NEWS: Government to ditch hotel quarantine & introduce traffic light system for countries?

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This weekend has been tough for those that are desperate to be able to travel abroad legally again. With headlines like “summer holidays unlikely” from the major news channels, it was a gloomy start to the weekend. However, I don’t believe that this means that the current travel ban won’t be lifted. When Matt Hancock was questioned about the comments from one particular “expert”, he said that the government travel task force would be coming up with a plan for the way forward for travel and that travel is banned until 17 May. None of this is news but it did seem to suggest that the scaremongering was unwarranted.

The reason that the experts are getting alarmed is due to the rises in SOME countries in Europe. But to say that summer holidays are off because of a rise in cases in March seems rather overly pessimistic. It also ignores the fact that many people want to travel to see friends and family that they have not seen for many months. For a start, there are some countries in Europe such as Portugal, Spain and Iceland that have lower cases than the UK. Plus some countries like Greece and Spain are targeting certain islands to get fully vaccinated to allow tourists back. These destinations could well be allowed for UK visitors this summer. 


Yes, there could be a rise in variants as cases rise in Europe, but this doesn’t mean the entire world is off-limits. There are plenty of destinations around the world with relatively low cases and/or good vaccination programs that should be safe to visit by summer.

The Financial Times had an interesting article about the options the Travel Taskforce are considering, which said much of what I was expecting the government to do from 17 May. 

Here is a summary of the main points:

  • A traffic light system is being considered with green countries being those with higher vaccinations rates and low cases as well as red for those deemed as a high risk due to cases or variant prevalence. This is similar to what we had before and exactly what I would expect any sensible government to do. The restrictions must be proportionate based on risk. It also means there is a danger that countries could move in and out of the green list as before. However, I would expect this to happen less and less as countries vaccinate their way out of the pandemic.
  • Hotel quarantine could be scrapped and be replaced by home quarantine for risky destinations. I would also expect this as travel becomes legal again as there simply would not be enough hotel rooms to cope. If I was the government I would be looking at some form of GPS tracking for quarantine for those from red countries, similar to what Barbados is doing.
  • Apparently, there is dissent amongst the advisors as to whether and how to open travel again. Unsurprisingly, Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer is one of those against it. There were also the experts that spoke out against it yesterday along with a study that showed that Covid was brought back into the country last summer by some travellers. I think this misses two crucial points, firstly the majority of the adult population will be vaccinated by July, unlike last year. Secondly, testing before flying to the UK was not in place last summer either. That will catch a number of potential cases. 
  • There is a proposal to carry out pilot schemes with countries with high vaccination rates, such as the US, Singapore and Israel. 
  • Concerns from the travel industry include the amount of restrictions that may be imposed on those returning to the country. Some companies are pushing for no testing from the safest destinations. I think the government need to have a multi-layered policy based on whether people are vaccinated and the risk of the country they are travelling from. For example, someone vaccinated travelling from a zero Covid country like New Zealand poses virtually no threat, versus an unvaccinated person travelling from South Africa. 

What do you think the government should do with travel from 17 May? Let us know in the comments below.

16 Comments on "NEWS: Government to ditch hotel quarantine & introduce traffic light system for countries?"

  1. Scaremongering in a bid to encourage Brits to book staycations in order to boost the near bankrupt economy! Most longhaul destinations have far fewer cases than the UK and have been open to tourists throughout the pandemic. Vaccination and testing is key to leisure travel over the next year or so.

    • I agree. There has been a year of scaremongering, and the real scourge of the virus has been the affect the reaction to it will have on the mental health of so many, especially the young, with every diminishing working protections and fast disappearing employment opportunities.

  2. My heart sank when I read “the traffic light” system as that was horrific last time.
    However your points are very true and valid so it could work better this time!
    Also people need to remember that Europe is not the only place in the world!

    • It’s ridiculous to suggest it’s unlawful to book a holiday now. There’s no law against booking a holiday to be taken Wef 17 May. And it’s the traveller’s risk to determine whether it’s fully refundable or not
      Interestingly I learned yesterday that BA is still operating daily flights to Barbados – and presumably they are at least part full, presumably with passengers claiming they are travelling on business ….

  3. The small islands in Greece that are receiving the vaccine have to be reached by boat from the larger islands or the mainland where there are airports but where the vaccine rollout has been slow. Visitors have to remember that the smaller islands do not have hospitals and the Health Centres have limited facilities. Greece is now in its 5th month of a total lockdown. I would suggest that anyone who is thinking about visiting Greece this year has a look at the GOV.UK Travel to Greece site to see the restrictions which are currently in place and for which there has been no road map published to exit from them.

    • I think the point is that such a miniscule proportion of the
      population is adversely affected by Covid. The fatality figures for the UK are misleadingly high since they signal anyone who died of ANY condition, cancer, cardiovascular event or accident but had Covid diagnosed within the previous 28 days listed as a Covid fatality.
      Further, surely the whole point of a vaccination is to greatly reduce the chances of an individual having an adverse reaction to Covid infection. Anxiety about whether people travel from the Greek mainland to an island is surely irrelevant, or largely so, once personal vaccination has occurred.

  4. Why is the UK so negative on South Africa. The variant that was discovered here may have come from Europe. The case numbers are so low here, much lower that UK and EU countries yet SA is on the red list. The study that showed the AZ vaccine was not as good on the variant was only done on a few young people. But UK press and politicians love to label anything from Africa as very bad with no evidence.

    • There is a group of people, labelled experts, who are prospering on their ability to forecast worst case scenarios. Whilst their opinions contribute to the debate, they are but a part of the whole picture, with stress, fatigue, unemployment and depression created not by the virus but by the reaction to it. 20,000 more males under 50 have died from fatal heart attacks in the last year than is usual, either because they were scared of calling 999 or because treatment was unavailable. Those stoking fear need to consider the consequences of their actions.

  5. If you have been vaccinated (as most are rushing for the needle) and it does what a vaccine should do then there can be no risk from travelling for those vaccinated. Pity the vaccinated are still locked up and wearing masks

  6. If the traffic light system returns, that is at least something. I know many people raced home last year based on Shapps’ tweets, but for the majority of us who can work from home, home quarantine makes not a blind bit of difference and we’d happily do it to get a holiday. In reality all we need is some countries to open up to use as a stepping stone to a holiday. If Dublin removes UAE from its hotel quarantine list then there’s your route to a holiday.

  7. Gary Hudson | 22 March 2021 at 8:21 am |

    Well said James,the doom merchants, whilst maybe not profiteering money wise from their negative comments (although I’m sure some will be), are relishing the attention. I did not know about the extra 20,000+ extra heart attacks star, for males under 50. I think personally if the government back tracks on it’s plans, and promises, of coming out of lockdown, not only will they be out of office next election, but there could be, hopefully not, blood by way of riots on the streets

  8. I wonder how all the people who’ve lost their jobs, businesses, livelihoods etc as a result of the pandemic (including all the people who work for airlines, airports, hotels, travel companies, car hire, tourist attractions etc) feel about listening to all the people who haven’t bleat on about how unfair it is that they cannot go on holiday for one summer….?

    • I think that is slightly unfair. For a lot of people, the freedom to travel abroad is to see relatives. My own family has that issue with elderly and frail family members not having seen their children for over a year.

  9. Well said Alex! These amateur public health pundits, who get their information from the lay press (or more likely social media), should wind their necks in.

  10. Steve Taylor | 22 March 2021 at 5:30 pm |

    There were 697,000 deaths in the UK last year. This is 85,000 deaths more than the 5 year average. That’s a 14% increase in deaths and is statistically significant – meaning it is not a difference you’d expect just by chance or normal variation. It seems reasonable to suggest that those extra deaths were due to Covid either directly (Covid killed them) or indirectly (Covid stopped them from getting treatment that otherwise would have saved their life). It’s not hard to estimate the size of the second group, you just make similar year on year comparisons. In 2020 in total all heart and circulatory decease accounted for 5,601 deaths amongst males under 55 vs 5,512 deaths in 2019. This is not a statistically significant difference. My numbers are from ONS and the British Heart Foundation. The problem with variants, like the SA one, is that the current vaccines may not work against them as well as they do against the original strain of the virus so a variant may emerge that could still do an awful lot of damage. So I do think we need to use our borders defensively and keep new variants out until the vast majority of the community are vaccinated. Travel corridors, based on a traffic light system, I think makes sense. I also think a system of vaccine certification together with pre-arrival testing is sensible – i.e. you can enter the UK with a vacs certificate or with an approved negative test result from a recent test. Disclosure: I have a family trip booked to NYC in July and a holiday booked in Turkey in August – so I am very much hoping some arrangements can be made to make travel safe asap.

  11. The problem with traffic lights is they go to a green country then onto a red country, we have already had this with people coming to the UK. I like everyone else wants to go abroad but we need to kill Covid completely first, Europe is starting on it 3rd outbreak.

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