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From 11 February, the rules for travellers to the UK will return to the way they were at the start of 2021: with a passenger locator form but no testing.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Grant Shapps said: “For vaccinated travellers, this coming half-term will see a return to normality not witnessed since early 2020, with remaining tests scrapped and bureaucracy reduced to the bare minimum.”
Yet the passenger locator form was not introduced for travellers to the UK until the summer of 2020. Throughout that year, testing for the purposes of international travel was comprehensively disparaged by Mr Shapps and other ministers.
In October 2020, for example, the transport secretary said: “We know for certain if you are going to test people on day zero it won’t help.”
Testing for arriving travellers was introduced in December 2020, initially to allow the length of quarantine to be shortened.
In his article, Mr Shapps wrote: “It gave me enormous satisfaction to announce to the House of Commons on Monday that we are scrapping all tests for inbound vaccinated passengers and reducing test requirements for the unvaccinated, while at the same time removing the self-isolation requirement for the latter.
“The prime minister and I have always believed that Covid restrictions on travel should last not a minute longer than is necessary.
“Now, with our vaccination programme proof against Omicron and our genome surveillance capability safeguarding us against new variants, we can remove the last shackles to international travel.
“We can set Britons free.”
Some travel industry voices have questioned the length of time that will elapse between announcing the changes and their taking effect.
On Monday the transport secretary said: “It’s obvious to me now that border testing for vaccinated travellers has outlived its usefulness.”
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “While it’s encouraging to see testing at last dismantled as a policy, the government have always said that Covid restrictions on travel should not last a minute longer than necessary.
“So why are consumers, and the whole travel sector, having to wait another 17 days until changes are made? Restrictions on all other sectors will have gone by the end of this week yet travel including inbound is again being punished, especially during the peak booking period.”
In Parliament, Mr Shapps said: “It takes a little bit of time to put those technical changes in place and indeed to bring all four [UK] nations with us.”
In his article, the transport secretary also hinted that being boosted may become a necessary condition for being fully vaccinated. He wrote: “While we in Britain have not yet made a booster a condition of test-free travel, other countries have or will.
“So, get boosted to prevent your holiday this year being interrupted by requirements in destination countries.”
The transport secretary ended his article: “If you are travelling abroad for pleasure this year, have a great holiday.
“After this strange, dark interlude in normal life, we all deserve it.”