Travel to England is about to get easier for fully vaccinated visitors, as Coronavirus test rules change.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps made the announcement on Wednesday stating that from 4 am on Friday, January 7, fully vaccinated travellers and those under 18 years of age coming to England from countries outside of the UK and the Common Travel Area, will no longer be required to take a Covid test before they travel.
A PCR test will still need to be taken on arrival but they will no longer need to self-isolate while waiting for the results.
Furthermore, from 4 am on Sunday, January 9, rather than taking a PCR test on day two of arrival, a cheaper lateral flow test can be taken. However, this test must be bought from a private test provider as free NHS tests will not be accepted.
Travellers who are unvaccinated will still be required to take a pre-departure test, PCR tests on day two and day eight and self-isolate for 10 days.
Shapps tweeted, “We're removing the temporary extra testing measures we introduced last year at the border to slow cases of Omicron coming to the UK. Now Omicron is the dominant variant and is widespread in the UK, these measures are no longer proportionate."
“By reducing testing requirements for fully vaxxed passengers to just a lateral flow post-arrival, we're supporting the safe reopening of international travel. We'll do a full review of travel measures by the end of January to ensure a stable system is in place for 2022,” he concluded.
The rule changes were confirmed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier today, he said that the pre-departure test "discourages many from travelling for fear of being trapped overseas and incurring significant extra expense".
This welcomed announcement comes after airline companies spoke out saying that “passenger testing was making no real impact, with data last week suggesting one in 25 people in England had the virus.”
They also said that they believed that compulsory testing had held back the travel sector's recovery.
In response to the Government's announcement regarding changes to international travel testing measures, Mark Tanzer, Chief Executive of the Association of British Travel Agents said, "The Government’s announcement that travellers will no longer have to take a pre-departure test on return to England is extremely welcome news.
"The removal of pre-departure testing recognises that with the Omicron variant now widespread throughout the country 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,” he added.
Steve Heapy, boss of the Jet2 airline and tour operator Jet2 Holidays, also said the timing of the announcement will make a "huge difference". He said that numbers of customers on their website were already increasing "exponentially" after the rule change.
Following the announcement for England, Health Minister for the Welsh government Eluned Morgan said: "I have today reluctantly agreed to remove the requirements for fully vaccinated travellers and under 18s to take a pre departure test (PDT) and a day 2 PCR test when arriving in the UK."
Currently, all travellers coming to the UK aged 12 and over have to provide proof of a negative test, which can be either a PCR or a lateral flow test and must be taken up to 48 hours before departure for the UK.
They then have to take a PCR test within the first two days after arriving in the UK.
At the time that this rule was brought in a month ago, the number of new Covid cases reported in the UK each day was between 40,000 and 50,000 and was only rising relatively slowly because it was almost completely made up of the Delta variant.
But as UK cases have once again risen sharply and Omicron is the more dominant variant, airlines argued that continuing the current measures would be financially disastrous for the industry.
Ahead of the new test changes, Manchester Airports Group (MAG) sent the government research it had commissioned, which it claimed shows that pre-departure testing has had little or no impact on the spread of Omicron.
It said that passenger numbers at MAG's airports had fallen by more than 30% after the Omicron measures were introduced.
Tim Hawkins, chief of staff at MAG, told the BBC's Today programme that “the research showed there was a basis for taking out all tests related to international travel, due to the high number of Covid cases in the UK.
"We are beyond the point where international travel restrictions can play a role in managing that peak and if there is no benefit to it then we shouldn't be doing it and we should take those measures out," he added.