By Michael Jarvis, London UK
The British government was under pressure this week to provide clarity to its new traffic lights system for international travel.
The green, amber and red designation replaces the previous international travel ban after the country was forced into a third lockdown following a recent surge in COVID-19 cases.
This week, as the country started a gradual process of reopening the economy, the new traffic light method was introduced which categorises countries based on their level of vaccination and COVID suppression.
It also relaxes the quarantine protocols for persons entering the country from specific overseas destinations.
However, with thousands of people keen for a break from what many are calling ‘lockdown fatigue’, holiday bookings to amber-rated countries - which includes the majority of popular holiday destinations - have skyrocketed.
The government says, while there isn’t a ban on visiting those countries, including many in the Caribbean, people should “exercise good judgement and avoiding taking risks”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said: "I think it's very important for people to grasp what an amber list country is: it is not somewhere where you should be going on holiday, let me be very clear about that.”
But for the opposition Labour Party Leader Sir Keir Starmer, the government’s advice lacks clarity and he called on the Prime Minister to scrap what he termed the "hopeless" travel traffic light system, which he claims conveys "confused and contradictory" messaging.
“Yesterday morning the environment secretary said people could fly to amber list countries if they wanted to visit family or friends. By the afternoon a government health minister said nobody should travel outside Britain this year, because travelling is dangerous,” he said during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament.
But Mr Jonhson insisted that the government guidance on travel to amber listed countries is “very, very clear”.
“You should not be going to an amber list country unless for some extreme circumstance such as the serious illness of a family member. You should not be going to an amber list country on holiday,” he stated.
The government had previously stated that the travel traffic light system would be reviewed in the coming weeks with a target of further opening the economy by June 21st.
Many businesses around the UK were making the first cautious steps back to normal this week as the government relaxed a number of restrictions on gatherings along with the change in the international travel and quarantine protocols.
Many British travellers headed off to Portugal this week as that country is one of a handful on the green list, while other EU countries and the US were set to relax travel restrictions on the UK due largely to the countries intensive vaccination campaign.
However, with cases of the highly transmissible Indian variant taking hold in several areas in England, the British government said it was monitoring the situation very closely in the hope of avoiding a further lockdown.
Mr Johnson said there was “increasing confidence” that existing vaccines were effective against the B.1.617.2 variant of coronavirus first identified in India, which is viewed as more transmissible and a possible obstacle to plans to end many lockdown rules on 21 June.
The government has also announced that alongside the vaccination campaign, it will be carrying out ‘surge testing’ in areas where the Indian variant is present.