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Travel sector hails ‘huge boost’ as Boris Johnson announces pre-departure tests to be axed

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  • Boris Johnson
    Boris Johnson
    Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since 2019

The travel industry has hailed the scrapping of pre-departure coronavirus tests for passengers arriving in England as a "massive boost" to the sector.

Announcing the move in a Commons statement on Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Omicron variant is now so prevalent in the country that the measure is having limited impact on the spread of the disease.

Mr Johnson told MPs the requirement for travellers to self-isolate on arrival until they receive a negative PCR test is also being dropped.

Instead, the rules will revert to the system in place in October, with travellers required to take a lateral flow test no later than the end of day two after their arrival.

If that is positive they will then have to take a confirmatory PCR test to help identify any new variants.

Mr Johnson said: “When the Omicron variant was first identified, we rightly introduced travel restrictions to slow its arrival in our country.

“But now Omicron is so prevalent, these measures are having limited impact on the growth in cases, while continuing to pose significant costs on our travel industry.

“So I can announce that in England from 4am on Friday, we will be scrapping the pre-departure test, which discourages many from travelling for fear of being trapped overseas and incurring significant extra expense.”

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the industry body Airlines UK, welcomed the announcement at a "critical" time of the year.

"People will now be able to book knowing that - for the fully vaccinated - all emergency testing restrictions have been removed," he said.

"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."

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren also welcomed the move but said the Government needed to go further.

 (PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

"This will make travel much simpler and easier and means our customers can book and travel with confidence," he said.

"However, the Government must now urgently take the final step towards restriction-free travel and remove the last remaining unnecessary test for vaccinated travellers so flying does not become the preserve of the rich."

A spokesman for Heathrow Airport said: "Although this is welcome news, there is still a long way back for aviation which remains the lifeblood of the UK's economy, supporting millions of jobs in all four nations."

The testing rules for international travel were discussed at a meeting of the Cabinet’s Covid-19 operations (Covid-O) committee on Wednesday.

It is understood Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has been pressing for a relaxation of restrictions to help the airline sector.

Research commissioned by Manchester Airports Group (MAG) – which owns Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands airports – and trade body Airlines UK earlier indicated that removing all international travel testing would not affect the spread of the Omicron variant in the UK.

The analysis, conducted by Oxera and Edge Health, concluded that domestic restrictions would be the only way to reduce Covid cases related to the strain.

Passenger numbers at MAG airports fell by more than 30 per cent from early December, following the introduction of the tougher testing requirements.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament on December 13 that the justification for the rules would be “minimised” as Omicron became the dominant variant in the UK.

Virgin Atlantic boss Shai Weiss earlir said the aviation industry has demonstrated how “international travel can operate safely, taking full advantage of our world-leading vaccine rollout”.

He continued: “Unnecessary testing requirements will only result in confusion for millions, damaging customer confidence and economic recovery.

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said “harsh testing measures have really hurt recovery in the sector”.

He added: “Travel bans and restrictions don’t prevent infections coming into the UK, as we’ve seen, but simply damage consumer confidence and slow bookings.

“I don’t need to take any tests to travel from London to Edinburgh by train, where I mix with lots of people, so why should it be any different to travel from Brussels to London by train?

“Testing should only be done when I’m back in the UK and planning to visit relatives or go to a large event.”

Meanwhile, Hong Kong announced a two-week ban on flights from eight nations including the UK in an attempt to stop the spread of Omicron.

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