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Sage advisors ‘highlight value of pre-departure tests’

The government’s Sage scientific advisory committee has highlighted the value of pre-departure Covid tests for travellers returning to the UK, according to reports.

The committee also said extra post-arrival tests on days five or eight would identify a greater number of positive cases than the day-two PCR tests which are currently required on return to the UK, the BBC reported.

On Tuesday, Labour called for the reintroduction of pre-departure tests for people travelling to the UK. This followed calls from the Scottish and Welsh governments for day eight tests to be reintroduced along with self-isolation until the second test result was returned.

The BBC report was based on minutes of a meeting held on Monday, although the Sage document is yet to be published.

It said the advisors warned of a “potentially very significant wave”, but also stressed the level of uncertainty around the transmissibility of the Omicron variant and the effectiveness of vaccines, and said some warnings were based on a “theoretical worst case”.

The prime minister Boris Johnson defended the government’s response in the House of Commons on Wednesday, in response to a challenge from the Scottish National Party’s Ian Blackford.

Johnson said: “He [Blackford] is simply wrong about the steps the government has taken to prevent the seeding of this variant from abroad. This country was the first to respond and for the 10 countries that are most likely to seed Omicron, we have put them on the red list.

“Every other country in the world, 100% of the passengers arriving have to take a PCR test, and they cannot get out of quarantine unless they test negative.

“Those are balanced and proportionate measures designed to protect the British people from the Omicron variant and that is the right approach to take.”

Industry sources this week told Travel Weekly they expected the stricter restrictions to be extended into the new year. They described the response as “a setback” but “not Groundhog Day”.

Pre-departure tests were highlighted as a particular barrier to bookings earlier this year, with the trade reporting that customers were concerned about being required to quarantine overseas if a positive test was returned.

Self-isolation and multiple post-arrival tests were dropped for countries on the government’s green list with the introduction of its traffic light system in May, with the requirements also dropped for fully-vaccinated customers returning from amber list countries in July.

A change to the approach to travel restrictions in October saw a move away from the traffic light system, although the red list was retained to allow for stricter restrictions on specific countries. Under the rule changes, the requirement for pre-departure tests was dropped, while cheaper lateral flow tests were accepted for day two confirmation.

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