What is ‘amber plus’? Meaning and rules for new travel list - and if Spain and Greece could be added to it
The decision to keep Covid quarantine rules in place for all travellers returning to the UK from France has led to the creation of the so-called amber plus list
As Covid restrictions ease, Scots are able to jet off on summer holidays under the travel traffic light system.
During the last UK-wide travel update, Ibiza, Majorca and Menorca were taken off the green list and moved to amber on Monday 19 July - the same date that quarantine rules in Scotland changed for fully vaccinated adults coming back from amber countries.
And there is now what is being dubbed the “amber plus” list after a decision to keep quarantine in place for all travellers returning from France was made.
So, what does ‘amber plus’ mean? Here’s what you need to know.
What does ‘amber plus’ mean?
Fully vaccinated travellers returning to Scotland from amber list countries have been exempt from quarantine from Monday 19 July, although testing requirements still remain.
The rule-change was a welcome one for both double-jabbed Scots and the travel industry which has struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic.
However, the UK Government announced on Friday (16 July) that this rule would not apply to France due to concerns over the spread of the Beta variant first identified in South Africa.
The Scottish Government confirmed that this ad-hoc rule would also apply for travellers coming back from France to Scotland.
The decision, which was blasted by travel experts for creating further uncertainty over summer holiday plans, led to the so-called “amber-plus” list being formed.
People are still able to travel to France (subject to the country’s own entry requirements) but will need to self-isolate for 10 days on their return and take two PCR tests, no matter their vaccination status.
Jacqueline Dobson, president of Barrhead Travel, told The Scotsman that last minute travel changes like the ones made for France were “frustrating” for both the industry and customers.
She said: “Travel is still going to be changing over the coming months and it’s frustrating for the industry and customers alike when last minute and unexpected changes take effect. We continue to urge the UK Government and devolved nations to keep guidance as consistent and comprehensible as possible.”
However, Ms Dobson said holidays were very much still on the cards this summer for those who book flexibly with a reputable travel company.
"When France moved to amber plus, we were able to support those customers affected with some changing to the likes of green list countries such as Croatia and Madeira and with some opting for another amber list country.
“Our advice to those looking to get away over the coming weeks is to be flexible. Be open-minded about switching destinations if guidance changes and book with someone who will protect your money, can offer correct advice and guarantee flexibility on your booking.”
What countries could be added to the amber plus list?
At the moment, only France is on the amber plus list due to rising rates of the Beta variant in the country.
Beta is believed to be less contagious than the Delta strain first identified in India, but there are fears that it could be effective in evading the vaccine.
There are now concerns that more countries will join France on the amber plus list, including Spain and Greece.
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, told the i paper: “The concern is the government will be looking at Spain and Greece and potentially add those to the ‘amber-plus’ category.
“When you look at the latest tables, the Balearics have very high rates, why aren’t the government as concerned about the Balearics as they are about France? I think we may see further changes as countries see higher infection rates.”
Data shows that Spain has a higher level of Beta variant infections than France, according to the Gisaid Research Centre, with 9.3% of Covid cases in Spain being Beta, compared to 3.7% in France.
Meanwhile, data analyst Tim White told The Telegraph that Belgium, Netherlands and Germany could be at risk of being added to the amber plus list since neighbouring country Luxembourg “has a very high incidence of the Brazilian (Gamma) variant”.
UK business minister Paul Scully was asked on Wednesday (20 July) whether more countries could be added to the new category.
He said any decisions would be “taken at Cabinet level”.
Speaking to Sky News, he said: “They’ll look at the data, and they’ll make sure that they can work out what is best to make sure that we keep transmission of the virus low, we keep the transmission of the variants low, because it’s the variants that are really key here to work out how they’re interacting with our vaccine programme.”
Asked whether infection rates being higher in Spain than France could result in the country being added to the amber plus list, Mr Scully responded: “We try and give people as much data as we can but it’s not just about the pure numbers.
“It’s also about the variants, and the style of variants, the Beta variant, for example, that’s quite prevalent in France at the moment, we’re looking at how that interacts with the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“There’s a lot of factors that are involved in the decisions that are taken around travel.”
What are the amber list quarantine rules?
Fully jabbed adults who are arriving into Scotland from countries on the amber list will no longer have to quarantine, as long as they have been inoculated through a UK vaccination programme.
However, travellers must also still take a PCR test on day two of their arrival back to Scotland, as well as taking a pre-departure test three days before return.
Anyone who tests positive for, or has symptoms of, Covid will still need to self-isolate for 10 days.
Unvaccinated travellers must also self-isolate for 10 days and take a second PCR test on day eight of their return.
Those in England have the option to pay for a private test on day five to end isolation, but this does not apply in Scotland.