The rules on testing are to be eased for people travelling to England, the government has announced, following calls from the travel industry.
From 04:00 GMT on Friday, fully vaccinated travellers coming to England will no longer have to take a test before they travel.
And from Sunday, rather than taking a PCR test on day two of arrival, they can take a cheaper lateral flow.
The rules for self-isolating on arrival will also change.
The shake-up was confirmed by Boris Johnson earlier, following calls from travel firms who said the measures were not effective now that Omicron was spreading widely.
Under the current rules in force until Friday, all fully-vaccinated travellers over the age of 12 must show proof of a negative test lateral flow or PCR test taken in the two days before coming to the UK. Fully vaccinated people must also pay for a PCR test within two days of arrival and self-isolate while waiting for the result.
People who aren’t fully vaccinated must currently take PCR tests on both day two and day eight after arriving, and self-isolate for 10 days.
But under the new rules:
- From 04:00 GMT on Friday 7 January, people who are fully vaccinated and those aged under-18 will no longer need to take a test two days before travelling to England from countries outside the UK and the Common Travel Area. On arrival, they will have to take a PCR test but they will no longer have to self-isolate while awaiting the result
- From 04:00 GMT on Sunday 9 January they will only have to take a lateral flow test instead of a PCR test on day two. But this test must be bought from a private test provider – free NHS tests are not allowed
- Unvaccinated passengers will need to continue to take a pre-departure test, PCR tests on day two and day eight, and self-isolate for 10 days
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the pre-departure test “discourages many from travelling for fear of being trapped overseas and incurring significant extra expense”.
The announcement comes after airlines said passenger testing was making no real impact, with data last week suggesting one in 25 people in England had the virus.
They also said compulsory testing had held back the sector’s recovery.
Mr Johnson met his cabinet earlier and alongside changes to travel tests, the government has said it will ease Covid testing rules for people without symptoms, who will no longer need to confirm a positive lateral flow test with a PCR.
On Tuesday, Mr Johnson said he hoped the country could “ride out” the current wave, although he acknowledged parts of the NHS would feel temporarily overwhelmed.
That rule change will come into force on 11 January and apply to England only for now.
Following the announcement for England, Health Minister for the Welsh government Eluned Morgan said: “I have today reluctantly agreed to remove the requirements for fully vaccinated travellers and under 18s to take a pre departure test (PDT) and a day 2 PCR test when arriving in the UK.”
What are the current travel rules?
Currently, all travellers to the UK aged 12 and over have to show proof of a negative test, which can be a PCR or a lateral flow test, and must be taken up to two days before departure for the UK.
They then have to take another test – which this time must be a PCR test – within the first two days after their arrival in the UK.
But at the time that rule was brought in a month ago, the number of new cases reported in the UK each day was running between 40,000 and 50,000 – and was only rising relatively slowly because it was almost entirely made up of the Delta variant of Covid.
But UK cases have now risen sharply and Omicron is the dominant variant – so airlines can argue that there is no longer any hope of relying on testing to “keep out Omicron”.