UK ditches pre-departure COVID-19 tests for arrivals

Jan 5, 2022

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Pre-departure testing for people travelling to the U.K. has been scrapped after the government admitted there is no longer any point in trying to stop omicron from entering the country.

The new rule means from 7 January – travellers entering the U.K. will no longer be required to prove they don’t have the virus before coming from overseas.

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The government relaxed travel restrictions on Wednesday as it reconciled with the fact that the Omicron variant is now “everywhere” in Britain, so additional measures to prevent it from entering the country are effectively redundant.

“We’re removing the temporary extra testing measures we introduced last year at the border to slow cases of Omicron coming to the UK,” tweeted Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Wednesday afternoon. “Now Omicron is the dominant variant and is widespread in the UK, these measures are no longer proportionate.”

Replete with emojis of test tubes, green ticks and aeroplanes taking off, Shapps revealed that fully-vaccinated travellers and under-18s will no longer have to take a pre-departure test before returning to England if arriving after 4am GMT on Friday. 

And while travellers will still need to take a lateral flow test upon arrival, they will not have to self-isolate while waiting for the result from 4am GMT on Sunday, he said, adding: “If your post-arrival lateral flow test comes out positive, you must self-isolate & take a free NHS PCR test to confirm the result.”

He also reminded travellers that a lateral flow test is still not valid for international travel.

Airlines ramped up pressure on the government in recent weeks, arguing that travel restrictions had not only damaged business since their introduction a month ago, but that they had no meaningful impact on omicron numbers in the U.K.

Related: Reviewing the fastest & most expensive Day 2 PCR test

According to recent figures, one in 25 people in England had COVID-19 just before Christmas.

The rule change will apply from 11 January and apply to England only for now.

Under the current rules that came into play on 7 December 2021, anyone entering the U.K. must take either a PCR or lateral flow test within two days before departure, and an additional PCR test within two days of arriving.

Once in the U.K. arrivals must self-isolate until they receive a negative result from their Day 2 test.

In a further dose of good news on Wednesday, the UK Health Security Agency announced that people without symptoms will no longer have to confirm a positive lateral flow test with the more expensive PCR test.

It said anyone in England who receives a positive lateral flow device (LFD) test result should report their result on and must self-isolate immediately, but will not need to take a follow-up PCR test.

The easing will come into force in England next week, and across the rest of the UK within days.

The news comes despite mounting speculation over further tightening of U.K. restrictions in the new year and will bring new hope to Brits dreaming of a return to ‘normal’ travel in 2022.

When pushed earlier this week for comment on the current plans Prime Minister Boris Johnson also ruled out additional measures, despite the spread of the omicron variant and warnings that the NHS could soon be overwhelmed.

Speaking during a visit to a vaccination centre in Buckinghamshire, the PM said: ​​“The way forward for the country as a whole is to continue with the path that we’re on.

“We keep all measures under review, but the mixture of things that we’re doing at the moment is I think, the right one.”

Additional reporting by Jordan Waller.

Feature photo by Getty Images


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