From Friday, international travellers heading for Great Britain will no longer need to have a pre-departure COVID-19 test after Prime Minister Boris Johnson scrapped the rules and admitted that the requirement put people off travelling for fear of testing positive while abroad.
The emergency testing rules were put in place several weeks ago after the discovery of the Omicron variant. Pre-departure testing was meant to slow down the spread of the highly-transmissible variant but in reality, it had little affect in preventing a rapid Omicron surge.
Alongside pre-departure testing, the emergency rules also required travellers to take a second PCR test within two days of arrival and to self-isolate until a negative result was returned. Those rules have now been significantly eased.
Johnson told MP’s on Wednesday that the self-isolation rule would be scrapped altogether, while cheaper rapid antigen tests would suffice as the post-arrival test taken within two days of arrival.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the rules were “no longer proportionate” and that the measures were being eased now to support “the safe reopening of international travel”.
Travellers arriving in the UK before 4 am on Friday, 7th January will still need to abide by the emergency testing rules, while all fully vaccinated travellers or travellers under the age of 18 will be able to take advantage of the new relaxed testing regimen.
There will be separate rules which are more rigorous for travellers who are not fully vaccinated.
At present, the definition of fully vaccinated in Great Britain does not include booster shots but Prime Minister Johnson has indicated that it will soon be necessary for eligible people to have had a booster if they are to be considered fully vaccinated.
The government says people will be given plenty of notice before the changes are made. The timeline has yet been set out.
The BALPA pilots union welcomed the changes but said the aviation industry “needs its own booster” if it is to survive the winter.
“Anyone who recognises that the restrictions had absolutely no effect on omicron spread welcomes the removal of pre-departure tests,” commented the union’s General Secretary Martin Chalk.
“But aviation will be far from back to normal once this takes effect, with large numbers of flights still being cancelled through Winter and public confidence in travel still low,” Chalk continued.
Airlines UK, a trade group that represents the likes of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, also welcomed the decision to scrap pre-departure tests saying it would provide a “massive boost” to the industry.
“Today marks an important step towards learning to live alongside the virus, helping passengers and the travel sector look ahead to what will be an all-important spring and summer season,” commented Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade.
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.