Scrap pre-departure Covid tests now, before health doom-mongers object, say travel chiefs

·3-min read
Traveler arrives at airport - Chan Long Hei
Traveler arrives at airport - Chan Long Hei

Ministers were on Wednesday night urged to ditch pre-departure tests for double-jabbed holidaymakers amid fears the plans could be derailed by last-minute objections by health chiefs.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, and Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, are thought to back the move as part of a new streamlined testing regime that would save a family of four up to £400 on an autumn holiday abroad.

Ministers also plan to replace expensive PCR tests, which travellers have to take on day two of their arrival in the UK, with cheaper lateral flow tests.

They are expected to finalise the plans at a Cabinet Covid-O committee meeting on Thursday or Friday to ensure the changes are in place in time for the autumn half-term break at the end of October.

The changes will herald a major reopening of foreign travel for fully vaccinated Britons as the red list of 62 countries requiring travellers to pay for hotel quarantine is substantially scaled back.

The traffic light system will be axed, with the green and amber lists of countries simplified into a single category, as revealed last week by The Telegraph, guaranteeing quarantine-free travel there for double-jabbed Britons.

Tory MPs and travel industry chiefs on Wednesday night urged ministers to scrap pre-departure tests, which are required within 72 hours of returning to the UK. They are usually cheaper lateral flow tests, which cost £30, but deter travellers because of the risk of ending up in quarantine abroad if positive.

Henry Smith, the Tory chairman of the all-party Future of Aviation group, said: “The figures show the number of people testing positive is extraordinarily low, around one per cent or lower. It is therefore a level of expense and complication that doesn’t justify the minimal public health risk that there is.”

Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of Airlines UK, said: “Getting rid of PCR tests would be cheaper and a step forward but pre-departure tests are a barrier to travel for other reasons. Families worry they will be stranded overseas, which when they have kids or jobs to return to is a huge problem.

“Ultimately we cannot reopen properly with these layers of complexity. The economic costs of this are huge.”

It is believed health department officials are concerned that ditching pre-departure tests will remove a key barrier to the import of Covid. “I am concerned the health lobby will not let this through,” said a senior MP.

In a letter on Thursday, bosses of Britain's biggest airports – Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Stansted – also urged Boris Johnson to ditch all travel tests for fully jabbed holidaymakers, or risk “squandering” the advantage the UK could gain from its successful vaccination programme.

"While the traffic light system provided necessary protections at the beginning of the year, it is increasingly out-of-date and out-of-step, squandering any advantage the gained from its world-leading vaccination effort," they wrote.

"It is choking the country’s economic prosperity, costing hardworking people well-earned breaks and limiting the UK to the worst aviation recovery in Europe."

They called for all tests to be removed for double jabbed travellers from non-red countries, replacement of PCR tests with lateral flows for non-jabbed and a red list that targeted variants of concern.

Unvaccinated travellers are expected to be required to continue to take PCR and pre-departure tests but ministers have yet to decide whether they should also face quarantine.

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