Millions of British holidaymakers are now able to return from amber list destinations without facing self-isolation – a rule that was extended to double-jabbed EU and US citizens from August 2.
The waiving of quarantine for fully vaccinated British adults (and under-18s) returning from amber countries came into effect on July 19, offering fresh hope for overseas trips this summer. And, a decision to also allow double jabbed EU and US citizens to enter England without having to quarantine, from August 2, opened up Britain’s borders further.
Despite the reopening, the addition of extra measures, in the form of the ‘amber plus’ list, added to the confusion for British holiday-makers.
France was previously placed in the “amber plus” system after fears that the beta, previously known as the South African, variant, may be more resistant to the current vaccines.
However as of 4am on Sunday, August 8, France was removed from the ‘amber plus’ list – ending the requirement for fully jabbed holidaymakers to quarantine on their return to England.
Also from August 8, four countries – India, the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar – have been promoted from the red list to the amber list; the first time any red-listed county has come off it.
The NHS app has been used as a vaccine passport since July 19 to allow those who are fully vaccinated to return from amber list countries without being quarantined. Health officials advise patients to contact their GP if they find that the app does not offer them a “Covid pass” for travel and domestic use, despite being double jabbed.
Double-vaccinated expats have also been free to travel to the UK from August 1, as the Government now allows UK nationals who have been vaccinated overseas to register the jabs with their GP.
The changes will clear the way for them to return to the UK to visit family and friends without having to self-isolate for 10 days and pay for two PCR tests.
The good news keeps on coming too. The Government has also lifted its blanket recommendation that people should not travel to amber countries, although the Foreign Office may still advise against non-essential trips to some of the 140-plus destinations on the amber list.
Some testing costs remain for immunised amber list holidaymakers: the mandatory day two PCR test on return to the UK will still be required, regardless of vaccination status, for example.
Unvaccinated children are allowed to travel with their fully jabbed parents without having to quarantine, although they too are expected to take tests on their arrival back in the UK.
Here we answer the key questions on the amber list.
What is the ‘traffic light’ system?
A country’s vaccination rates, infection rates, the prevalence of variants of concern and its genomic sequencing capacity – or access to genomic sequencing – help to inform its ranking in the traffic light system. All people travelling to England must complete a passenger locator form before departure. The lists will be reviewed regularly, with updates so far issued every three weeks.
The ratings work as follows:
- Green countries: no quarantine, but a pre-departure test before returning to England and post-arrival PCR test. There is also a green watchlist. Destinations on this list are at risk of moving to amber.
- Amber countries: pre-departure test before returning to England, two post-arrival tests and self-isolation for up to ten days on arrival back in England (with the option to use ‘Test to Release’, which cuts the time in self-isolation). Fully vaccinated arrivals will no longer have to quarantine on return from all amber destinations. However, they must still take a pre-departure test before returning to England and pay for a PCR test on day two of their return as well as completing a passenger locator form.
- Red countries: non-residents banned entirely, compulsory hotel quarantine (and testing) on return for returning residents (direct flights are banned from some red-listed destinations)
What does ‘amber’ mean?
Previously, arrivals from amber list countries had to pay for at least two PCR tests (on days two and eight of their return), and could opt to pay for a third after five days of self-isolation under the ‘Test to Release’ scheme. They could cut their quarantine time short if this test came back negative (although they were still required to take the day eight test).
On July 19, the quarantine requirement was scrapped for the fully vaccinated returning from all amber destinations, except France. However, eligible travellers must still take a pre-departure test before returning to England and pay for a PCR test on day two of their return. The same rules will apply to double-jabbed expats and US and EU citizens from August.
The rules will remain the same for unvaccinated or partially vaccinated UK travellers though. To count as fully vaccinated you must have completed your second dose as least 14 days before departure.
When will these ratings be reviewed?
The lists are to be reviewed every three weeks following the end of the travel ban. The first review took place on June 3, the second on June 24, and third on July 14 and the fourth on August 4. The next update is expected on August 26. Any changes that are announced tend to come into effect early the following week.
Should I book a holiday to an ‘amber’ destination?
There’s no doubt that the scrapping of the quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated travellers has opened up travel to certain amber destinations.
Crucially, the FCDO no longer advises against all but essential travel to amber list countries such as Spain and Greece, meaning that travel insurance is much easier to secure.
However, it is worth remembering that amber countries might, without warning, impose their own restrictions on British holidaymakers and if you’re not fully vaccinated you will still need to quarantine on your return to the UK.
It is also conceivable amber countries could also be moved to UK’s red list with little warning.
Which countries are amber?
These countries are among those rated amber (see the full list below):
Cases per 100k: 470
Adult population who’ve received a second dose of a Covid-19 vaccine: 73.42%
Spain began to welcome back British holidaymakers from May 24; pre-arrival testing is required for all travellers who have not been fully vaccinated. Read the latest travel advice for Spain here. *The Balearic Islands moved to the amber list on July 19; the Canary Islands are already on the amber list.
Cases per 100k: 160.92
Population with second dose: 74.08%
Mainland Portugal has imposed quarantine restrictions on unvaccinated British travellers as Europe tightens its borders against the threat of the Delta variant which has taken hold in the UK. Since June 28, any Briton who has not received both vaccination doses will have to isolate for 14 days on arrival in Portugal, the country has said. The rule does not apply to the island of Madeira, which has also confirmed it will allow entry to ‘Indian vaccine’ Britons, unlike the mainland and other EU nations. *The autonomous region of Madeira moved to the green watchlist on June 30; the Azores remain amber.
Cases per 100k: 216.37
Population with second dose: 59.66%
UK travellers must provide evidence of a negative result from a PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival in Greece or proof of two Covid-19 vaccinations completed at least 14 days before travel. Those who can provide proof of either will be exempted from the need to self-isolate. Read the latest travel advice for Greece here.
Cases per 100k: 72.31
Population with second dose: 72.31%
From 21 June to 30 July, on arrival in Italy travellers who have been in the UK in the previous 14 days must self-isolate for 5 days, at the end of which they must take a rapid antigenic or molecular swab test for Covid-19 and test negative for release. Read the latest travel advice for Italy here.
Cases per 100k: 234.05
Population with second dose: 49.16%
The UK entered Cyprus’ Red category on July 8. Passengers coming from Red Category countries must undergo a PCR test within 72 hours prior to departure and provide proof of a negative result. You must then undergo another PCR test upon arrival at Larnaca or Paphos airports, and remain in self-isolation until the result is issued. Test results should be available within three hours through the online platform. Passengers must may for both tests.
Cases per 100k: 116.48
Population with second dose: 80.36%
The UK moved from ‘very high risk’ to ‘red’ on July 9 under Belgium’s colour code system. See the rules that apply for travel from a red zone area that’s outside of the European Union, here.