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Travel traffic light update: PCR tests and self-isolation for all international arrivals, red list expands

All travellers must take a PCR test when returning to the UK, self-isolating until receiving a negative result

Travel traffic light update: PCR tests and self-isolation for all international arrivals, red list expands

From 4am on Tuesday 30 November, PCR day two tests will be mandatory for all international arrivals regardless of vaccination status, with a further requirement to self-isolate at home until receiving a negative result.

The news follows the UK’s red list expanding to 10 territories: Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia. If you are in one of the 10 countries currently, you will need to book into a government-approved quarantine hotel at a cost of £2,285 for a single adult. Back in October, the government removed all destinations from the red list. However it kept the red list in place in case any variant of concern emerged, which is why these countries have suddenly been re-added.

British nationals who have visited these countries will be required to quarantine at home if arriving between Friday 26 November at 12pm and 4am on Sunday 28 November. This means you will need to self-isolate, even if you are travelling from a country on the green list, but have recently visited one of the red list countries. Arrivals will also need to take an NHS PCR test on both day two and day eight. Non-British nationals will not be allowed to enter the UK.

The government also dropped the amber classification for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so that countries fall into either a red ‘no-go’ list or a green ‘rest of world’ list. These lists indicate what tests and quarantines you must undertake, but this also depends on whether you are fully vaccinated or not.

I’m in South Africa – what should I do?

Before you fly into England from Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe or Namibia you’ll need to book a hotel quarantine package, including two Covid-19 tests.

I’ve got a trip booked to South Africa – what should I do?

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) is now advising against all travel to South Africa. All decent holiday companies will therefore cancel any package holidays and allow you to rebook or get a refund. Read our guide to package holiday companies with flexible booking policies to find out more.

However, there is no automatic right to a refund for flights to a red list destination unless it is cancelled. If your flight-only booking is due to go before 4am on 28 November you should be able to get a refund. If it is booked after that date, you may find it more tricky.

If airlines decide to still run flights to red list destinations, you could lose the cost of your ticket. Decent airlines should allow you to at least rebook for a future date. Read our article detailing airlines with the best flexible flight policies.

 

What are the current travel rules?

It depends on whether you are travelling from a green list ‘rest of world’ country or a red list country and whether you are vaccinated. These rules indicate whether you need to take tests before or after returning to the UK, and how long (if at all) you need to quarantine for.  See below for full rules dependent on your vaccination status.

What tests and quarantine periods will be required when returning from a green list ‘rest of world’ country?

Fully vaccinated passengers

Fully vaccinated travellers no longer need a pre-departure test before arrival into the UK from a rest of the world list (i.e. non-red) country. The UK government announced new measures on 27 November requiring all international arrivals, regardless of vaccination status to take a day 2 PCR test when returning, and self-isolating until getting a negative result.

The requirement for a day 2 PCR test was, for a while, dropped in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, allowing travellers to use private lateral flow tests instead (provided they met the specifications requested by your destination). However, from next week, a lateral flow test will no longer suffice.

English holidaymakers can now use the NHS app to prove their vaccination status in many countries. You can also access this online if you don’t have a smartphone, or request proof in letter form if you don’t have access to a computer or printer. Find out more about the NHS app, how to download and use it, plus the options for those residing in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Unvaccinated passengers

Unvaccinated travellers coming from a ROW country to anywhere in the UK must take a pre-departure test, followed by day 2, and 8 test, and quarantine at home. Test to release on day 5 remains an option to reduce the self-isolation period. Read our review of private test providers, which looks at who has the best refund policies, customer reviews and cheapest prices. 

What tests and quarantine periods are required when returning from a red list country?

For both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals returning from a red list country, there will be a requirement to take a pre-departure test and undergo a hotel quarantine for 10 days, with day 2 or 8 tests, and no tests to release.

Which vaccines are accepted for entry into England?

The government is making it easier for foreign nationals and UK citizens vaccinated abroad to enter England without the need for quarantine. It recently announced it will recognise vaccines listed under the WHO Emergency Use List. From 4am on Monday 22 November, England will recognise those vaccinated in 135 approved countries and territories with any of the following vaccines: Pfizer BioNTech, Oxford AstraZeneca (including Covishield), Moderna, Janssen, as well as Sinovac, Sinopharm Beijing and Covaxin.

Which countries are currently on the UK’s red list?

  • South Africa
  • Botswana, Lesotho
  • Eswatini
  • Zimbabwe
  • Namibia
  • Angola
  • Malawi
  • Mozambique
  • Zambia

Which countries are on the green list (‘rest of world’ list)?

All other countries, other than South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia are on the green list.

Read our where can I go on holiday story for the full list and advice on booking.

beach

When’s the next travel update taking place and how frequently will it change?

Updates tend to take place every three weeks and the nest scheduled update should be around 9 December. However, the government has demonstrated that if a Covid variant of concern appears, it will not hesitate to add countries straight to the red list with little warning. Adding six African countries to the red list on 26 November was an unscheduled update.

The government warns it won’t ‘hesitate to act immediately should data show countries’ risk ratings have changed’, meaning travellers could face disruption. 

What else do I need to know?

Before you book a trip do find out if the country is allowing UK residents to enter, several green rated countries, such as New Zealand don’t. Other countries, such as Malta, require you to show an NHS Covid Pass as proof of being fully vaccinated.

You may have chosen to download and print a PDF of your proof of inoculation as a backup in case the app malfunctions. However, be aware that this needs to be dated 1 November or after. Those printed earlier may be refused in a dozen or so EU countries, including Belgium, Croatia and Czechia. A safer bet is to request a letter from the NHS as a backup in case the app fails – the letter does not have a validity date.

It’s also essential that you check FCDO advice before travel. This advises on whether travel to a country is safe based on Covid metrics but also includes the risk of a wider range of factors in its analysis – such as civil unrest and terrorism. If you travel to a country against government advice, this could invalidate your insurance.

However, the FCDO has removed its warnings against travel to numerous countries, and will no longer advise against travel to non-red list countries based on Covid-19 grounds, except in exceptional circumstances such as if the local healthcare system is overwhelmed.

Currently, the UK government requires you to take a privately bought day 2 lateral flow test on your return from a trip if you’re fully vaccinated and a PCR on day 2 and 8 for those not inoculated. Find out where to get a reliable lateral flow test.

Anyone testing positive with a LFT will have to take a follow up PCR test, but these can be done for free via the NHS.

Latest FCDO advice

In a positive step for travellers, the FCDO has lifted its advice against all but essential travel for numerous countries and territories. This means that holidaymakers will now be able to find travel insurance for more destinations. However, it has put 10 territories in Africa back on its red list.

FCDO assessment of non-red list countries will no longer be based on Covid metrics, except for in exceptional circumstances should a country have a spike in cases and their healthcare system become overwhelmed. There are destinations such as Jamaica and the Bahamas which are not on the red list but still have an FCDO warning against travel there.

The FCDO will continue to advise against all but essential travel to destinations on the red list. If you choose to travel against government advice, it’s likely you’ll invalidate your travel insurance.

How does the government decide which countries are on the red or green lists?

Destinations have been assigned their status based on a range of Covid-19 health metrics, including vaccination numbers, infection rates and prevalence of variants. But the truth is no one knows exactly how the government makes these decisions, meaning it is impossible to guess how rules may change. 

The varying statuses indicate the risk in each destination and which tests and quarantine periods are required. 

Can I take a holiday to countries on the red list? What tests are needed?

You should not travel to red list countries for holidays. If you have to travel there, you’ll need to pay for a 10-day stay at a government-managed quarantine hotel on your return – that currently costs £2,285 for a single adult and £1,430 for a second adult.

You’ll also have to take a pre-departure test and PCR tests on day two and eight regardless of your vaccination status.

What happens if I’m abroad and the country I’m visiting turns red in the traffic light update?

If it is announced while you are away that your holiday destination’s status is changing to red, this won’t take effect for a few days. 

Red list status means you will have to pay to quarantine in a hotel on your return home, if you don’t land back in the UK before the deadline set. This costs £2,285 for a single adult and £1,430 for a second adult.

To avoid hotel quarantine, a package holiday company may try to bring you home early, before the country’s status changes to red. This isn’t guaranteed though, so it’s best you ask your travel company before booking what happens in this scenario.

In the instance your holiday provider won’t fly you home early, or you booked your flights and hotel separately, you will need to pay for new flights home. The airfares are likely to be high due to demand. Alternatively, if you don’t choose to come home early or a flight ban is put in place, you will have to shell out for a quarantine hotel for all family members. The cost is £2,285 for a single adult and £1,430 for a second adult for hotel quarantine – though some countries will pay for this on your behalf.

Most travel insurers won’t pay for costs incurred due to returning home early as a result of a country turning red. 

Should I book a holiday?

If you decide to book a holiday, you’ll need to check which tests will be needed on your chosen travel dates and factor in the cost. Tests are required even for travel to and from green list countries, and will continue to play a part in travel from the next rule update – albeit a more minimal part for vaccinated individuals. Although pricey, costs of tests are slowly coming down.

However, you still need to take note of the entry requirements to enter a country and check FCDO advice. Just because it’s not on the red list, doesn’t mean the FCDO advises you should travel there. Equally, just because the UK says it’s safe to travel, doesn’t mean that the country will let you in. For example, Australia is not allowing entry for UK citizens, and Hong Kong is only allowing entry to its own residents flying from the UK.

Because the UK has simplified testing restrictions for double vaccinated travellers, it is generally much simpler to now take a holiday.

However, just because it’s easier to book holidays right now, it’s best to book with a flexible provider in case things change. Jet2, Kuoni and Trailfinders are Which? Recommended Providers all have good booking policies.

You also need to protect yourself in case the country you’ve booked is later moved onto the government’s no-go red list – it could do so at short notice.

Delayed Covid-19 test results could also prevent travellers from boarding their flights, and unless you take out travel insurance, you may lose the cost of your holiday. Once abroad you must also be prepared that if you test positive for Covid you will have to self-isolate at your destination.

 


Will I need a vaccine passport to travel – full Q&A on what destinations are doing


Vaccination passports and entry restrictions

Several countries have indicated that they will allow vaccinated travellers entry for holidays without the need to take a Covid-19 test, while the government has confirmed that fully vaccinated travellers returning to England, Wales and Scotland (check start dates of this rule as they differ) from a non-red country or territory will be able to replace costly PCR tests with cheaper lateral flow tests.

Greece will permit entry without testing to UK travellers who can prove they’ve been fully vaccinated. Proof of a negative test is an alternative to vaccination. Greece accepts the NHS app or letter as proof of this (and equivalents).

If you are planning to travel to a destination where proof of vaccination is accepted, you also need to check rules on what evidence is required. The government website is a good place to check to see if they’ll accept the NHS app or letter as proof.

vaccine passport

Vaccination certificates on the NHS app

In England, the NHS app can be used as proof of vaccination status. However, check the country will accept this as valid proof before travelling. Some countries may still require proof of a negative test, check before booking.

English residents can also request proof online or in letter form by calling 119. Read everything you need to know about using the NHS app for travel from downloading it, to creating a QR code to proving your vaccination status.

Travellers will be responsible for making sure they have evidence of vaccination before travel. If for any reason you don’t, you’ll be liable for any additional test costs that are required.

Residents in Wales can access their Digital Covid Passes for international travel online, and download or print the Pass as a PDF document. This isn’t possible for Wales residents on the NHS app. Find out how you can access the Covid pass on the Welsh Government website.

You can also request a vaccination certificate, through your local health board in writing or by phone. If you cannot access this, you can call 0300 303 5667 to request a vaccination certificate. However, it can take up to 10 working days for this to arrive.

You can also request a vaccination certificate, through your local health board in writing or by phone. If your travel is urgent and essential, and you can’t get a test in time, or quarantine to meet a country’s entry requirements, you can call 0300 303 5667 to request a vaccination certificate. However, it can take up to 10 working days for this to arrive.

Residents of Scotland can use the free NHS Scotland Covid Status App to prove they have been inoculated. It is also possible to request a printed vaccine certificate or download a PDF from the NHS inform website. Alternatively, call 0808 196 8565 if you’re due to travel in the next three weeks.

Residents of Northern Ireland can’t use the NHS app. Instead you can apply for a Covid vaccination certificate online or through the COVIDCertNI app. If you cannot apply online for any reason, request a paper version by calling 0300 200 7814.


How to use the NHS app for travel – how it works and when you need a physical certificate instead


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