Airlines say families will be relieved that the government has finally agreed to remove the need for costly PCR tests for vaccinated travellers returning to England from half-term holidays.
The government confirmed that lateral flow tests will be introduced in place of PCRs from October 24 for fully-jabbed passengers and most under 18s arriving in England from countries not on the red travel list.
They will be available to book via a list of private providers on the GOV.UK website from October 22.
Passengers will need to take a photo of their lateral flow test and booking reference supplied by the private provider and send it back to them to verify the result.
Travellers are also able to book to have a test which they can take on their arrival into the UK at testing centres located in some airports.
The arrival test must be taken as soon as possible on or before the second day of a passenger’s arrival in the UK.
Anyone who tests positive will need to self-isolate and take a confirmatory PCR test.
The government announced the change “thanks to the success of the vaccination programme both in the UK and around the world which has protected millions of people and reduced the risks of opening up international travel”.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry body Airlines UK, said: “This is great news and we’re pleased to get it over the line in time for the crucial half-term period, which will be a massive relief to families desperate to get away this autumn.
“Vaccinated passengers can be reassured that they do not need to book or take an expensive PCR test when they return to the UK, which will further reduce the cost of travel.
“It adds to the positive news from last week with the substantial reduction of the red list and announcement of further mutual recognition of vaccines, and taken together this is a major step forward that will support the desperately needed recovery of our sector.”
Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee said: “Unfortunately, this change has come too late for the half-term holidays in Scotland, impacting the passenger recovery at Scottish airports.
“It demonstrates the continuing financial impact travel restrictions have on airports and an aviation recovery package should be put in place by the UK and devolved governments urgently.
“Ultimately, aviation should return to normal, with no additional tests or other requirements.
“Great strides have been made in recent weeks, but we are not there yet. We will continue to work with the UK and devolved governments to achieve test-free travel in the future, just as our European competitors have.”
Business Travel Association chief executive Clive Wratten said: “Expensive PCR tests have been a major financial and logistical barrier to business and leisure travel, and the BTA welcomes their long overdue removal.
“To continue the long road to recovery, it’s vital that the government now takes a leadership role in developing consistent international protocols for entry.”
The Inspire Group managing director Lisa Henning said: “This is great news for the industry and perfect timing given the impending half-term.
“It will be much welcomed by holidaymakers who are desperate to travel without the cost and hassle of expensive PCR tests.
“The new process is now cheaper and easier and should really help to further stimulate the market.”
Regulations will be extended and a protocol published to allow some tests supplied to the private testing market that are pending validation to remain on the market in the short term.
“This is to address any potential shortage of supply while work continues at pace to ensure only high performing tests are ultimately approved to remain on the UK market,” a government statement said.
“The government will continue to publish a list of private testing providers who meet the minimum standards for the public to choose from, with PCR test options available as well.
“All travellers must complete their Passenger Locator Form prior to travel, including a test booking reference number supplied by a testing provider. Travellers will be able to upload their test booking reference to the Passenger Locator Form from 22 October for arrival in the UK from 24 October.
“Eligible travellers vaccinated in over 100 countries and territories including Brazil, Ghana, Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, South Africa and Turkey, will be treated the same as returning fully vaccinated UK residents.
“This means they will be eligible for the quarantine exemption and reduced testing measures, including taking just a lateral flow test on arrival.
“This is as long as they have not visited a red list country or territory in the 10 days before arriving in England. Eligible under 18s from these countries will also be treated as if fully vaccinated.”
The government added that it continues to work with the devolved administrations “to ensure there continues to be robust border measures in place to protect the UK”.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “Today’s rule changes will make testing on arrival simpler and cheaper for people across the country who are looking forward to well-earned breaks for this October half term.
“Taking away expensive mandatory PCR testing will boost the travel industry and is a major step forward in normalising international travel and encouraging people to book holidays with confidence.”
The comments were echoed by health and social care secretary Sajid Javid, who said: “We want to make going abroad easier and cheaper, whether you’re travelling for work or visiting friends and family.
“Lateral flow tests will be available later this month for those returning from half-term holidays.
“This change to testing is only possible thanks to the incredible progress of our vaccination programme, which means we can safely open up travel as we learn to live with the virus.”
Passengers who are not fully vaccinated with an authorised vaccine returning from a non-red destination must still take a pre-departure test, a PCR test on day two and day eight test and complete 10 days of quarantine, with the option to test to release on day five.
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said: “Testing, along with vaccines, remains one of our first lines of defence against Covid-19.
“Getting a test as early as possible on arrival and isolation when necessary, can help control the spread of the virus and protect one another.”