Devolved UK nations cautious on travel testing relaxation

Scotland and Northern Ireland are yet to confirm if they will follow the UK government in relaxing testing rules for international arrivals, after Wales ‘reluctantly’ followed suit on Wednesday.

The UK government in Westminster yesterday confirmed pre-departure testing for those travelling into England will be removed from Friday, January 7, and that rapid lateral flow tests are sufficient for arrivals – removing the need for PCRs and self-isolation until a result.

The move was widely welcomed by the travel industry.

However, Welsh health minister Eluned Morgan noted “we continue to advise against all but essential international travel at this time”, adding: “In line with decisions being taken elsewhere in the UK, I have reluctantly agreed to remove the requirements”.

Changes will also come into effect at 4am this Friday. As in England, the requirements for non-vaccinated travellers remain unchanged.

Morgan said: “We are concerned at the speed at which the UK Government is re-opening international travel, given on-going concerns of importing new variants and adding additional pressure to our health services.

“Day two PCR testing acts as something of a surveillance system for international travel – if we had retained the requirement for a day 2 PCR test, we may have been alerted to the presence and introduction of omicron earlier.

“Given the UK Government’s decision to remove PCR testing, it is vital we work across the four nations to ensure a system of bio-surveillance is maintained to provide a way of guarding against the importation of future variants.”

While first minister Nicola Sturgeon remained silent on international travel testing, Scotland yesterday reduced the domestic self-isolation requirement for positive Covid cases from 10 to potentially seven days yesterday, a move introduced in England before Christmas, and since applied to international arrivals.

Scotland’s health secretary, Humza Yousaf, confirmed it was “a source of frustration” that the UK government unilaterally decides to ease testing rules before all four nations agree to changes.

“We end up with potentially a double whammy if we don’t align,” Yousaf told BBC Good Morning Scotland.

He added that it would be “helpful” if future announcements could take place “on a four-nations basis”.

MSPs will be told about any changes north of the border later today, he said, adding: “It’s obviously important that we update parliament first and foremost.”

A leading aviation source suggested to Travel Weekly that Scotland could continue to diverge from England in future, saying “the domestic divergence is probably the worst it has been”, and warned destination restrictions may also continue to tighten arguing: “The whole picture is one of uncertainty.”

More:Scottish travel industry dubbed ‘Cinderella sector’ over lack of support 

A second aviation source said: “The challenge now is in destinations. There is a generally pessimistic vibe. The UK may be moving in the right direction, but other countries are going in the opposite direction.

“We’re not expecting a big uptick in travel. It’s really about what forward bookings look like. The hope now is for the February half term.”

Cyprus introduced a requirement for all arrivals to present a negative PCR result within 48 hours of departure this week and those aged 12 and above must also take a PCR test on arrival.

France suspended a ban on UK nationals who live in the EU transiting through the country, but retained a ban on UK arrivals for leisure or business as Travel Weekly went to press. However, Germany eased restrictions on UK visitors from January 4 having banned UK arrivals over Christmas and New Year.

Rory Boland, travel editor at consumer magazine Which?, said the testing changes “should ease the cost and administrative burden of holidays and trips abroad”, but warned “travellers should stay mindful of Covid entry requirements in their destination country”.

He added: “Serious problems remain within the private testing system for travel. Travellers were let down badly during the autumn by a dysfunctional lateral flow testing market as the government list of providers included companies that promoted misleading prices, failed to provide tests on time or even sell the correct test.

“To protect consumers the government must ensure the private testing market is properly regulated and implement changes recommended by the CMA so travellers know they are booking with a provider they can rely on.”

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