The UK government has announced that the extra travel testing requirements in response to the Omicron variant will be scrapped.
From Friday (January 7), fully vaccinated travellers entering England will no longer have to take pre-departure tests.
Day two PCR tests will also be ditched in favour of lateral flow tests, which are much cheaper. Arrivals will no longer have to self-isolate before getting results, either, unless they test positive – in which case they must quarantine at home for up to 10 days.
It’s effectively a return to the travel restrictions that were in place in November, before the Omicron variant emerged in South Africa. Transport secretary Grant Schapps had recently argued that there was no need to maintain the testing regime now that Omicron is the dominant variant in the UK.
The news will be welcomed by tour operators and agents who are hoping for a busy summer season this year.
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of ABTA – The Travel Association, said:
“The Government’s announcement that travellers will no longer have to take a pre-departure test on return to the UK is extremely welcome news.
“The removal of pre-departure testing recognises that with the Omicron variant widespread throughout the UK these tests do not serve a useful purpose. Pre-departure tests not only add to cost and create inconvenience, they can also plant a seed of doubt among some travellers who wonder ‘what will happen if I test positive abroad?’ which can be a considerable disincentive to booking an overseas trip.
“We also welcome the move to change post-arrival day two PCR tests to cheaper lateral flow tests, returning to the process in place in October 2021 before Omicron emerged and reducing testing costs for travellers.
“The two announcements are potentially very positive for the travel sector, but damage has already been done. We now hope to see confidence return as we enter what is usually the peak booking season for summer holidays. We would urge the government to ensure greater stability in the international travel system, including avoiding similar disruption in future, to enable business to recover fully and to rebuild consumer confidence.”
Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO at Advantage Travel Partnership, commented:
“Today’s relaxation of travel restrictions is of course a positive for the travel industry. Scrapping the pre-departure test and replacing subsequent PCR day two test and therefore self-isolation on arrival back into the UK with a cheaper and effective lateral flow test will help to boost confidence at what is traditionally the busiest booking period of the year. Our members are currently trading on average at about 50 per cent of 2019 levels and are beginning to see that pent up demand come through following 20 months of the toughest of trading conditions.
“Our top three destinations last week were the Canaries, USA & Greece and we are also starting to see more long-haul bookings to places like the Caribbean, Australia and Thailand. Confidence is crucial now. In order to recover from the decimating impact the pandemic has had on the travel industry and people we must start to see a consistent approach from Government in terms of the future relaxation of rules given our highly vaccinated population.”