Travel industry hails ‘huge boost’ as Boris Johnson announces end of pre-departure testing
The travel industry has hailed the removal of pre-departure coronavirus testing for passengers arriving in England as a “massive boost” to the industry.
Announcing the move in a statement in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Omicron variant is now so widespread in the country that the measure has limited impact on the spread of the disease.
Johnson told MPs that the requirement for travelers to self-isolate on arrival until they receive a negative PCR test is also being removed.
Instead, the rules will revert to the system in place in October, with travelers having to take a lateral flow test no later than the end of the second day after arrival.
If this is positive, then they will need to take a confirmatory PCR test to help identify 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 that these measures have a limited impact on the growth of cases, while continuing to impose significant costs on our travel industry.
“So I can report that in England from 4am on Friday we will do away with the pre-departure test, which discourages many from traveling for fear of being trapped abroad and incurring additional expenses important. “
Tim Alderslade, managing director of industry body UK Airlines, welcomed the announcement at a “critical” time of the year.
“People will now be able to book knowing that – for fully vaccinated people – all emergency testing restrictions have been removed,” he said.
“Today marks an important step in learning to live alongside the virus, helping passengers and the travel industry anticipate what will be a very important spring and summer season.”
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren also welcomed the move but said the government needs to go further.
“This will make travel a lot simpler and easier and mean our customers can book and travel with confidence,” he said.
“However, the government must now urgently take the last step towards unrestricted travel and remove the last remaining unnecessary test for vaccinated travelers so that the plane does not become the preserve of the rich.”
A spokesperson for Heathrow Airport said: “While this is good news, there is still a long way to go for aviation which remains the backbone of the UK economy, supporting millions of ‘jobs in all four countries. “
Testing rules for international travel were discussed on Wednesday at a meeting of the Cabinet’s Covid-19 (Covid-O) operations committee.
It is understood that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has been pushing for an easing of restrictions to help the airline industry.
Research commissioned by Manchester Airports Group (MAG) – which owns Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands airports – and the Airlines UK trade body previously indicated that removing all international travel tests would not affect the spread of the Omicron variant in the UK.
The analysis, conducted by Oxera and Edge Health, concluded that national restrictions would be the only way to reduce cases of Covid linked to the strain.
The number of passengers at MAG airports fell by more than 30% compared to the beginning of December, following the introduction of more stringent testing requirements.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament on December 13 that the rationale for the rules would be “downplayed” as Omicron would become 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 leading vaccine deployment.”
He continued, “Unnecessary testing requirements will only confuse millions of people, hurting customer confidence and economic recovery.
Paul Charles, managing director of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said “tough testing measures have really hurt the industry’s recovery.”
He added: “Travel bans and restrictions do not prevent infections from entering the UK, as we have seen, but just hurt consumer confidence and slow bookings.
“I don’t need to take any tests to travel from London to Edinburgh by train, where I hang out with a lot of people, so why would it be any different from traveling from Brussels to London by train?
“Testing should only be done when I am back in the UK and planning to visit relatives or attend a big event.”
Meanwhile, Hong Kong announced a two-week ban on flights from eight countries, including the UK, in an attempt to stop the spread of Omicron.