Pre-departure testing scrapped from Friday

The government has confirmed the removal of its pre-departure test requirements for fully vaccinated passengers travelling into England.

PCR tests and self-isolation on arrival has also been scrapped, with the government reverting to its previous requirement of a lateral flow test to be taken within 48 hours of arrival and, if positive, a PCR test to check for variants.

The changes to international travel rules will come into effect from 4am on Friday, January 7, when pre-departure tests for travel to England and quarantine for arrivals will be removed.

From 4am Sunday, January 9, lateral flow tests will be accepted in place of PCR tests for arrivals. These lateral flow tests can be booked from Friday, January 7.

Those who are not fully vaccinated must still self-isolate on arrival.

Wales has “reluctantly” followed suit on relaxing testing restrictions, but the devolved administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland are yet to confirm their stance.

Announcing the changes in the House of Commons, prime minister Boris Johnson said: “When the Omicron variant was first identified we rightly introduced travel restrictions to slow its arrival in our country. But now Omicron is so prevalent these measures are having a limited impact on the growth in cases while continuing pose significant costs to our travel industry.”

He added: “All these measures are a balanced and proportionate ways of ensuring we can live with Covid without letting our guard down. And we can only do this because of the biggest and fastest booster campaign in Europe.”

Pre-departure tests for travel were reintroduced in early December in a bid to halt the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. That announcement came a week after the prime minister confirmed the reintroduction of PCR tests.

At the time, the government also placed a number of African countries on its international travel red list, but they were all removed on December 14 when Omicron had reached community transmission in the UK.

PCR tests had been in place for arrivals since international travel resumed after Covid  up to October 24 2021, when the restriction was relaxed for fully-jabbed passengers and most under 18s arriving in England from countries not on the red travel list before their reintroduction in December.

The government also confirmed today that its Plan B measures to combat Covid-19 this winter would remain in place. Those measures include working from home if possible.

Henry Smith MP, chair of the all party parliamentary group for the future of aviation,  said: “The reduction in international travel Covid testing restrictions is a very welcome step forward and removes an unnecessary barrier to travel – this must mark a concerted start of the recovery of our aviation, travel and tourism industries along with the millions of UK jobs they support.

“It is now essential that the government work with industry to agree and implement a long-term plan which can help these vital industries begin their road to recovery.  The economic impact of international travel restrictions has been significant and ensuring we have a thriving aviation and travel sector again will be vital to our national economic recovery and the government must put the sector specific support in place to allow this to begin without further delay.”

Ian Bell, head of travel and tourism at consultancy RSM, said the government has “thrown the travel sector a lifeline” by removing the need for passengers to test before travelling.

He said: “The swift reintroduction of the measures in December last year dented consumer confidence to book and travel over the festive period, which has been a further significant blow.

But he said today’s policy change is “welcome news” and will “help to restore consumer confidence and generate much-needed cash for travel businesses ahead of the crunch point at the end of March when many businesses will need to demonstrate their financial viability to renew ATOL licenses for the year ahead”.

And while he welcomed the testing relaxations, Bell also warned the government: “If they are serious about supporting the travel sector then a suite of tailored measures, including industry specific grants, is still needed to prevent widespread distress across the sector.”

Alex Templeton, chief executive of Covid test provider Qured, said the changes to travel testing “will help to make international travel simpler and easier for holidaymakers and those wanting to visit family and friends abroad”.

He warned testing for travel “provides a vital line of defence against new variants”, so “isn’t going anywhere for quite some time”.

But he stressed testing “does need to be a safe, easy and cost effective protective measure.”

However, a spokesperson for the Laboratory and Testing Industry Organisation said it does not support the government’s decision.

They added: “We strongly believe that PCR tests are the best way to protect our population from the dangers of Covid-19, especially to detect new variants that could be brought into the UK from those travelling from abroad.

“We recognise that Lateral Flow tests are a cheaper and faster test that can also be a useful tool in managing an infectious population. However, at this crucial stage in the pandemic, we do not believe now is the right time to scrap travel PCR tests.

“We are also very concerned about the potential for major disruption for those arriving in the UK by switching back to Lateral Flow tests by Sunday at 4am, especially for passengers trying rebook new tests.”

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