Travel sector welcomes end of pre-departure Covid tests for England


The aviation and travel industry has welcomed the scrapping of pre-departure tests for people travelling to England, which it had claimed were unnecessary and hugely damaging to the sector.

Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday afternoon that the requirement would be lifted from 4am on Friday, along with the need for travellers to self-isolate on arrival until they receive a negative PCR test result.

He said – as the industry had argued – that the latest Covid variant Omicron was “so prevalent these measures have a limited impact on the growth in cases while continuing to pose significant cost to our travel industry”.

Arrivals in England will now need to take a lateral flow test no later than the end of day two, in line with the previous rules.

Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of the industry body Airlines UK, said: “This is a hugely welcome move at a critical time in the booking season for passengers, and will provide a massive boost to those wanting to travel abroad or come to the UK this year. People will now be able to book knowing that – for the fully vaccinated – all emergency testing restrictions have been removed.

“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.”

Research commissioned earlier by Airlines UK and Manchester Airports Group suggested the removal of travel testing requirements would not affect overall rate of cases and hospitalisations in the UK.

The two organisations said the research showed that domestic rather than international restrictions would be the only way to reduce Omicron’s spread within the country.

Travel association Abta said the decision to reduce the testing requirements was “extremely welcome” but warned that the “damage had already been done”.

The Business Travel Association 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.”

Ministers introduced additional testing requirements in late November and early December because of fears about the spread of the newly identified variant.

Under the rules in place until they revert on Friday, all passengers arriving in the UK have had to take a pre-departure Covid test in the two days before setting off, although slightly different time limits apply in the four countries, as well as a PCR test within the first two days after their arrival.

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MAG said passenger numbers at its airports fell by more than 30% in early December after the introduction of new testing requirements.

MAG’s chief executive, Charlie Cornish, said after Johnson’s announcement that the airport group looked forward to “working with government on a roadmap for the removal of all remaining restrictions, in order to help our prized aviation sector enjoy a full recovery”.

Global airline body Iata said the change was “long overdue”. Its director general, Willie Walsh, said: “It’s now time to look again at the overall scheme and remove testing entirely for vaccinated travellers.”

This article was amended on 5 January 2022 to clarify the details about pre-departure Covid tests for people entering the UK.