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The amber list - which covers Spain, Greece, Italy and the USA, to be joined on Sunday by France, the UAE and India - is creating confusion at a time when businesses need “confidence and clarity” in order to recover from the pandemic, said the British Chambers of Commerce.
The call came as Boris Johnson came under growing pressure for further simplification of the traffic light scheme, with calls from industry and Conservative MPs for cheaper testing requirements on travellers returning to the UK.
The CBI said that the addition of seven countries to the quarantine-free green list and the removal of France’s “amber-plus” status from 8 August offered “some relief” for hard-pressed travel companies.
But the organisation’s chief policy director Matthew Fell warned that the sector faces “a long road to full recovery” and called for an urgent move to a strategy which allows a more comprehensive resumption of travel in a way which is “safe, simple and certain”.
And Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the government of creating a “wall of chaos” with its overly complicated system.
BCC director of policy James Martin said that changes to the traffic light system announced by transport secretary Grant Shapps late on Wednesday were “welcome news” for travel businesses.
But he said that it is time for the amber category to be ditched in favour of a simple red-or-green system under which UK nationals could clearly see the countries they can safely visit and those to which travel is not recommended.
Under current rules, travellers from green list countries - which include Iceland, Malta and Gibraltar, to be joined on Sunday by Germany and Norway - must take a lateral flow test before returning and a PCR test within two days of arrival, whether or not they have been vaccinated.
But requirements for amber countries are different depending on vaccine status. A fully inoculated individual who received their second jab at least 14 days before arrival can follow the same rules as those from the green list, but the unvaccinated have to self-isolate at home for 10 days and take a second PCR test after eight.
The rules for the red list, involving a mandatory 10-day quarantine in an airport hotel, are far more onerous, reflecting the higher level of concern linked to visits from countries where infections are rife and Covid-19 variants of concern widespread.
Mr Martin said: “Now is the time for the government to fundamentally simplify the traffic light system for international travel.
“Businesses need the confidence and clarity provided by a system which places countries in either green or red categories, removing the ambiguity of the amber designation, which now relies on very different rules for the vaccinated and non-vaccinated.
“The government should also step-up efforts to drive down the cost of tests required by the system; limited progress has been made in this area so far and the cost remains a significant barrier to both business and leisure travellers.”
Mr Fell said: “Today’s green list extension will offer some relief to the international travel sector, which has suffered more than most during the pandemic and still faces a long road to full recovery. Restoring freedom of travel to these countries will enable firms to salvage a limited summer season.
“However, defining a strategy for a more comprehensive resumption of travel that is safe, simple and certain remains an urgent priority.
“Vaccine rollout has created an opportunity for the UK to move beyond Covid travel restrictions to new travel norms which restore passenger confidence and protect jobs and skills. This will be vital to ensure the UK’s travel industry remains robust to fulfil its unique role in the country’s economic recovery.”
Speaking during a visit to Scotland, Starmer said: “Anybody who has been trying to organise a holiday this summer has got their head in their hands because almost on a daily basis we’ve had a changing system, changing colours, U-turns left, right and centre.
“We’ve been saying since the beginning of the summer have a simplified system. We may be edging towards it and I feel very strongly for those families and I hope that that helps them going forward.
“But the big question I have for the government is why on earth have we had to go through this chaos to get there?
“And it’s not the first time. Last summer we had the chaos of the exams, at Christmas we had the chaos of the Christmas mixing and now we’ve had the summer of chaos about travel and holidays.
“Every time there’s a predicable problem the Government goes through a wall of chaos before it begins to sort it out.”