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UPDATE 3-Britain mulls easing COVID-19 travel rules for England

·3 min read

* Announcement on easing of rules expected later on Friday

* Expensive testing could be scrapped for fully vaccinated

* Destinations may be ranked high or low risk

* Industry warns over not easing rules

* Travel shares rise 4-5% (Adds share prices, background)

By Sarah Young and Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON, Sept 17 (Reuters) - The British government will on Friday consider easing England's COVID-19 rules for international travel, a late-season boost for airlines, holiday and tourism companies which say they will not survive another winter of onerous rules and red tape.

While Europe has relaxed travel restrictions for the fully vaccinated, expensive COVID-19 testing requirements remain in place for fully vaccinated arrivals into Britain, preventing a travel recovery as the tougher winter period nears.

But rule changes could be announced later on Friday, Agriculture Secretary George Eustice said, following hints from Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier in the week and amid reports that popular winter sun destination Turkey may be opened up for British travellers again.

Travel shares jumped on Friday. British Airways-owner IAG was up 5%, TUI traded up 4%, while Jet2 was up 5% and On the Beach up 10%.

If the government fails to scrap expensive tests and the so-called traffic light system which ranks destinations as green, amber and red, airports, airlines and travel companies have warned more job losses will follow.

"There are hundreds of businesses out there who will not survive this winter unless changes are made," TUI UK managing director Andrew Flintham told Sky News on Friday.

The travel industry, already on its knees after 18 months of restrictions, is facing a cliff edge as the government's furlough scheme ends later this month and as winter approaches, when fewer people travel and businesses tend to make a loss.

COSTLY TEST RULES SCRAPPED

According to reports, the government will remove the requirement for fully vaccinated travellers to take a lateral flow test before departing their destination and a costly PCR test on their return into Britain, which can add hundreds of pounds per person to a trip.

Ministers will also simplify the destination categories into either low or high risk, scrapping amber, reported the Times newspaper, with many countries, including Turkey, expected to be removed from the high risk red list.

Flintham said any new system would be better than the current set-up.

"It will improve if we move anywhere away from the draconian measures that we really are using at the moment," he said.

Data shows that Britain's recovery is lagging. UK flights were down 39% compared to pre-pandemic levels for the two weeks to early Sept. 6, while France, Spain and Italy were down between 24-28%, according to Eurocontrol.

On Britain's red list there are currently 62 countries, a designation that requires 11 nights in a quarantine hotel at a cost of more than 2000 pounds. Quarantine hotels are expected to remain in place for red list arrivals.

Any change to the travel rules will apply to England, but devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could later follow suit. More than 135,000 people in Britain have died in the pandemic. ($1 = 0.7247 pounds) (Reporting by Costas Pitas, Guy Faulconbridge and Sarah Young, Editing by Angus MacSwan)