Shapps dismisses calls for increased transparency on data

There will be no change in the data made available by the government on which decisions on the traffic light classification of countries are based despite calls for increased transparency.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps made clear the limits to the relaxation of travel restrictions announced on Thursday as he confirmed fully vaccinated UK residents returning to England from amber-list countries will no longer be required to self-isolate from July 19.

The requirement for UK travellers returning from green and amber destinations to pay for PCR tests will remain until at least the end of July, despite Shapps telling MPs: “We’ll remove the guidance that people should not travel to amber list countries.”

He said: “UK residents who are fully vaccinated will no longer have to self-isolate on return. They will still be required to take a pre-departure test and a PCR test before day two. But there will be no day-eight test.”

Children under 18 returning to the UK from amber countries will also no longer need to self-isolate.

When MPs requested greater transparency on the data, Shapps told them: “The methodology is already set out on the gov.uk site.

“I hear people ask why a country is not on the green list when its infection rate is lower than ours. The answer is probably that they are not sequencing the genome, they are not sending data to GISAID [the international Covid variant database in Germany], and they are not vaccinating at the rate we are.”

Shapps insisted: “We’ve set out a system to turn amber destinations into green for those fully vaccinated, which means double vaccination plus 14 days.

He promised “We’ll bring forward guidance for those not vaccinated.”

The measures will extend to cruises “which will able to sail from July 19 with passengers who are fully vaccinated”.

But the relaxation applies solely to England pending decisions by the devolved administrations. Shapps warned: “Measures may differ across the UK.”

He also confirmed there would be no immediate relaxation of PCR test requirements on returning passengers, although the system will be reviewed on July 31 and October 1.

Shapps said: “Currently, the scientific advice is that PCR tests are required for genome sequencing. We still require a PCR test so it [a positive result] can be sequenced.”

He insisted: “We won’t be testing people for a moment longer than required, but we don’t want a variant coming in undetected.”

In the meantime, he argued: “The costs of [PCR] tests are being driven down. There are now some very inexpensive tests. They no longer cost hundreds of pounds.”

The transport secretary also confirmed the inbound sector would have to wait for quarantine restrictions to be lifted on fully vaccinated visitors.

Shapps said: “We’re working to extend recognition to vaccinated travellers entering the UK and I will update the House [of Commons] in due course.”

Asked when travel to the US might re-start, he told MPs: “The US-UK working group is ongoing. [But] there are a lot of technical issues, not least the fact that US executive order 212F remains to be lifted.” The executive order, in force since March 2020, prohibits UK citizens from entering the US.

Shapps noted: “The US also has 50 different ways of recognising vaccination.”

The transport secretary said face masks would remain recommended when flying, saying: “We’ll be providing guidance on mask wearing in enclosed spaces. Airlines already make it a condition of carriage.”

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