Potential plans to introduce a traffic light scheme for travel abroad have prompted concerns among scientists that the approach is too simplistic and could fail to prevent new variants from entering the UK.
At present, it is illegal to travel abroad for holidays, with foreign travel only allowed in specific circumstances. Those who do travel abroad must quarantine either at home or in a hotel on return to England. All must do so in a hotel on return to Scotland.
Among the plans under consideration by the government to allow more travel as restrictions ease is a traffic light system, whereby countries are given a green, amber or red designation based on factors including case rates, levels of Covid variants and the status of the country’s vaccination programme.
No restrictions would be placed on those entering the UK from a green country, while quarantine at home would be necessary for people entering from amber countries, and those entering the UK from red countries would face a 10-day period of hotel quarantine.
However, the plans have raised concerns among some scientists. “The point about it is that any traffic light system will of course be used for people to go on holiday,” said Gabriel Scally, visiting professor of public health at the University of Bristol and a member of the Independent Sage committee.
The problem, he said, was that holiday resorts attracted tourists from many different countries.
“It is not quite as simple as looking at what the situation is in an individual country from which a flight originated,” he said. “We know people will mix together from all over the world, and this is what spurred the autumn surges of cases.”
Prof Rowland Kao, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh who contributes to the Spi-M modelling subgroup of Sage, agreed that restricting travel to a few locations risks turning them into locations where super spreading events are common.
“Lots of people meeting together in close quarters, where social pressures mean physical distancing is less likely, means many transmission events can occur,” he said.