Will today’s expected UK travel list update end 'Day 2' PCR tests?

If the UK sticks to its usual update timing details of the new list are expected at 17:00 BST ahead of this month’s shake-up of the travel restriction system. We look at what may change for France

16 September 2021

The UK government is expected to announce the latest changes to the traffic light system today (September 16). Pic: muratart / Shutterstock

By Emma Morgan

[Update on September 16 17:54: this update has now been postponed until tomorrow, when a more 'wide-ranging' announcement is expected.

Read more: UK-France travel: Traffic light and PCR test update put back to Friday]

The UK government is expected to publish an updated list of its green, amber and red travel destinations today, September 16, at 17:00 (BST). 

The announcement could also mark the end of costly day two PCR tests for fully vaccinated travellers coming back to the UK.

PCR tests are currently compulsory for everyone arriving back in the UK from abroad, on or before the second day after travel. They cost £65-£70 each time and those returning from red list countries - or amber if they are unvaccinated - are often required to take one on day eight after their arrival as well. 

There have been calls for them to be replaced with lateral flow tests which cost significantly less at around £25-£40 and can – like PCR tests – be sent to your home. 

In the House of Commons on Tuesday, Conservative MP and chair of the Transport Select Committee Huw Merriman asked if Health Secretary Sajid Javid would “entertain the idea of moving to lateral flow tests, which are cheaper.”

Mr Javid replied: “I don’t want to pre-empt the statement [expected tonight, September 16] by the Transport Secretary but I believe when he makes that statement [Mr Merriman] will be pleased.”

Mr Javid has also said that he is considering any “further action” that can be taken to prevent “exploitative” prices for private travel testing. 

On average, travellers were initially charged £92 per PCR test, but the cost has now been pushed down by about £20 following a government request to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA)

The cost and added hassle of taking a PCR test has often been blamed for dissuading people from travelling, with Mr Javid telling the CMA that these factors act as a “barrier” to holidaymakers. 

Read more: Travel from France to UK: Tips on arranging a second day Covid test

Today’s travel restriction updates will most probably be published on Twitter by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, as has been the case in previous reviews.

The end of the traffic light system?

The government’s announcement may also mark the end of the traffic light restriction system, as the UK’s travel rules are expected to change drastically with a review from the Global Travel Taskforce on October 1. 

It is believed that the green, amber and red destination lists will be scrapped, and replaced with a more straightforward ‘go’ and ‘no-go’ list. 

The no-go list will be more limited than the current red list, according to The Telegraph, as it will largely concern countries where there are variants of concern in circulation, such as the Beta variant in South Africa. 

This new system may however be announced at a later date in which case today’s announcement might simply involve an update to the traffic light list. 

France is currently on the UK’s amber list and is not expected to be added to the green list this afternoon. 

However, data expert Tim White told Sky News that: "In the last three weeks infection rates have been coming down in almost all the major holiday hotspots like France, Spain, Greece, Italy, Cyprus and Portugal," meaning that they are not in danger of being added to the red list.

Countries such as Jamaica and St Lucia could move onto the red list due to the high infection levels that the islands are currently experiencing. 

Mr White told The Independent that 12 countries – including Argentina, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Mexico – could be removed from the red list. 

The Turkish embassy has said that it is “confident” that it will turn amber after being kept on red following the last update. 

How does the traffic light system work? 

The four traffic light categories currently in place are green, green watchlist, amber and red. 

When travelling to green countries, people returning to the UK have to take pre- and post-arrival tests, but do not have to quarantine. The day two test that they must carry out after arrival must be a PCR test.

Green watchlist countries are subject to the same rules as the green list but are at risk of moving to amber at any time. 

People travelling to amber countries must take a test before and after they arrive back in the UK. Unvaccinated travellers must also self-isolate and take a further PCR test on the eighth day following their return.

All arrivals from red list countries must quarantine for 10 days in a hotel designated by the government. This comes at a cost of £2,285 per person.

How is the traffic light system determined? 

When deciding which countries will be placed onto the green, amber and red lists, the government studies the: 

  • Vaccination rates of the country in question 
  • Infection rates of the country in question
  • Variants of concern present in the country
  • Country in question’s access to reliable data.

Related stories 

Data still lacking as to why UK put France on amber-plus travel list

Covid-19: Rules for travel to and from France

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