Boris Johnson unveils traffic light system for international travel

Boris Johnson refuses to confirm international travel will resume as planned on May 17 as he unveils traffic light system but STILL tells Britons not to book a summer holiday abroad amid fears EU nations will be on the ‘red list’ due to botched jab rollout

  • Boris Johnson today confirmed the introduction of a traffic light system so international travel can resume
  • Will see countries rated green, amber or red based on data like vaccination levels and Covid-19 case numbers
  • Sunseekers returning from green countries will not have to self-isolate, although they will need to have tests 
  • However, the PM refused to commit to previously stated May 17 date for return of non-essential trips abroad
  • Mr Johnson said he is ‘hopeful’ of hitting May 17 date but that he does not ‘wish to give hostages to fortune’

What did Boris Johnson announce at today’s press conference?

The next step of easing lockdown will go ahead as planned: The PM confirmed that non-essential shops, gyms, hairdressers and libraries in England will reopen from April 12 while pubs and restaurants will be allowed to serve customers outdoors.

A mass-testing scheme: Everyone in England will be promised two rapid lateral flow tests every week, starting from April 9, in a bid to cut the chain of transmission as lockdown rules are loosened.

Vaccine passports: The PM unveiled the initial findings of a Whitehall review into the use of ‘Covid status certification’. The documents will combine vaccination, testing and immunity data and could be used to determine access to large-scale events. The Government has left the door open to the documents being used for access to pubs and restaurants.

Foreign travel: A traffic light system will be introduced when non-essential international travel resumes. Countries will be rated either green, amber or red based on criteria like vaccination levels and infection numbers. Travel from green countries will not require a quarantine period. The earliest foreign holidays could resume is May 17.  

Boris Johnson today refused to commit to his roadmap date of May 17 for resuming non-essential international travel as the Government again told Britons to wait to book a summer holiday abroad.  

The Prime Minister’s lockdown exit strategy said foreign holidays would return ‘no earlier than’ the middle of May. 

But the initial findings of a Whitehall review on the subject said the ‘state of the pandemic abroad, and the progress of vaccination programmes in other countries’ means ministers are ‘not yet in a position to confirm that non-essential international travel can resume from that point’.

The findings said the Government ‘will confirm in advance whether non-essential international travel can resume on 17 May, or whether we will need to wait longer before lifting the outbound travel restriction’.

‘For the moment, the Government advises people not to book summer holidays abroad until the picture is clearer,’ the update said. 

Mr Johnson told a Downing Street press conference this afternoon he is ‘hopeful’ of hitting the May 17 date but he added: ‘I do not wish to give hostages to fortune or to underestimate the difficulties that we are seeing in some of the destination countries that people might want to go to.

‘We don’t want to see the virus being re-imported into this country from abroad, plainly there is a surge in other parts of the world and we have to be mindful of that and we have to be realistic.’

The PM said the Government will give the aviation sector ‘as much notice as we possibly can’ before flights can restart.

But his comments and the findings are likely to anger the travel industry amid growing calls for ministers to provide certainty on when non-essential flights can resume. 

Mr Johnson used the press conference to confirm a traffic light system will be rolled out when international travel is permitted again, with Brits allowed to visit countries with high vaccination rates.  

The system will see destinations rated as red, amber and green using criteria including the percentage of the population that has been vaccinated, the rate of infection, any emerging variants and the country’s access to reliable data and genomic sequencing.

The criteria could result in European countries like France and Italy being ruled out of bounds for British holidaymakers as parts of the EU suffer spikes in cases and the bloc’s vaccination drive continues to stall.          

The Government said it is ‘too early to say’ which countries will be on the green list, with those decisions ‘driven by the data and evidence nearer the time’.  

Travel chiefs fear the traffic light system could result in a holiday booking ‘fiasco’ as they warned some European nations now face a race against time to reduce infection rates and boost vaccine take-up so they can make it onto the green list before the summer season.     

Under the Government’s scheme, sunseekers returning from countries in the green category will not have to isolate, although they will need to have tests before and after they fly. 

Those coming back from red list countries would have to quarantine in a hotel for ten days, while arrivals from amber destinations will have to isolate at home.  

The traffic light scheme announcement came as the PM confirmed the Government will press ahead with plans for domestic and international vaccine passports, despite a growing Tory revolt.

Many Conservative MPs support using the documents for international travel but they oppose using them for day-to-day life. 

The initial findings of a Whitehall review said the ‘Government believes that COVID-status certification could have an important role to play both domestically and internationally, as a temporary measure’.   

The findings said the documents ‘should never be required’ in settings like public transport and essential shops but ‘it is possible that COVID-status certification could also play a role in reducing social distancing requirements in other settings’ like pubs and restaurants. 

Mr Johnson is expected to offer the House of Commons a vote on the issue, in a move which could risk a damaging defeat, with Labour continuing to express concerns about the documents and increasing numbers of Tory backbenchers opposed to them.  

It came as – 

  • Mr Johnson today urged everybody to take two free Covid tests a week to help safeguard the unlocking of the country; 
  • Millions of Britons filled up parks and commons during pleasant weather over the weekend;  
  • Hairdressers and barbers are allowed to reopen in Scotland from today as further lockdown restrictions are lifted;
  • Mr Johnson looks at risk of failing to get Commons approval for vaccine passports, as Michael Gove promised MPs who are critical of the scheme the chance to vote against it. 
  • Leading scientific adviser Professor Neil Ferguson said testing everyone coming from Europe, with no exemptions, would be ‘sensible’ as he expressed concerns about the spread of the South African variant on the continent 

Boris Johnson today announced a traffic light system will be introduced when international travel is allowed to resume

 

Britons will be allowed to holiday in countries with high vaccination rates this summer, Boris Johnson announced today (File image) 

Health Minister Edward Argar this morning said an increase in cases in Europe showed why the UK must ‘get this right’ in order to avoid importing potentially vaccine-busting variants of the disease

Ministers today scrambled to play down fears that ‘false positives’ could cripple the country after Boris Johnson unveiled a plan to screen the whole population for coronavirus twice a week.

The PM has announced a huge expansion of testing with free rapid kits made available to everyone in England from this Friday.

Mr Johnson said the multi-billion pound move can help the return to normality by picking up asymptomatic cases and identifying local outbreaks faster.  

But concerns were immediately raised as when used on that scale the tests could wrongly label tens of thousands of people a week as having Covid – forcing them to isolate and get more reliable PCR checks to show they are clear.    

At an Easter Monday press conference this evening, Mr Johnson will confirm the next stage of the lockdown roadmap is on schedule – with shops, gyms and hairdressers allowed to reopen from next week.

Pubs, restaurants and cafes will also be given the green light to return for outdoor customers.

The premier is also set to give a hint on the way forward for foreign holidays, with a ‘traffic light’ system expected to be introduced for destinations when the blanket ban on travel is dropped – potentially from May 17. 

And Mr Johnson will give a ‘high level’ indication of the government’s plan for coronavirus passports, with pilots being held to try to get crowds back at sporting and other events. 

But the government faces prospect of losing a vote on the controversial concept as Tory rebels join forces with Labour to raise civil liberties objections. 

The fast-turnaround tests, which produce results in just half an hour, do not require lab analysis and will be available for use at home. 

Mr Johnson last night said the huge testing programme was needed to ensure that the sacrifices made in recent months ‘are not wasted’.  

Health Minister Edward Argar today said an increase in cases in Europe showed why the UK must ‘get this right’ on travel rules in order to avoid importing potentially vaccine-busting variants of the disease. 

Holiday chiefs insisted there is still time before the summer for European countries to get coronavirus case numbers under control again. 

Asked what the most likely holiday destinations could be when travel is allowed, Andrew Flintham, managing director for Tui UK and Ireland, told the BBC: ‘Cyprus have come out and been very positive, Greece and Turkey have come out and been very positive, and Spain again.

‘So I think all these European countries, whilst to a degree they are struggling with their rates at the moment, we are still a significant period away from the summer season properly opening up, we are probably 11 weeks away.

‘The world has been changing on a weekly basis, never mind an 11-weekly basis. So we are still positive about those destinations. We are also positive that the Caribbean and some of those destinations will open up.’  

Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency, told MailOnline he believes a ‘handful’ of European countries will be on the UK’s green list in May with more to follow in June and July.

He said that last year many European countries had high infection rates which were brought under control by the start of summer, adding: ‘I think the same will happen this year because there is also the added bonus of the vaccine and the [EU] rollout will speed up. I am confident that much of Europe will be accessible by early July.’

Martyn Sumners, executive director of the Association of Independent Tour Operators, warned of the time pressures the industry faces, telling The Times: ‘The fact that we won’t know until next month which countries are permitted for travel will make it very difficult to get programmes up and running. It does not happen overnight. There are many elements of a holiday to organise. 

‘The travel industry cannot go through the fiasco of cancelling bookings because a system has been ill thought through and leave customers and operators angry because of the confusion.’ 

Many in the industry fear a repeat of last year when countries were added to the travel red list at very short notice, leaving holidaymakers scrambling to get home or cancel their trips. 

A Government source said last night: ‘It is too early to predict which countries will be on which list over the summer. As such, we continue to advise people not to book summer holidays abroad.’ 

One scientist said yesterday the traffic light system could be too simplistic to stop the spread of new cases.

Professor Gabriel Scally, a member of the Independent Sage committee, said: ‘It is not quite as simple as looking at what the situation is in an individual country from which a flight originated. We know people will mix together from all over the world, and this is what spurred the autumn surges of cases.’

Malta’s health minister yesterday said there was ‘no reason’ why holidaymakers should not be allowed to travel between countries that have vaccinated a high proportion of their population. 

At a press conference this evening, the Prime Minister will confirm the next stage of the release from lockdown is on schedule – with shops, gyms and hairdressers allowed to reopen from next week

‘Prof Lockdown’ warns AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine is ‘vulnerable’ to South African variant

Professor Neil Ferguson today called for tighter border controls with Europe to keep out the dangerous South African of coronavirus amid fears it could undermine Britain’s vaccine roll-out.

The SAGE adviser – dubbed ‘Professor Lockdown’ because his gloomy modelling of the first wave spooked ministers into the spring shutdown – warned while the strain had failed to take root in the UK it was behind up to 20 per cent of infections in some countries on the continent.

He added immunity from AstraZeneca’s jab is ‘particularly vulnerable’ to the mutant strain, raising the risk of a spike in cases.

South Africa has already suspended its use citing concerns the shot is not effective enough.

Nonetheless, experts are still confident the jab is strong enough to protect the vast majority of people from falling severely ill with the B.1.351 strain. 

Britain has already spotted 469 cases of the variant, sparking surge-testing in dozens of postcodes in a desperate attempt to root out the virus.

SAGE warns life WON’T return to normal after ‘the great unlocking’ on June 21

Life will not go back to normal this summer even if Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown goes to plan, the Government’s top scientific advisers warned today.

Senior SAGE sources said that while vaccines prevent the vast majority of people from falling ill and dying from coronavirus, they ‘are not good enough’ to see all curbs lifted ‘without a big epidemic’.  

All legal limits on social contact were to be abolished by June 21 as part of the final stage of the Prime Minister’s four-step route out of the crisis. It was hoped that festivals, sports events and nightclubs would reopen and that families and friends could reunite in large numbers after that date for the first time since winter 2020.

However, No10’s experts claimed today that ‘baseline measures’, including some form of social distancing and masks, would need to remain in place until this time next year. They said they are ‘reasonably confident’ that Covid will be manageable by then. 

The AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines reduce Covid deaths by about 90 per cent, but there are fears high infection rates could see the virus spill into the small number of vulnerable people who haven’t been jabbed or for whom the vaccines don’t work. 

Christopher Fearne told Radio 4’s The World This Weekend: ‘Malta by the summer will probably be one of the safest places to travel to certainly in Europe and probably in the world. That is because we are vaccinating at a high rate.’

Malta has announced British travellers who have had both doses of the vaccine are welcome from June 1.

Travel chiefs urged Mr Johnson to add a fourth tier to the system which would eliminate the need for testing or quarantine to very low-risk countries.

Chief executive of easyJet John Lungren, Jet2 boss Stephen Heapy and Manchester Airports Group boss Charlie Cornish have handed ministers ‘independent and scientifically-robust’ research they each commissioned which suggests safe travel ‘to Europe and beyond will be possible this summer, in many cases without any restrictions’. 

Thousands of tourists are still being let into the UK every day even thought the government have tightened controls on Britons coming from abroad. 

Hundreds are arriving on Home Office visas, according to Border Force staff. 

One visitor from Peru got a visa after saying on their application form that their reason for travelling to Britain was to ‘visit Big Ben’. 

Of the around 20,000 people arriving every day, around 8,000 – or 40% – are tourists, figures compiled by border staff reveal. 

This rises to 80 or 95% at Gatwick and Eurostar terminals, while at Heathrow the proportion is around 20 to 30%, The Times reported. 

Mr Johnson today urged everybody to take two Covid tests a week to help safeguard the unlocking of the country.

At a press conference this evening, the Prime Minister confirmed the next stage of the release from lockdown is on schedule – with shops, gyms and hairdressers allowed to reopen from next week. 

Pubs, restaurants and cafes will also be allowed a limited reopening for outdoor customers.

But ministers fear that even this cautious freeing of the economy could lead to a surge in cases that could slow the further release from lockdown, or even send it into reverse. 

Today they unveiled a multi-billion-pound scheme inviting everyone in England to take two free Covid tests per week.

The fast-turnaround tests, which produce results in just half an hour, do not require lab analysis and will be available for use at home.

Mr Johnson last night said the huge testing programme was needed to ensure that the sacrifices made in recent months ‘are not wasted’.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was vital that people take up the testing offer, adding: ‘The vaccine programme has been a shot in the arm for the whole country, but reclaiming our lost freedoms and getting back to normal hinges on us all getting tested regularly.’

Writing in the Mail, Jenny Harries, head of the new UK Health Security Agency, said twice-weekly testing could ‘help us get back to normal’.

She added: ‘If we are going to reclaim our lost freedoms for the long term, we must ensure we can withstand expected but unpredictable attacks in the form of variants of the virus.

‘That will require us to use the massive testing capacity to discover where variants of concern are and respond to them swiftly.’  

Government sources confirmed that the surge in testing was likely to lead to a rise in detected case numbers, which yesterday fell to just 2,297 – the lowest figure since September 5.

However, the move will fuel concerns among Tory MPs that any rise in cases could lead to further releases from lockdown being delayed.

Former minister Steve Baker said that even the false positives generated by tens of millions of additional tests could be enough to knock the Government’s road map off course. 

Hundreds have hit Britain’s beaches and parks for Easter Sunday amid gloriously warm temperatures in the South of England as lockdown restrictions are eased. Pictured: Durdle Door in Dorset 

Visitors flock to Durdle Door in Dorset on a day of warm spring sunshine and a cool breeze during Easter Sunday

Q&A: How will the regular testing programme work?

What is being proposed?

Ministers want everyone in England to take a Covid test twice a week to help quickly identify any surge in cases as the economy and society are unlocked in the coming months.

How will it work?

People will be able to order so-called lateral flow tests for use at home, or get tested at work or at sites run by local councils. They are already used by millions of children following the return to school last month.

What are lateral flow tests?

These pregnancy-style tests can deliver results at home within half an hour. Like a regular test they involve taking a swab from the back of the throat and nose but the samples do not have to be sent for laboratory analysis.

Are these tests reliable?

They are not as sensitive as a standard PCR laboratory test. One study found they missed 40 per cent of asymptomatic cases. However, they perform much better at picking up cases where people have a high viral load. The Government says they have picked up 120,000 cases which would not otherwise have been identified.

What if I test positive?

People who test positive will be asked to self-isolate in the normal way, as well as providing details of their contacts to the Test and Trace service.

What about false positives?

Recent analysis by NHS Test and Trace suggests fewer than one in a thousand lateral flow tests will produce a false positive. However, anyone who does test positive will be offered a PCR test to confirm the result.

How much will this cost?

Officials were tight-lipped about the likely cost, but acknowledge it will run into billions of pounds. Lateral flow tests are much cheaper than the standard PCR ones, with some reports suggesting the Government can buy them for as little as £5 each. But if 25 million people were to test twice a week, the cost would still top £1 billion a month.

What will it cost me?

Nothing. The Government will pick up the bill for all tests.

Mr Baker, deputy chairman of the 70-strong Covid Recovery Group of MPs, said: ‘It is now obvious that in an environment of low prevalence, mass asymptomatic testing makes false positives a real issue.’ 

Today’s announcement introduces a universal mass testing regime for England which is likely to become part of the ‘new normal’ and remain in place for many months.

NHS and care home staff, along with millions of school children are already using fast-turnaround tests twice a week.

The tests are said to have identified 120,000 cases that might not otherwise have been picked up.

Government sources said that more than 100,000 businesses have also requested test kits to run their own schemes designed to make workplaces Covid secure.

Under the new regime, which will be introduced on Friday, people will be able to request packs of test kits for home use.

Individuals will also have the opportunity to get tested at council-run sites or as part of workplace schemes.

And a new ‘Pharmacy Collect’ scheme will be introduced, allowing adults to pick up boxes of seven rapid tests.

Mr Johnson said the rollout will help stop Covid outbreaks ‘in their tracks’.

He added: ‘As we continue to make good progress on our vaccine programme and with our road map to cautiously easing restrictions under way, regular rapid testing is even more important to make sure those efforts are not wasted.’

Dr Susan Hopkins, of Public Health England, urged ‘everyone’ to take up the testing offer, saying they were vital in ‘breaking the chains of transmission’.

A major new advertising campaign will be launched this week encouraging Britons to take up the tests.

Mr Hancock said that, with one in three people infected with Covid showing no symptoms, mass testing would be ‘fundamental in helping us quickly spot positive cases and squash any outbreaks’.

The new drive will use so-called ‘lateral flow tests’ which provide on-the-spot results in the same way as a pregnancy test.

Users still have to take a swab from their nose and throat, but the results can be determined at home in half an hour, without the need for laboratory analysis.

Health sources last night said the tests produced fewer than one false positive in a thousand.

But this could still result in almost 1,000 false cases for every one million taken.

Ministers have now agreed that anyone testing positive will be offered a ‘gold standard’ PCR test to confirm the result.

New technology means these tests can also now be used to detect new variants of the virus, allowing their spread to be picked up more quickly.

The Government was unable to say how much the new scheme would cost.

But with tests thought to cost at least £5 each, take-up of 25million would generate a bill of more than £1billion a month. 

 

We all want a return to normality… regular tests can only help, writes DR JENNY HARRIES

The new UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) launched last week with the unique mission to protect the nation’s health, both from existing hazards – such as hepatitis or radiation risks – but also from external and emerging threats.

As its first priority, it will continue the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Regular, rapid testing means we are finding cases of the virus that we wouldn’t otherwise detect, which prevents transmission to families, friends and communities – and which could ultimately save lives.

Around one in three people experiences no symptoms when they contract the virus and by getting tested regularly people will rapidly break chains of transmission that could begin unwittingly.

Twice-weekly testing using lateral flow devices, commonly known as LFDs, has already protected millions of people who need to leave home for work, including frontline NHS workers, care home staff and residents, and schoolchildren and their families.

Regular, rapid testing means we are finding cases of the virus that we wouldn’t otherwise detect, which prevents transmission to families, friends and communities – and which could ultimately save lives, writes Dr Jenny Harries

Regular testing in the months ahead can help us all get back to normal, and from this Friday we will make twice-weekly LFD testing available to every person in England.

An LFD is the testing equivalent of a Formula 1 pit stop. With a rapid turnaround time of 30 minutes for a result, these swab tests can be done from the comfort of a living room and are capable of quickly giving a snap verdict on whether someone is or isn’t likely to be infectious.

Just like an experienced mechanic, people get quicker at doing the test, and get better results, the more frequently they carry them out.

Vaccines are tipping the scales in our favour but as cases, deaths and hospitalisation charts continue to fall, the importance of our testing and tracing capabilities grows.

An effective testing and tracing system is our radar for spotting new outbreaks and suppressing them and for watching out for new variants. The new variant in Kent, which rapidly increased cases across the country, is a stark reminder that viruses are shapeshifters and they mutate all the time.

Regular testing in the months ahead can help us all get back to normal, and from this Friday we will make twice-weekly LFD testing available to every person in England. Pictured: A student uses a swab at a testing site in the University of Hull’s Allam Sport Centre

If we are going to reclaim our lost freedoms for the long term, we must ensure we can withstand expected but unpredictable attacks in the form of variants of the virus.

That will require us to use the massive testing capacity to discover where variants of concern are and respond to them swiftly. Our diagnostics system is ready for testing on a level that matches the vaccination rollout, both in scope and ambition. The UK is now a testing juggernaut.

At the most recent count we have been testing over a million people a day, genome sequencing 32,000 tests in a week, and we have traced and contacted 3.2million who have tested positive in the past year, and a further six million of their contacts.

Regular testing is a way we can all help to bring about the return of much that has been missing in all of our lives and I have every confidence people will continue to give their selfless support in this next stage, just as they have throughout this pandemic.

Dr Jenny Harries is chief executive of the UKHSA.

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