The British government announced a major simplification of its rules for international travel on Friday, heeding complaints from travellers and businesses that its regulations aimed at staving off the spread of COVID-19 were cumbersome and ineffective.
Transport Secretary Grant 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 per cent of people 16 and up in the U.K. are fully vaccinated.
Shapps said the U.K. is scrapping its “traffic light” system that ranks countries as red, amber or green — high, medium or low risk from the coronavirus. The categories have been criticized as unfair, and sudden changes to countries’ status have caused headaches for thousands of travellers.
From Oct. 4, there will be a two-tier system, with several dozen countries where COVID-19 is widespread classed as red, and the remainder as open. 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, who will no longer have to take a COVID-19 test before travelling. Travellers will still need a test after landing, but from the end of October an inexpensive lateral flow test will suffice, rather than a more sensitive — but pricier — polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. The new rules apply to travellers from Canada.
Unvaccinated travellers will still have to self-isolate for 10 days, and take coronavirus tests before and after their trips.
In a boost to tourism, Britain said it will recognize vaccinations given in 17 more countries, including Australia, Canada, Japan and South Korea. It previously had recognized only shots given in the U.K., the U.S. and the European Union.
The changes initially apply to England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland set their own policies and have not yet said what they plan to do.
Airlines and travel businesses have complained that Britain’s complicated and expensive requirements are keeping people away and hampering recovery from the pandemic.
Heathrow Airport said this week that it had fallen from Europe’s busiest airport in 2019 to 10th-busiest now, behind rivals in cities such as Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt.
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What’s happening around the world
As of midday Friday, more than 227.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.6 million.
In the Americas, an influential panel of expert outside advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration voted against approving COVID-19 booster shots for all Americans, but endorsing them for those 65 and over and for those at high risk of severe disease.
The decision marked a huge step back from the sweeping plan proposed by the Biden administration a month ago to offer booster shots of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to nearly all Americans eight months after they get their second dose.
In Asia, Cambodia is vaccinating children ages six to 11 so students can safely return to schools that have been closed for months due to the coronavirus. Prime Minister Hun Sen opened the campaign Friday, with his grandchildren and young family members of other senior officials getting their shots.
Cambodia already has been vaccinating older children, and Hun Sen says he ordered health officials to study if children ages three to five can be vaccinated. Nearly 72 per cent of Cambodia’s almost 17 million people have received at least one COVID-19 shot since vaccinations began in February.
India gave a record 22.6 million vaccinations on Friday, three times the average daily total during the past month. The health minister called the vaccine milestone a birthday gift for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who turned 71 and was criticized heavily for India’s dramatic rise in infections and deaths in April and May.
India’s previous vaccination peak of 14.1 million was reached on Aug. 31, with a daily average of seven million doses in the last 30 days.