“So there are many countries in world which should be on the green list, but aren’t.”
In an earlier forecast the former BA strategist Robert Boyle had also cited Italy, Switzerland and Azerbaijan as potential green list inclusions, as well as Bhutan and Vietnam.
Of these, Italy looks the most promising candidate of the European countries – while cases are on the rise, with 71 cases per 100,000 people, its vaccination roll-out equates to around 60 per cent of the population.
In Switzerland and Azerbaijan the rate of cases stands above 100 and they have vaccinated a smaller percentage of their population, with only around a quarter of Azerbaijanis double jabbed.
A combination of higher Covid rates and low vaccine roll-out means Vietnam is unlikely to join the green list, but Bhutan is reporting just 1 infection per 100,000 people and has jabbed around two-thirds of its population.
What are the rules of the traffic light system?
The traffic light system is decided based on the following criteria:
- The percentage of a country’s population that have been vaccinated
- The rate of infection
- The prevalence of variants of concern
- The country’s access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing
There are now five traffic light categories, two more than when transport secretary Grant Shapps first announced the system in May 2021.
- Green: arrivals must take a pre-departure test three days before returning to the UK as well as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test on or before day two of their return. Quarantine does not apply (unless the Covid test returns positive) and there is no requirement for additional tests.
- Green watchlist: the same rules as the green list. However, countries on this list are “at risk of moving from green to amber”, potentially at very short notice.
- Amber: all travellers must take a pre-departure test three days before return as well as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test on or before day two of their return. Unvaccinated travellers must also self isolate for 10 days and take a second PCR test on day eight. An optional extra day-five test can be taken, with a negative result allowing unvaccinated travellers to “test out” of quarantine. The day-eight PCR test must still be taken regardless of the result of the optional day-five PCR test.
- Red: arrivals from red list countries must undertake a 10-day stay in a managed quarantine hotel at a cost of £1,750 per single adult (there are extra charges for more people in a family group), pre-departure testing, and mandatory PCR testing on or before day two and on or after day eight. The price of staying in a quarantine hotel will rise for bookings made on or after 4am on 12 August – it will cost £2,285 for a single adult.