PCR Tests and Traffic Light System To Be Axed

The government has scrapped the current travel restrictions with skiers and the UK snowsport industry breathing a collective sigh of relief. Measures come into force in October. With winter approaching it gives the season a boost, but there are still major worries for the UK snowsport industry as furlough is set to end. BREAKING NEWS

From 4th October, people who are fully vaccinated will not need a pre-departure test before arrival into England from a non-red list country, said the transport secretary, Grant Schapps.

And from later in October, those people will be able to replace the day two PCR test with a cheaper lateral flow test.

The changes will apply to England initially, as the UK’s devolved administrations are in charge of their own travel rules, but it is expected Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will follow suit.

The current traffic light system goes with the amber list removed entirely.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said “We wanted to bring a new simple, easier to navigate and cheaper system.”

He says the changes will last “into the new year at the very least”.

The purpose, he says, is to “make it easier to travel without the bureaucracy, without so many tests and with a greater level of certainty now that we’ve got so many people vaccinated”.

“Now we’ve got so many people vaccinated, perhaps nine out of 10 adults, it does give us some additional freedoms.

“And one of those is that we can drop the pre-departure tests.

“Another is that we can drop the expensive PCR tests on day two when people got back from abroad.

“But we will still require people to buy and use a lateral flow test.”

Currently travellers who are not fully vaccinated are required to quarantine upon returning to the UK from an amber list destination.

The main ski destinations of Andorra, France, Spain, Italy, Sweden, USA and Japan are on the amber list.

Austria, Switzerland, Norway and Canada are on the green list

By removing the amber category, only passengers arriving from red list countries would have to quarantine in a government-approved hotel.

There are no main ski nations on the red list where travellers must spend 11 nights in hotel quarantine at a cost of £2,285.

With winter approaching the UK snowsports industry sees it as a move that should boost bookings and confidence.

However for many it is too little, too late.

Cervinia, Aosta Valley, Italy

Cervinia, Aosta Valley, Italy. Image c/o Ski Solutions.

Concerns do remain as it is unclear what pressures there will be on the NHS over winter – both in terms of Covid-19 and its variants, plus other illnesses including winter flu.

Some question whether removing PCR tests for travellers is a good idea and a better strategy might be to make the tests cheaper and more efficient.

The news has been widely leaked this week ahead of the announcement and we have followed developments on PlanetSKI:

PCR test for travel. Image © PlanetSKI

PCR test for travel. Image © PlanetSKI

The expense of PCR testing is widely blamed for discouraging people from travelling abroad.

There have been many complaints over the cost and efficiency of the current system.

The UK travel industry has been devastated by the pandemic and its associated rules and regulations.

With the end of furlough this month it is hoped this new move may go some way to helping the industry, but there is sharp criticism from some.

Industry Reaction

“Enquiries are increasing, as skiers are desperate to get back into the mountains, but the rate at which those customers are booking is still low, because the government continues to undermine confidence in travel,” said the MD of SNO, Richard Sinclair, to PlanetSKI.

“The government said furlough was to support business while they forced restrictions on us  so  how can they continue to restrict travel, yet take away furlough and deny industry-specific support?

“Our travel industry is now the basket-case of Europe, and another limp/incremental easing today won’t change that at all.

“They need to completely lift restrictions and testing for amber and green countries, or step up and continue furlough and grants for travel businesses.

“With their recent form, we’re really worried this will be another pointless and incremental change in restrictions, in the hope that the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, can continue to get away with not supporting all these travel businesses and jobs.”

This concern for the industry and jobs is echoed by the travel giant TUI, that owns Crystal Ski Holidays which is the largest UK ski tour operator.

“Many travel businesses won’t make it,” said the head of Tui, Andrew Flintham, to the BBC.

“We are heading towards 17-18 months as an industry pretty much without revenue, we have a furlough scheme ending in September.

“As an industry either we get some kind of support to get us through this winter or we open up international travel.”

“In Europe, many of our operations are back up at 70 to 80% of their normal levels. They’re going back to normal. It really is only the UK that is languishing in this incredibly difficult position,” he says.

Many small independent travel businesses are in “incredible trouble” and “won’t make it”, he added..

“In terms of surveys that have been done, I think 60 to 70% of travel related business are expecting to have to make further redundancies at the end of furlough.

“The way out of that is to open up travel because that’s where the lifeblood of customers comes back into the industry.”

Border controls

Border controls. Image © PlanetSKI

Some predict a surge in sales of snowsports holidays after the announcement.

Partly due to the lifting of measures, but also because holiday prices look set to rise so people may want to get in early.

The boss of budget airline Ryanair, Michael O’Leary, warned this week that holiday prices are likely to rise sharply next year as consumer demand for travel rebounds.

Fewer flights, inflation and more taxes are expected to drive the price of airfares up.

“I think there will be a dramatic recovery in holiday tourism within Europe next year,” he said to the Sunday Times.

“And the reason why I think prices will be dramatically higher is that there’s less capacity.”

There is also less overall capacity in the snowsports industry as operators have cut back, so ski holiday prices are likely to rise.

Torgnon, Aosta Valley, Italy

Torgnon, Aosta Valley, Italy. Image © PlanetSKI

Travellers will still be required to adhere to the testing rules of the country they are travelling to.

The UK has one of the highest current number of Covid-19 cases cases in Europe.

It currently stands at 373 per 100,000 of population over a 7-day period.

Of the alpine and skiing nations Switzerland has the most cases at 259 and there are growing concerns that hospitals may be unable to cope.

On Monday new restrictions came into force in Switzerland.

The other alpine and skiing nations have a lower number of current cases.

Of the alpine nations France has 102, Austria 147 and Italy 58.

Austria has also tightened restrictions this week with cases rising.

In the Pyrenees mountain range Spain is on 63 and Andorra 36.

In Scandinavia Norway has 169 cases per 100, 000 people over 7-day with Finland on 64 and Sweden 58.

Most EU countries have abandoned the requirement for PCR tests for the fully vaccinated and some have recently eased restrictions on travellers from the UK.

Innsbruck airport

Innsbruck airport, Austria. Image © PlanetSKI

Related Stories:

Ski resorts in Europe start to announce opening dates

US resorts announce opening dates

Switzerland, Finland and Canada go on the UK’s Green List

Here at PlanetSKI we are making further enquiries and will be updating as soon as we hear more news about the changes…

Image © PlanetSKI

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