The Secretary of State for Transport (Grant Shapps)
Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on international travel. I will start by apologising because I do share your frustration. It is the case that the meeting that decided this policy did not take place until Friday, and I put in immediately to make an oral statement off the back of that. I appreciate how frustrating it is to read speculation in the newspapers, much of which turns out to be incorrect, and I bring new information and the correct statement this afternoon.
The past 18 months has been hugely frustrating for everyone wishing to travel abroad and, of course, for the travel industry itself. In 2020, the only weapon that we had to fight the spread of covid was simply to keep people apart and prevent them from making all but the most urgent of journeys.
However, this year has seen very significant progress. In February, the Prime Minister asked me to reconvene the global travel taskforce to develop a plan for safe and sustainable travel—to return to international aviation. It is a framework that allows us to co-exist with endemic covid-19 and live with the virus on our travels while still protecting us from the most dangerous variants.
Through the work of the taskforce over recent months, we have instigated gradual reopening of international travel to allow families and friends to reunite, and businesses to get moving again. Over the summer, we implemented a number of improvements. We took advantage of the progress of the vaccine roll-out here and abroad by starting a pilot to allow passengers who had been fully vaccinated in the UK, Europe and the US to travel to the UK from amber list countries without the need to self-isolate or take a day 8 test. We also increased the number of countries and territories on the green list to 43 and allowed for the full restart of international cruises in line with the traffic light system.
At this final checkpoint, I am pleased to be able to ease restrictions further while still safeguarding public health and providing confidence to travellers. We are one of the world’s most vaccinated countries, with more than eight out of 10 people fully jabbed, and we must use that to our advantage to restore freedoms that were, by necessity, lost over the past 18 months. In August, we launched the pilot to exempt from quarantine those who had been fully vaccinated in the US and Europe. That pilot has been successful. I am delighted that it provided a much-needed boost to international travel during the summer.
Throughout the crisis, I have remained in regular contact with my opposite number, US Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg. As the Prime Minister has arrived in the United States of America, I am delighted to announce to the House today that the Government there have agreed that vaccinated Brits will be able to travel into the US from early November, reciprocating the policy that we introduced this summer. This is testament to the hard work and progress made by the expert working group set up at the G7 to restart transatlantic travel—the flagship route of international aviation.
We will now expand the policy to an array of other countries, including Canada and Japan, from 4 October for those who can demonstrate their fully vaccinated status. That will bring the number of countries and territories in scope to 50.
The UK will now set out certification standards that it expects other countries to meet so that their citizens can benefit from this change. We will happily work with anyone who applies and can meet those standards, and will onboard them. I can tell the House that we are in the final stages of doing this with our friends in the United Arab Emirates. Recovery is the best way to support the aviation sector, and as one of the world’s most vaccinated countries, we can now use our advantage to liberalise travel further while protecting public health.
Let me now update the House on the next phase of reopening international travel more broadly. When we did not have a substantially vaccinated population, our focus was necessarily on considering countries and territories based on risk—hence the traffic light system. However, vaccines mean that the emphasis can now shift to an individual’s status instead. I am pleased to announce that we will introduce a new, longer-term framework for testing and health measures at the border that will remain in place until next year at the earliest.
First, from 4 October, we will replace the traffic light system with a single red list of countries and simplified travel measures for arrivals from the rest of the world, depending on vaccination status. Secondly, we will remove the requirement for fully vaccinated passengers to take a pre-departure test if not travelling from a red list country. Thirdly, by later in October, we will have moved away from day 2 PCR testing to a new system of lateral flow tests for fully vaccinated passengers arriving from non-red list countries. If passengers test positive, they will be required to take a confirmatory PCR test, which will be genomically sequenced to identify and mitigate the risk of variants entering the UK. That PCR test will be at no further cost to the traveller. Those changes will reduce the cost to passengers, simplify the process of international travel and remove a significant source of frustration.
I would like to take this opportunity to confirm that the policy on children remains as now: they are quite simply treated the same as vaccinated adults, regardless of their own vaccination status, whether they are resident in the UK, or from one of the 50 countries and territories whose vaccinations we recognise. Unvaccinated passengers and passengers with vaccines not authorised or certificates not yet recognised in the UK arriving from non-red list countries will still be required to take a pre-departure test, a day two and a day eight PCR test, and to self-isolate.
I can tell the House today of another significant easing of the rules for those who change flights or international trains as part of their journeys here. This change will ensure that passengers who remain in airports and in railway stations will only be required to follow the measures associated with their country of departure rather than any countries they have transited through as part of their journey. That will make a very substantial difference to travel by unlocking transit routes across the world. In advance of transitioning to our new international travel framework, I can also confirm that Kenya, Oman, Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Egypt will be removed from the red list at 4 am on Wednesday 22 September.
The changes we are making mean a simpler, more straightforward system—one with less testing and lower costs, and allowing more people to travel, see loved ones and conduct business around the world. Our judgment is that these changes are the right ones for this moment, making travel significantly easier for people while retaining crucial protections against variants of concern, which remain the largest threat. They will provide a much-needed boost for the travel industry. However, it is certainly not the end of the story. We will further review these measures early in the new year, when we hope to be in a different context that will allow us to go that step further ahead of booking windows for the spring and the summer of 2022.
Above all, the changes I have announced today demonstrate that through vaccination there is a path back to normality after a torrid 18 months in which many of the things we take for granted have been put on hold. Now is the time for us to get our country moving once again. I commend this statement to this House.