Intended for healthcare professionals


Sixty seconds on . . . travel traffic lights

BMJ 2021; 373 doi: (Published 10 May 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;373:n1195

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  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

Green means go?

From some countries, yes. As lockdown restrictions ease, the government has announced a new traffic light system for reopening some international travel to and from England.1

How are the lights changing?

From 17 May, travellers from 12 countries deemed to be of lowest risk—including Australia, Israel, and Portugal—will now be given the green light to return to England without needing to quarantine.

What about the rest?

Most countries are still amber, and some highest risk countries are red. The advice remains not to travel to either amber or red countries for leisure purposes. Arrivals from amber countries (such as France and Spain) must still quarantine at home for 10 days, and arrivals from red list countries (such as Brazil and India) will still have to quarantine in a hotel, with both requiring regular testing when returning.

Is it safe to go?

Transport secretary Grant Shapps described the changes as a “cautious return” to international travel, and said the measures were “designed above all else to protect public health.” The government has said it will review the risk lists every three weeks informed by public health advice.

But are others giving warning signals?

Some experts are seeing red, and have warned that new covid variants will inevitably enter the country under this system, because even if people from England go to a green list country (such as Portugal), they will still be likely to mix with people from other places.2

Stop or go?

Some think we’d be better off holidaying in the UK this year. But with the UK moving out of this prolonged lockdown, no minister seems willing to start the conversation over whether people would be willing to forsake their sun, sea, and sangria to lessen the chance of another lockdown later this year if cases surge.

Are other countries using traffic light systems too?

Variations of.3 The magazine Quartz did a helpful rundown, which found that most countries are using a reddish shade for the highest alert. But some went rogue, Czech Republic went for purple for high risk, while Peru adopted a foreboding black.

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