Half-term holiday bookings for the end of October have jumped 200% following an overhaul of England’s Covid-19 rules regarding international travel, as announced by the UK’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Friday evening.
Shapps announced simpler rules for international travel, taking on board complaints from travellers and businesses that its regulations aimed at combating the spread of Covid-19 were cumbersome and ineffective.
Shapps said the ‘simpler, more straightforward system’ would allow ‘more people to travel, see loved ones or conduct business around the world while providing a boost for the travel industry’. He said the changes were possible because of Britain’s high vaccination rate. Almost 82% of people aged over 16 in the UK are now fully vaccinated.
The news of the easing of restrictions had an instant impact on holiday bookings, according to travel firm Thomas Cook, who on Saturday reported a 200% increase in bookings compared to last month. Speaking to The Guardian, Alan French, chief executive of Thomas Cook, said he expected bookings to increase even more following the rule changes that led to the 200% rise. ‘Based on our bookings already today, I would expect this weekend to be the biggest of the year so far as people take advantage of the great deals on offer, the new easier rules on testing and the simplified system for international travel,’ he said.
Within half an hour of the transport secretary’s announcement, Skyscanner also saw a 133% increase in online traffic.
The new measures announced by Shapps are initially only applicable for travel to England, but the devolved administrations of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are expected to follow suit.
The main change is that England is scrapping its ‘traffic light’ system that ranks countries as red, amber or green — high, medium or low risk from Coronavirus. The categories have been criticised as unfair, and sudden changes to countries’ status have been causing headaches for thousands of travellers.
From 4 October at 4am, there will instead be a two-tier system, with several dozen countries where Covid-19 is widespread classed as red, and the remainder as open (or also called ‘rest of the world’). Spain, currently on amber, will join that ‘open’ list from 4 October. Eight countries will be removed from the red list on Wednesday: Turkey, Pakistan, the Maldives, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Oman, Bangladesh and Kenya.
Testing requirements will be eased for fully vaccinated arrivals to England from open countries (including Spain), who will no longer have to take a Covid-19 test before travelling.
Those arriving in England from ‘open’ countries will still need a test on the second day of their arrival, but it can be the cheaper lateral flow tests rather than the expensive PCR tests that previously had to be booked and paid for before travel. This will come into force ‘later in October’.
Unvaccinated travellers will still have to self-isolate for 10 days, as well as taking Coronavirus tests before and after their trips. ‘Testing for unvaccinated passengers from non-red countries will include pre-departure testing, day 2 and day 8 PCR testing, and release testing remains an option to reduce the period of self-isolation,’ the government said.
Click here for the full announcement regarding the UK’s ‘new system for international travel’.