UK updates red list system for travel – with changes expected for South Africa

 ·4 Oct 2021

The United Kingdom has updated its international travel system, effectively scrapping its ‘traffic light’ programme, which classified countries as ‘green’, ‘yellow’ and ‘red’ based on their Covid-19 risk.

The change, which took effect from Monday morning (4 October), introduces only two categories – ‘red’ or ‘the rest of the world’.

“The new simplified travel system means that eligible fully vaccinated passengers and eligible under-18s returning from over 50 countries and territories, not on the red list, can do so without needing to complete a pre-departure test (PDT), a day 8 test or enter a 10-day self-isolation period, making it easier for those travelling – whether that’s to see friends and family, or on business trips,” the UK’s Department of Transport said.

“As announced last month, the new rules also mean that from later in October eligible fully vaccinated passengers with an approved vaccine and recognised certificate from a country, not on the red list will be able to replace their day two test with a cheaper lateral flow test, reducing the cost of tests on arrival into England. The government aims to have this in place for when people return from half-term breaks.”

South Africa remains on the red list – for now

While the green and amber lists have been removed, the red list of countries remains unchanged, since 23 September, and includes South Africa.

However, the Sunday Telegraph reports that the UK is expected to abolish quarantine for almost all countries, with the current ‘red list’ of 54 countries slashed to as few as nine.

South Africa, Brazil and Mexico are expected to be opened up to quarantine-free travel as soon as Thursday.

Vicky Ford, the minister responsible for Africa in the UK’s foreign, commonwealth & development office, told BusinessDay that she had been reassured by South African scientists that the Beta variant, which caused SA to be banned from most countries late in 2020, is no longer present, which “takes one of the main concerns away”.

The only outstanding issue is that of a vaccination certificate that the UK government would deem “robust enough” for any corrupt practices. President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed last week that vaccine certificates will be rolled out by the Department of Health, with no timeline put forward at this stage.

The UK’s hotel quarantine policy for higher risk countries costs £2,285 per adult (R46,000), putting a huge financial burden on potential travellers to the country.

President Ramaphosa noted that he had spoken with Johnson to discuss the UK’s red listing of South Africa. “While UK scientists were concerned about the presence of the Beta variant in South Africa, the reality is that the Delta variant is now by far the dominant variant in the country,” the president said.

Ramaphosa said that he put South Africa’s case to the UK prime minister, “which he understood very well”.

“We both agreed that decisions of this nature should be informed by science and are hopeful of a positive outcome when the issue comes up for review in the coming days,” the president said.

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