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Shapps set to make travel announcement as No 10 hints at easing of rules


By PA News

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The Transport Secretary will make an announcement on international travel on Friday as the Government prepares to slash coronavirus protocols.

Downing Street confirmed that Grant Shapps will give an update on England’s travel controls, with the Cabinet minister revealing he would “simplify” stipulations for travelling abroad.

Mr Shapps tweeted: “I’ll set out measures to simplify international travel later today in order to reduce costs, take advantage of higher levels of vaccination, and keep us all safe.”

Ministers were due to review the travel traffic light system and whether to scrap the requirement for foreign travellers to take PCR tests, with the Transport Secretary’s statement to follow.

Grant Shapps (Victoria Jones/PA)
Grant Shapps (Victoria Jones/PA)

Environment Secretary George Eustice, during morning interviews, said no decisions had been taken before the Covid Cabinet subcommittee’s Friday meeting during which his colleagues were looking at current restrictions.

The group was said to be considering making going abroad cheaper and simpler, with plans to merge the green and amber travel lists to form one category of low-risk countries while reducing the number of destinations on the red list.

There is also speculation that minsters will agree that fully vaccinated arrivals will no longer need to take a pre-departure lateral flow test or a post-arrival PCR test.

This would save travellers around £100 per trip.

Speaking to Sky News, the Environment Secretary said: “My understanding is that no decisions have actually been taken yet, although I understand there may be a meeting today to review this. We regularly review those travel restrictions.”

Mr Eustice said the Government was “listening” to the travel industry’s concerns that testing protocols are “unnecessary” and “onerous”.

He stressed that the “difficulty” with switching to rapid-result lateral flow tests, which are “cheaper and simpler” than PCR tests, is that they are “not able to pick up” coronavirus variants of concern that could potentially evade vaccines being used in the UK.

It is important to note that we continue to make steady progress to ease restrictions, and that is very much the intention of the approach we will be taking
Downing Street

Labour said it will support a change to the travel testing regime as long as it is “based on evidence”.

Downing Street hinted that an easing of restrictions was likely to follow after “steady progress” in the struggle against Covid-19.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman, asked whether the changes are likely to be permanent, said: “I think it would be wrong to rule out anything in the future but it is important to note that we continue to make steady progress to ease restrictions, and that is very much the intention of the approach we will be taking.”

While the rules could be eased for fully vaccinated travellers, those who have not been jabbed could face tougher restrictions.

Currently, travellers who have not had both doses of a coronavirus vaccine must take one PCR test and are not required to self-isolate after arriving from a green list destination.

According to reports, they could be required to quarantine at home and take two tests when arriving from a low-risk location under the new system.

The changes would come into force ahead of the October half-term break.

Mr Shapps’s expected announcement will only apply to England, but the devolved administrations have recently implemented rule changes for travel announced in Westminster.

It is expected that people arriving from red list countries will continue to be required to spend 11 nights in a quarantine hotel, at a cost of £2,285 for solo travellers.

There are 62 countries on the list but it is expected to be reduced.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “Our top priority is to protect public health – decisions on our traffic light system are kept under regular review and are informed by the latest risk assessment from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and wider public health factors.”

Labour’s shadow policing minister Sarah Jones said her party has been “calling for ages” for ministers to scrap the amber travel list because it has “always added to confusion”.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

“People never quite understood what the system was,” she told Sky News.

“We’ve been calling for a proper process to work out an international vaccine passport so we can get people safely moving around.”

The travel sector has been desperate for testing and quarantine rules for international travel to be relaxed.

Heathrow said this week it had gone from being Europe’s busiest airport in 2019 to number 10 on the list, behind rivals in cities such as Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt.

Speculation that restrictions might be overhauled sent shares in airlines soaring.

AJ Bell financial analyst Danni Hewson said: “October half-term is the next big opportunity for the travel sector and any changes that can make travelling less unsettling and testing less expensive will yield dividends.”

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