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Hopes rise for end to testing ahead of February half-term holidays

Fully jabbed travellers are likely to be able to go on February half-term holidays without taking tests on their return amid reports that the government is preparing to lift all Covid restrictions.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps is understood to be in favour of ending the testing regime for the double-jabbed in time for next month’s break, according to the Sunday Times.

The move will save families hundreds of pounds in testing costs and be a boost for the trade, with Kuoni chief executive Derek Jones tweeting:”The final hurdle…in sight!”

An announcement is said to have been pencilled in for January 26, the day Boris Johnson is expected to lift plan B restrictions announced in December to combat the Omicron variant.

Vaccinated travellers currently have to take a lateral flow test two days after returning to the UK. Anyone who tests positive must isolate for ten days, although this can be cut short with a negative lateral flow test on days five and six following an update bringing travel isolation in lines with domestic rules.

Those who are not fully vaccinated must isolate for ten days with tests on days two and eight.

A source close to Shapps told the newspaper: “We are looking at removing all Covid tests for vaccinated travellers by the end of January, which is likely to coincide with the review of the plan B measures on January 26.”

The change will follow the decision this month to stop pre-departure tests.

However, a note of caution came from former Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson, newly-appointed chair of the Laboratory and Testing Industry Organisation (LTIO), the standards body for Covid testing companies.

He insisted: “The only way our country can avoid hard lockdowns is by maintaining a robust Covid testing regime.

“We have consistently backed relaxing unnecessary restrictions but believe removing testing completely for international travel would weaken those defences.”

Watson added: “PCR testing is the UK’s early warning system for new Covid variants. The tests are vital at our borders, because the labs that conduct these tests sequence the material to find new variants early.

“Lateral flow testing also plays an important role in limiting the circulation of new variants into the UK, while providing reassurance to travellers who are concerned about catching Covid.”

“Lateral flow tests are a low-cost way to ensure we are able to detect new variants. Testing is the antidote to lockdowns.”

Ministers are expected to add the third jab to the definition of fully vaccinated by the spring, leaving those who shun the booster reliant on tests if they want to travel.

Travel industry leaders want a “proper plan” for dealing with future variants and no repeat of the “panic” reaction to Omicron.

The prime minister could announce as early as this week that Covid passports and work from home guidance will be lifted from January 26.

The government confirmed changes to self-isolation rules from today (Monday) for fully vaccinated arrivals into England who test positive for Covid, bringing them in line with the policy for domestic self-isolation.

In an update, the DfT said: “From Monday 17 January, if you are fully vaccinated and test positive for Covid-19 in your day 2 test, you can stop self-isolating on day 6 of your self-isolation period if you take rapid lateral flow tests on days 5 and 6, and:

  • both test results are negative
  • you did both tests at least 24 hours apart
  • you do not have a high temperature”

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