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Analysis: Travel rules relaxation shaped by industry

Questions remain on a plan for variants and vaccine certification validity. Ian Taylor reports.

The government fulfilled a series of industry demands on Monday, opening up international travel in time for the February half term.

Fully vaccinated arrivals will no longer have to take any test. Children aged 12-15 in England will be able to prove their vaccination status. The unvaccinated will no longer face self-isolation and a day-8 test, though they must still take a pre-departure test and post-arrival PCR.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps committed to simplify the Passenger Locator Form (PLF), remove the threat of hotel quarantine for arrivals from red list countries and develop a “toolbox of contingency options” to respond to future Covid variants. He also pledged red list measures would “only be applied if there is a variant of concern that poses a risk . . . even greater than Omicron”.

The announcement went further than many in the industry working with the government expected. But the measures were in keeping with what industry representatives demanded.

In a letter to health secretary Sajid Javid on Monday, Airlines UK and the heads of the major UK carriers repeated demands for restriction-free travel for those fully vaccinated and “a clear protocol for managing future variants . . . without universal testing or hotel quarantine”.

And in a detailed submission to the government’s international travel review last week, Iata and the UK Board of Airline Representatives (BAR-UK) urged the removal of all testing for vaccinated travellers and “radical” simplification of the PLF.

At least two key issues remain aside from the need to coordinate measures internationally – planning for future variants and agreement on vaccine validity and certification.

The Iata/BAR-UK submission proposes a way forward which could shape the next steps.

On vaccine validity, it notes: “Until a global approach can be agreed, Iata is proposing a 12-month validity after the second vaccination as a baseline to allow adequate time for people globally to access a booster dose.”

On planning for future variants, it argues: “The emergence of Omicron was met with hastily implemented travel restrictions . . . [which] were not part of the toolbox of measures put forward by the Global Travel Taskforce and left industry and government wholly unprepared to implement the new operational processes and communicate requirements to passengers.

“Government should work with industry to develop a framework for any future variants of concern to ensure a set of requirements which can be more easily implemented and communicated.

“The red list measures should now be fully reviewed . . . [hotel quarantine] should be phased out at the earliest opportunity. Direct flight bans should be avoided . . . [and] consideration given to targeted testing on arrival . . . where a country is newly added to a red list.”

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