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Potential plans to introduce a traffic light scheme for travel abroad have prompted concerns among scientists that the approach is too simplistic and could fail to prevent new variants from entering the UK.
At present, it is illegal to travel abroad for holidays, with foreign travel only allowed in specific circumstances. Those who do travel abroad must quarantine either at home or in a hotel on return to England. All must do so in a hotel on return to Scotland.
Among the plans under consideration by the government to allow more travel as restrictions ease is a traffic light system, whereby countries are given a green, amber or red designation based on factors including case rates, levels of Covid variants and the status of the country’s vaccination programme.
No restrictions would be placed on those entering the UK from a green country, while quarantine at home would be necessary for people entering from amber countries, and those entering the UK from red countries would face a 10-day period of hotel quarantine.
However the plans have raised concerns among some scientists. “The point about it is that any traffic light system will of course be used for people to go on holiday,” said Gabriel Scally, visiting professor of public health at the University of Bristol and a member of the Independent Sage committee.
The problem, he said, is that holiday resorts attract tourists from many different countries.
“It is not quite as simple as looking at what the situation is in an individual country from which a flight originated,” he told the Guardian. “We know people will mix together from all over the world, and this is what spurred the autumn surges of cases.”
Scally added that while international travel cannot be paused for ever, all those arriving in the UK should enter hotel quarantine.
Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton agreed a traffic light approach had problems.
“A traffic light system is likely to be reactive to any changes in incidence, plus any new variants of concern. As we have seen alas repeatedly over the last 12 months, once a problem is clear on the graph, you’re quite literally behind the curve in terms of actions required to bring case numbers down,” he said. “A proactive approach around border control would be of more help in reducing reduce new cases. This would then limit the importation of new variants.”
A key concern is that overseas travel could bring back Covid variants that are not yet common in the UK, including those that may evade, at least to some degree, the immune response induced by current vaccines. The concern is augmented by worries that as restrictions in the UK are relaxed, Covid will have a greater opportunity to spread.
Prof Robin Shattock, Covid-19 vaccine lead at Imperial College London, is among those who have warned that a traffic light system could be “leaky” to Covid variants.
“There are always possibilities of getting around that type of system. It might be a way of starting to release some travel, but it will need to be monitored very carefully,” he told PA.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: UK’s Covid traffic light travel plan too simplistic, say scientists | Coronavirus