New travel system: which countries could come off the red list?

Government briefings indicate that the current “traffic light” system that restricts travel to the UK is likely to be dismantled soon.

The UK has by far the highest infection rates for any major country in Europe, yet it also imposes the strictest rules on arrivals.

A total of 62 nations and territories are on the UK”s “red list,” representing a total population of well over one billion people.

Appearing on the red list is effectively a travel ban, with arrivals from those countries required to go into 11 nights of hotel quarantine once in the UK – at a cost, for a solo traveller, of £2,285.

So which countries might leave the club – and which nations should join? Tim White, the Covid data analyst who tweets as @TWMCLtd, has given his expertise to The Independent.

He has trawled through the genomic sequencing records held by Gisaid, the worldwide database, with a focus on variants of concern.

Staying on red

Fourteen nations, says Mr White, are likely to remain on red: Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Egypt, French Guiana, Montenegro, Philippines, Seychelles, Suriname, Thailand, Trinidad & Tobago, Tunisia.

Mr White offered this commentary: “Brazil uploaded many hundreds of samples, but 41 per cent were Gamma.

“Chile reported 37 per cent of its sequenced positive cases were Gamma, while almost 10 per cent were Lambda and another 16 per cent were the most recent variant, Mu.

“Colombia will be kept red because of lack of quality data.

“Costa Rica uploaded only four samples, two of which were variants.

“Suriname and French Guiana are likely to stay red with Gamma variant circulating widely.

But, he added: “Most scientists believe most of the variants circulating in South America are not more likely to evade vaccines so there is an argument to allow them all off red.”

Elsewhere in the world, he said: “Montenegro is Europe’s most infected country.

“The Philippines registered an all-time record recently

“Seychelles has still quite high rates.

“Tanzania has never bothered reporting any samples to the collective, so it is almost certain to stay on red, more so considering the government’s attitude to the virus has been to pretty much deny its existence and punish people for posting things about it.

“Thailand submitted very little data. Given the fear over mutant strains and Beta in particular, I think Thailand will stay red until it can do more genomic sequencing.

“Tunisia had awful figures for number of travellers arriving into UK infected with Covid-19.”

Added to red

Tim White picked another 10 nations not currently on the red list which, he said, have high case rates or were “fibbing about figures”, meaning they should probably be added to the red list.

These were Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cote d’Ivoire, Fiji, Grenada, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Russia and Venezuela.

All of these are currently amber, except Grenada – currently on the “low-risk” green list.

Mr White speculates that Iran, Iraq and Russia have avoided the red list up to now “for political reasons” and will probably continue to do so.

Possible contenders for red

“Many Caribbean nations are at high infection levels right now with no genomic testing, including Jamaica, St Lucia and St Kitts & Nevis,” says Mr White, making them strong candidates for a move to the red list.

Should be removed from red

A dozen high-profile countries – all with either a big population or very popular with British travellers, or both – should be removed, thinks White.

These are: Argentina, Bangladesh, Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Kenya, Maldives, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Turkey.

He notes, though: “If cautious, Mexico may need to stay a while longer, and Dominican Republic needs help to conduct genomic sequencing.

“Some scientists will say it’s a risk taking South American countries [including Argentina and Peru] off the red list with Gamma, Lambda and the latest “Mu” variant all in circulation to some degree.

“But most scientists believe most of the variants circulating in South America are not more likely to evade vaccines so there is an argument to allow them all off red.”

It is not yet known when any changes will be made to the green, red and amber lists, but going on the last three-weekly update on 26 August, the next one should take place around 16 September.

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