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UK scraps PCR testing for travellers

England has removed Turkey from its 'red' list.

The UK government has overhauled its travel ‘traffic light’ system and scrapped PCR testing for travellers.

The green and amber lists will disappear, with just a single red list remaining in place.

Departure tests for vaccinated travellers from non-red list countries will be dropped, as well as the use of the more expensive PCR tests. Instead, inoculated arrivals will be asked to take a single lateral flow test at some point between their arrival day and day two.

Vaccinations carried out in Singapore will be recognised by the UK but at this stage it is unclear whether Hong Kong is to be included as having an approved vaccination programme. If not, arrivals from Hong Kong may be classed as unvaccinated and have to self-isolate for up to ten days, take departure and arrival tests and a further test on day five or eight. According to Britain's consulate-general in Hong Kong, the issue is that Hong Kong's vaccine certificate does not contain a date of birth and therefore does not meet the UK's minimum criteria. According to deputy consul-general Tamsin Heath, "We are working with the Hong Kong government to get a swift resolution."

In addition, eight countries have been removed from the red list, including Turkey, Pakistan, the Maldives, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Oman, Bangladesh and Kenya. This means that travellers from these places will no longer have to quarantine for ten days in a specially designated hotel.

Wales has said it will follow the government’s lead and will downgrade these destinations to non-red list status. It will also “carefully consider” the proposed changes to testing, although Scotland has ruled out removing PCR tests.

The changes will come into force in England on October 4 and, according to transport secretary Grant Shapps, they will remain in place until at least the new year.

“The purpose 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,” said Shapps. Currently, 81% of eligible adults in the UK have had two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.

According to British Airways’ chairman Sean Doyle, fewer than one per cent of travellers from low-risk countries have tested positive. He said that all testing for fully vaccinated travellers should be scrapped in line with most of Europe.

PCR testing enabled scientists to genetically sequence samples returned by travellers and track any potentially dangerous variants entering the country. However, in reality only around 25% of positive cases were successfully sequenced.

Lateral flow tests are cheaper and can be carried out at home, but are less sensitive and cannot be used for scientific analysis. Travellers who return a positive lateral flow test result will then be asked to take a follow-up PCR lab test paid for by the NHS.

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