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Travel to the UK during Covid-19: What you need to know before you go

Editor’s Note — Coronavirus cases are in flux across the globe. Health officials caution that staying home is the best way to stem transmission until you’re fully vaccinated. Below is information on what to know if you still plan to travel, last updated on October 7.

(CNN) — If you’re planning to travel to the UK, here’s what you’ll need to know and expect if you want to visit during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The basics

The United Kingdom has seen one of the highest number of deaths from Covid-19 in the world, resulting in multiple lockdowns.

In England, Scotland and Wales, most legal coronavirus restrictions have now been lifted, but there are still restrictions in place across the UK regarding international travel. See more below.

In Northern Ireland, other domestic Covid-19 restrictions also remain.

Across the UK, there are fears about the impact of the Delta Covid variant.

On October 4, 2021 the UK introduced a new system for international travel. The “amber” list was eradicated, and England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland now divide countries into “red” or “green” categories. See more below.
From October 11, the UK government is removing 47 countries from the red list for arrivals in England, leaving only seven remaining red destinations: Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.

What’s on offer

In London, the UK has one of the world’s greatest cities. But beyond the architectural marvels and nightlife of the capital, there is much to explore — the rugged peaks of the Scottish Highlands, distant Welsh lakes and the wide sweep of Cornish beaches, for starters, plus historic towns and cities such as Bath, Oxford and Harrogate.

Who can go

Most fully vaccinated travelers from green list countries can enter England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland without a pre-departure negative test or quarantining, but they must do a test on or before day two of their arrival.

Non-vaccinated travelers can also visit the UK, but are subject to extra testing and quarantine requirements. See below.

Unless you’re a resident of England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland — or a British or Irish national — you’ll be refused entry arriving into the UK from a red list country.

UK residents and British and Irish nationals arriving home from red list destinations must quarantine on arrival in a quarantine hotel and follow testing requirements. See below.

If you’ve arrived from a red list country and your final destination is in Wales or Northern Ireland, you will need to book a quarantine hotel in England or Scotland.

(The Republic of Ireland has entirely separate entrance regulations, which are enforced when crossing the land border.)

What are the restrictions?

Red list countries

Red list arrivals are currently refused entry to the UK — unless you are a UK residents or a British or Irish national.

UK residents and British and Irish nationals arriving home from red list destinations must undergo a 10-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.

Before arriving in the UK, these travelers must purchase what the UK government calls a “quarantine package,” covering the stay in hotel quarantine and food and drink while there.

Bookings must be made through this online portal. The charge for a single adult occupying one room for 10 days is now £2,285. Anyone dodging quarantine risks fines of up to £10,000.
From October 11, the UK government is set to remove 47 countries from the red list, leaving only seven red destinations: Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Venezuela. So far this is only confirmed for arrivals into England.

Green list countries

As mentioned above, most fully vaccinated travelers to the UK from green list countries no longer need a pre-departure negative test. This rule also applies to travelers under 18.

All travelers from green list countries to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland must book and pay for a day two PCR test.

Non-vaccinated travelers to the UK from green list countries must do a pre-departure negative test and book and pay for a day two and day eight PCR test. Non-vaccinated green travelers must also quarantine at home, or at the place they are staying, for 10 days.

Non-vaccinated travelers quarantining in England may be able to end quarantine early via the Test to Release scheme. Test to Release does not apply in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Any destination not on the red list is considered green, but some green destinations don’t currently permit nonessential travel from the UK.

Future changes

England has also announced that from the end of October, “eligible fully vaccinated passengers and those with an approved vaccine from a select group of non-red countries” will be permitted to replace their day two PCR test with a lateral flow test when arriving in England.
Scotland has suggested it will also move towards lateral flow tests for day two testing. In a statement, Michael Matheson, Scotland’s cabinet secretary for net zero, energy and transport, said: “We also intend to align with the UK post-arrival testing regime. The detail of that is still being developed with lateral flow tests being considered and we will engage further with the UK Government on those plans. Details will be announced at the same time as the UK.”
The Northern Irish government has yet to make an announcement on this, while the Welsh government has said a “decision on moving away from PCR tests is still to be made.”

Other developments:

Brits can use the NHS app as an NHS Covid Pass to display vaccination details or recent Covid test results for domestic or international purposes. Alternatively, they can request a paper letter with vaccine status.
The UK government also encourages the use of the separate NHS Covid 19 app in England and Wales — and its equivalents in Scotland and Northern Ireland — in order to check into venues for contact tracing purposes. See more below.

What’s the Covid situation?

The UK suffered a devastating first wave in 2020, followed by a troubling winter 2020/2021 in the wake of the discovery of the Alpha (Kent) variant.

On June 1, 2020 zero Covid deaths were recorded across all four nations of the UK. Not long after, case rates were rising again amid increasing concerns about the impact of the Delta variant.

Cases fell in July, but in recent weeks appeared to be on the rise again.

There have been more than 8 million Covid cases and over 137,600 deaths in the UK as of October 7.

The UK was the world’s first country to begin a vaccination program, which has lessened the burden on the National Health Service (NHS). All adults in the UK have now been offered a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Rapid lateral flow tests are available for free via pharmacies and online, and UK citizens are encouraged to test themselves twice a week.

As of October 4, over 94.8 million vaccination doses have been administered in the UK and over 67% of the population has been fully vaccinated.

In March 2020, there was a UK-wide lockdown that lasted until the summer. Since then, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland developed their own region-specific measures.

Restrictions are now eased across the UK, but some remain in Northern Ireland — see more below.

What can visitors expect?

England has emerged from lockdown and most legal Covid-19 restrictions have now been lifted.

As of July 19, there are no longer limits on how many people can meet inside or outside at private households or in hospitality venues.

But the UK government still advises people to “limit the close contact you have with those you do not usually live with, and increase close contact gradually” and “meet outdoors where possible.”

All English shops, museums, theme parks, bars, pubs, hotels, B&Bs, cinemas, theaters and nightclubs can reopen.

Social distancing and face masks are no longer required by law.

However some businesses are still implementing Covid-19 restrictions, so it’s worth checking the situation before you go.

Travel within the UK is allowed, as is travel abroad, in line with the system described above.

The government has also said the one-meter rule will remain at the border in order to manage the risk of variants.

The government has been encouraging venues operating with large numbers — like concert venues or nightclubs — to use the NHS Covid Pass mentioned above as a means of entry.
However, while the government initially planned to make proof of full vaccination compulsory for entry to nightclubs or other large venues in England from the end of September — this plan has been put on hold for now. The government continues to encourage venues’ voluntary use of the NHS Covid Pass.

While the legal requirements on face masks have been lifted, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “we expect and recommend that people wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with those you don’t normally meet, such as on public transport.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan asked Transport for London (who manage the city’s transport network, including the Tube) to continue to mandate travelers wear face masks after July 19, unless they’re medically exempt.

People in England who are identified as close contacts of someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 must self-isolate for 10 days — unless they’ve been fully vaccinated.

Adults who’ve had both jabs and children under 18 — as well as people who’ve taken part in an approved Covid-19 vaccine trial and those who can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons — who are identified as close contacts don’t have to self-isolate, as long as they test negative for Covid-19 via a PCR test.

This close contact identification often takes place via the NHS Covid-19 app, which allows users to check in to restaurants, bars and other venues for track and trace purposes.

Using the app is not compulsory but is recommended by the UK government.

As of August 7, Wales’ remaining legal Covid restrictions have been removed and Wales is currently at what the country classifies as Covid alert level 0.

There are no longer limits on numbers of people meeting indoors or outdoors, in homes, restaurants, bars or pubs.

All businesses — from hotels to museums to nightclubs — can reopen.

Travel within Wales and the rest of the UK is permitted, as is travel abroad under the traffic light system.

Face coverings are still required by law in certain indoor settings, but not in hospitality venues.

The Welsh government also advises people to meet outdoors if possible, as well as “limit the number of people you meet at any one occasion, the amount of time you spend with people and maintain physical distancing where you can.”

Wales also uses the NHS Covid-19 app for test and trace. Using the app is not compulsory but is recommended by the Welsh government.

Fully vaccinated adults in Wales — as well as those under 18 and vaccine trial participants — don’t need to self isolate if they’re a close contact of someone who has tested positive for Covid.

The Welsh government has announced that from October 11, people in Wales must show their NHS Covid Pass to enter venues with large numbers of people, including nightclubs.

On August 9, Scotland removed most remaining Covid restrictions.

There are now no limitations on the number of people gathering in homes, restaurants, bars or pubs.

Museums, pubs, restaurants shops, tourist attractions and theaters can all reopen. Nightclubs are now able to open again.

The legal requirement on social distancing has also been removed.

Travel within Scotland and the rest of the UK is permitted, as is travel abroad as outlined above.

Face coverings are still mandatory in indoor public places and public transport. There is also a maximum of 2,000 people at any indoor event, and 5,000 people outdoors.

The Scottish government still advises avoiding “crowded places” and keeping “distance from other people where possible.” Scottish residents are also advised to meet outside if possible.
As of October 1, proof of full vaccination is compulsory for entry to Scottish nightclubs or events with large numbers of people in attendance. People in Scotland can use the NHS Scotland Covid Status App to confirm they’re jabbed, or they can request a paper record of vaccination.
Scotland also has its own version of the NHS Covid-19 app called Protect Scotland. It’s not compulsory, but its use is recommended by the Scottish government.

Adults who’ve been been double-vaccinated for two weeks or more — and children between five and 17 — who are identified as close contacts of someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 do not have to to self-isolate, so long as they test negative for Covid-19 via a PCR test.

In Northern Ireland, all non-essential shops have reopened and restaurants are open for indoor and outdoor dining. Restrictions have been removed regarding the number of households who can sit together in hospitality venues.

There are no longer any restrictions on how many people can meet in a private garden. Up to 15 people from four households can meet in a private home and stay over night. Children under 12 are not counted in the total. For exact guidelines, see here.

Overnight stays in self-contained holiday accommodation with your household — or with up to 15 people from no more than four households — are also permitted. Children under 12 aren’t counted in this total. Northern Ireland outdoor visitor attractions have also reopened.

Hotels and B&Bs have also reopened, as have museums and other indoor leisure and visitor attractions. Live music and theater is allowed but nightclubs remain closed.

Travel within Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK is allowed, as is travel abroad as outlined above.

Face coverings are required on public transport and some other indoor public settings.

Northern Ireland has its own version of the NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app called StopCOVID NI. It’s not compulsory, but its use is recommended by the Northern Irish government.

Useful links

Our recent coverage

CNN’s Julia Buckley and Francesca Street contributed to this report

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