Scotland’s traffic light system for international travel is to be “simplified” and the number of countries from which returning travellers will be required to quarantine in a hotel is to be cut, the Scottish Government announced on Friday.
Green and amber classifications will merge from October 4 but the red list will be retained for those countries deemed to have high Covid-19 case rates or variants of concern.
And Scotland will not follow the UK Government’s decision to ease testing rules.
Those arriving north of the border will still be required to take a pre-departure test before returning – including from non-red list destinations – even if they are fully vaccinated.
The Scottish Government will also not follow their UK counterparts in allowing vaccinated travellers to replace the day two PCR test with a cheaper lateral flow test from the end of October.
Current amber list rules – which allow fully vaccinated people to avoid isolating – will be the default for non-red list countries.
Transport secretary Michael Matheson said the changes to the system recognise “the success of global vaccination programmes”.
He said: “This is a major step but one with sensible safeguards built in recognising the success of the Scottish Government’s vaccination programme.
“The expansion of the eligible vaccinated traveller policy combined with the changes to the traffic light system will provide a welcome boost to Scotland’s tourism industry.
“However, we have concerns that the UK Government’s proposals to remove the requirement for a pre-departure test for some travellers will weaken our ability to protect the public health of Scotland’s communities. While we want to maintain a four nations approach to these matters, we need to consider urgently their implications.”
The number of countries recognised in the eligible vaccinated traveller policy (currently only UK, EU/EFTA and USA), is being expanded to recognise countries where vaccine certification meets appropriate standards.
The 17 countries added to the policy from October 4 are: Canada, Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore, Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Brunei, Taiwan, Dominica, Japan, South Korea, Qatar, Kuwait, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
Furthermore, Bangladesh, Egypt, Kenya, the Maldives, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Turkey will be removed from the red list at 4am on September 22.
The Scottish Government recently relaxed rules, allowing people travelling from non-red list countries to choose from a variety of private test providers.
Derek Provan, chief executive of AGS Airports Ltd, which owns Aberdeen, Glasgow and Southampton airports, said Friday’s reforms are “significant” but long overdue.
He said: “Today’s announcement to overhaul international travel rules may be significant, but the reforms detailed today are what we have been urging the UK Government to implement for months.
“The outgoing traffic light system was both costly and confusing. Not only did the data show it to be ineffective in terms of protecting public health or detecting variants of concern, but it has been extremely damaging to our industry which has been on the brink for the last 18 months.
“It was inconceivable to think 2021 would be worse than 2020 for aviation, however, that is the reality. Now that progress is being made to strip away the layers of complexity associated with international travel, we urge the Scottish Government to adopt a four-nations approach without delay.
“Moving forward we need government to work with the industry to help rebuild passenger confidence and, more importantly, restore the connectivity we have lost.”
A spokesman for Edinburgh airport criticised the Scottish Government’s “decision to diverge yet again and further curtail Scotland’s aviation and travel industries in their recovery”.
He said: “We are now the most restrictive country in Europe yet there is no justification or health benefit to retaining testing measures, something clinical professionals and experts have themselves said.
“This is great news for airports in Manchester and Newcastle – passengers will now travel there to avoid expensive tests and save around £100 per person, taking money out of Scotland’s economy and threatening our airline capacity.”
He added: “This will harm our recovery, impact on Scotland’s economy and cost jobs and livelihoods across the country.
“It now seems the economy boosting step previously referred to will benefit England rather than Scotland.”