COVID-19: ‘Apply common sense’ over travel to amber list countries, says Shapps

Britons should “apply common sense” over whether or not they choose to fly to amber list countries, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says.

Since the ban on foreign holidays was lifted on Monday as part of the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, people have been able to enjoy quarantine-free travel to a dozen destinations on the government’s green list.

But there has been confusion over countries on the amber list, destinations that require an isolation period at home after returning.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that “you should not be going to an amber list country on holiday”, saying travel to those nations should only for circumstances like visiting a sick relative or going to the funeral.

However there is no ban on travel to amber list countries – merely government advice against it.

Asked about the confusion over this, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News that the matter is down to personal responsibility.

“We’ve moved away from a situation where everything is ‘it’s banned it’s illegal’, I know we’ve got very used to this in the last year…

“We’re moving away from that and asking people to apply a bit of common sense.”

Last night, Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the government’s moves to open up international travel via a traffic light system during Wednesday’s Downing Street press conference.

He said the messaging had been “crystal clear” that the public “should not go to an amber or red list country on holiday” and that any visits could only be in “exceptional circumstances”.

Travellers arriving from amber list countries are required to self-isolate for 10 days and take two tests, with Mr Hancock adding that 30,000 home visits had been carried out in the last week to check people were quarantining.

Reinforcing what he said he outlined at a Downing Street news conference a week ago on Friday, Mr Shapps said his messaging had been “consistent”.

He said: “If it’s an amber or red country, please don’t travel for holidays. It’s for exceptional circumstances. And red is only for essentially British citizens returning.

“So I can be completely consistent and say the same thing today… We are saying to people… there’s a heck of a lot of hassle involved in, for example, an amber country. You’ve got to take a pre-departure test. You then have to take two further tests when you come home. Yet another one on top of that, if you want to have tests to release after five days.

“You’ve got to quarantine. People will come to your house to check your quarantine. It’s expensive. We’re not at the stage of saying to people, go to those places on holiday. Please don’t. Green lists are for holidays.

“And with a little bit of patience as the world catches up with our vaccine programme, we’ll get more of those countries opened up as green countries.”

He denied that people were coming into the UK from red list countries on holiday, saying that the four flights that arrived from India yesterday were full of British or Irish citizens, or someone with “permanent residence”, returning home.

He defended allowing direct flights from red list countries, adding that if “you say there are no direct flights, then you’re enforcing a situation where people end up spread amongst many other flights and making it harder to carry out the mandatory hotel quarantine.

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Labour’s shadow trade secretary Emily Thornberry said the UK should be ditching the traffic light system and be much stricter.

She told Sky News: “You just hear these terrible stories of people coming into Heathrow and spending three or four hours queuing with people from green countries, amber countries, red countries, all mixed up together and then the people from the red countries go off and spend time in hotels.

“But they’ve already spent four hours cheek by jowl in presumably some great petri dish, potentially bringing in Lord knows what into our country.

“I think, and the Labour Party thinks, that we need to pause this. We need to stop it.

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England’s deputy chief medical officer also advised people in COVID hotspots to get vaccinated as soon as they get the call.

“We certainly need to stop this idea of amber countries and we need to be much stronger, pause it and have a look again at our travel, but be really much stricter about it.”

The ongoing row over whether people should travel to amber countries – which includes many popular European holiday destinations – comes as it was announced that low cost airline easyJet has sunk deeper into the red with half-year losses of £645 million.

The carrier said it still expects to fly just 15% of its pre-pandemic flight programme until June.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said “most of the UK population doesn’t understand” the regulations on visiting amber list countries, and added that people are “booking in their droves” to take holidays in destinations not on the green list this summer.

The rules on international travel for people in England, Wales and Scotland are broadly the same.

Northern Ireland’s Stormont Executive has not made a decision about when international leisure travel can resume.

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