What is the problem with the new travel rules?

The ban on international travel has been replaced with a traffic-light system that has created widespread confusion and accusations of mixed messaging from ministers. More people than expected have attempted to travel to destinations on the amber list, with reports of three-hour queues at Heathrow airport. Restrictions still in place in many countries have also rendered the new UK system meaningless for many destinations.

Why have there been long queues at Heathrow?

Extra travel checks take longer and there are fewer staff to conduct them because of the need to maintain social distancing. Border Force says it cannot put more staff on duty and keep them safe in the space available. Labour’s Yvette Cooper, the chair of the home affairs select committee, warned that queues were creating “super-spreading risks” as passengers waited in poorly ventilated halls, especially if people from high-risk countries were involved.

Is it too soon to lift travel restrictions?

Yes, according to health experts who are concerned about the timing of the relaxation of the travel restrictions, as it comes amid mounting alarm about the growth of the Indian variant in the UK and while the pandemic continues to rage outside the UK.

In theory, where can you travel to without restrictions?

There is a “green list” of 12 countries and territories you can travel to with no need to quarantine on your return to the UK and only one post-arrival Covid test. They are: Portugal, Gibraltar, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, plus several small remote islands which are British overseas territories.

What about in practice?

Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei and the Faroe Islands have severely restricted entry criteria. Israel plans to reopen its border on 23 May and then only to groups of foreign tourists who have had both jabs. But Portugal does welcome any UK tourists with a recent negative test, or who have had both doses of the vaccine, or have even recovered from the virus. Gibraltar does not require UK visitors to be tested or vaccinated.

What about the amber list?

The list covers most of the world, with more 170 countries and territories including all the most popular holiday destinations such as Spain, France, Italy, Greece and the US. It is no longer illegal to travel to these destinations. People returning from amber countries must take two post-arrival tests. They are also required to self-isolate at home for 10 days, although they can reduce that time if they take an additional negative test on day five.

And the red list?

Those returning from a red-list country must stay in a quarantine hotel for 11 nights at a cost of £1,750. There are more than 40 countries on the red list, including India, Pakistan, Turkey, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina and the Philippines.

As travel is no longer illegal, should people go on holiday to amber-list countries?

No, according to the health secretary, Matt Hancock. He added in the Commons on Monday: “The official government advice is very clear that people should not travel to amber or red-list countries or territories. People should not travel to amber-list countries for a holiday … If it isn’t on the green list, then unless you have an exceptional reason you shouldn’t be travelling there.”

If you shouldn’t go to red and amber countries, why has it been made legal – and why have hundreds of flights to these destinations been allowed?

Ministers have not provided a convincing explanation.

What do health experts say about travel?

Don’t travel unless you have to, according to Sir Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. He said: “Britain is very connected, and that’s also a concern not only for importation of new variants coming into the country, but also people travelling out of the country. There is a risk that this variant B.1.617 could be transmitted from the UK … I think travel should still be very cautious and only when absolutely essential.”

What about the travel industry?

Pandemic-hit travel businesses are concerned that ministers are sowing confusion. They are lobbying for more countries to be added to the green list. They are also selling holidays to amber-list countries, despite government warnings against travel to those destinations. Sean Doyle, the chief executive of British Airways, called for clarity. “I think there are many reasons why people need to travel, and the advice is not clear in that regard,” he said. Johan Lundgren, easyJet’s chief executive, said: “The latest data suggests that most of Europe could actually already from right now go on to that green list of categories.”

Will the lists change?

The lists will be reviewed every three weeks, but Boris Johnson has said he does not expect new countries to be added to the green tier “very rapidly”.

How are list compiled?

There are four key tests used in deciding how to categorise a country within the traffic light system. These include the percentage of the country’s population to have been vaccinated, the rate of infection, the prevalence of variants of concern and the country’s access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing.

What about the rest of the UK?

Wales and Scotland’s travel rules are aligned with those in England, but officials have urged people to be cautious. Non-essential travel from Northern Ireland to the Common Travel Area, which consists of the UK, Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands and Isle of Man, is allowed, but travel is being discouraged. And while Wales will allow international travel, the Welsh government’s concerns about reimporting the virus mean it is advising people not to travel abroad during 2021. The Welsh government said vaccination status certificates would be available from Monday 24 May for people in Wales who have had both doses and need to urgently travel.

Is the government sending mixed messages on travel?

The confusion around allowing travel while also discouraging it has only spread after comments from cabinet ministers. On Tuesday, the environment secretary, George Eustice, suggested people could visit family or friends in places on the amber list. But hours later, the prime minister said amber-list countries were “not somewhere you should be going on holiday, let me be very clear about that”.

This content first appear on the guardian

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