In Focus

Explained: the UK’s new travel rules during Covid-19

PM announces the scrapping of pre-departure tests

The government’s decision to scrap pre-flight tests has been welcomed by the travel industry – but many experts believe the damage has already been done. 

In an announcement at the House of Commons yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that from Friday fully-vaccinated arrivals into England will no longer be required to have a negative pre-departure test and will not need to self-isolate until they get a negative PCR test. Then from Sunday, travellers will have to take a lateral flow test before the end of day two after arriving.

Omicron is now so widespread in the UK that “testing has outlived its usefulness”, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News. “So we are able to withdraw it from international travel.”

Eluned Morgan, Wales’s minister for health and social services, confirmed that she had “reluctantly agreed” to the plans to follow England’s easing of testing rules, The Independent reported. The Scottish and Northern Irish governments have yet to announce any changes. 

What are the new travel testing rules? 

Fully-vaccinated arrivals to England after 4am on Friday 7 January will not need to take a Covid-19 test before travel and will also not need to quarantine, the Government website explained. 

And from 4am on Sunday 9 January fully-vaccinated travellers can “choose to take a lateral flow test instead of a PCR test” after they arrive in England. The lateral flow tests must be bought from a private test provider – free NHS tests are not allowed. 

The rules for unvaccinated passengers have not changed. They will need to “continue to take a pre-departure test, PCR tests on day two and day eight, and self-isolate for ten days”, the BBC reported. 

How the travel industry reacted 

Speaking on Twitter, travel expert Paul Charles said this is the change in government rules needed for a “bounce back in travel” and that “2022 is now looking very promising for recovery in the sector”.

A “surge in holiday bookings” is expected in the coming weeks, The Independent said. Derek Jones, CEO of Kuoni’s parent company Der Touristik UK, predicts that travel will be “90% back before the end of spring”.

Industry leaders “hailed” the changes, TTG reported. Tim Alderslade, Airlines UK’s chief executive, said the “hugely welcome move” has come at a “critical time” in the booking season and it will provide a “massive boost to those wanting to travel abroad or come to the UK this year”.

The travel and aviation industries claim the pre-departure tests were “unnecessary and hugely damaging to the sector”, The Guardian reported. And travel association Abta has warned that the “damage had already been done”. The Business Travel Association has urged the government to come up with a “robust plan for future variants that does not mean closing our borders and strangling our sector once more”. 

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