England is expected to drop the pre-departure COVID-19 test requirement for passengers on inbound flights to the country because the spread of Omicron across the UK is now so great that the tests are ‘effectively redundant’.
“Pre-departure tests were brought in to try to slow the spread of Omicron and stop it coming into the UK,” a Whitehall source told The Times. “Now that Omicron is dominant in the UK and everywhere it reduces the argument for having it. We have other ways of slowing the spread through domestic testing.”
Transport Grant Shapps is said to support the move to drop pre-departure testing but was overruled during a pre-Christmas review of the measures by more Covid hawkish ministers who argued for stronger restrictions to combat the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
England has had an on-off-on again approach to pre-departure travel testing and reintroduced the measure following the discovery of the Omicron variant in Southern Africa. The rules were strengthened to require nearly all travellers, regardless of vaccination status, to obtain a negative COVID-19 test within two days of travel to the country.
Along with gold-standard PCR tests, cheaper and more accessible rapid antigen tests are also accepted for pre-departure testing. Unlike some countries, however, England does not accept proof of recent recovery from COVID-19 infection as a way of skipping the pre-departure test requirement.
But while pre-departure testing might be dropped as soon as Wednesday, officials aren’t yet ready to abandon a requirement for travellers to obtain a second PCR test within two days of arrival.
The requirement to self-isolate while awaiting the results of the post-arrival test is, however, expected to be dropped.
The British aviation industry has been highly critical of the testing rules and has lobbied for both pre-departure and post-arrival testing to be quickly dropped. Airlines argue that pre-departure testing kills demand because people don’t want to run the risk of being stuck abroad if they test positive just before departure.
“Government has admitted that the measures introduced are disastrous for the travel sector, and the science says they aren’t now required,” commented Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the trade group Airlines UK.
“The Health Secretary says he wants to act quickly to remove unnecessary restrictions, and we implore him to make good on this by scrapping testing as soon as possible,” Alderslade, who represents airlines including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and easyJet, said. “This is make or break for UK aviation”.
Travel testing rules for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are set by the devolved nations but any changes in England are normally carried over.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.