Pre-departure Covid tests for travel to the UK have been dropped for double jabbed travellers in the latest government review of restrictions.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions this afternoon, Boris Johnson confirmed that pre-departure tests would be scrapped for vaccinated travellers from Friday, with fully vaccinated arrivals and those under 18 arriving to the UK from 4am on 7 January no longer required to present a test result.
From the same date and time, these groups will also no longer have to self-isolate while waiting for results of their “day two” test.
Furthermore, from 4am on Sunday 9 January, the fully vaccinated and under 18s will be able to take a lateral flow (antigen) rather than a more expensive PCR test for their post-arrival test.
However, the rules remain the same for unvaccinated or partly vaccinated arrivals 18 and over – who must present a negative pre-departure test, quarantine for 10 days upon arrival, and take a PCR test on days two and eight of self-isolation.
Although the current easing of restrictions currently only applies to England and Wales, it is likely that the governments in Scotland and Northern Ireland will follow suit.
The transport secretary Grant Shapps confirmed the move on Twitter, saying: “We’re removing the temporary extra testing measures we introduced last year at the border to slow cases of Omicron coming to the UK.”
Follow all the latest updates below.
UK and most EU nations on Bulgaria’s red list
Bulgaria will require almost all travellers from the EU and the UK to have a negative PCR test and valid proof of Covid vaccination or immunity to enter the country.
The new policy will take effect from Friday, the country’s health ministry said today, to limit the spread of the Omicron variant.
The Balkan country has recorded its first 12 Omicron cases since the New Year.
Today, it reported a sharp rise in new infections to more than 6,200 from about 1,900 reported on Tuesday.
Most EU nations and the UK are on Bulgaria’s red zone list as they have reported more than 500 Covid infections per 100,000 inhabitants in the past 14 days, or have reported a spread of variants of concern.
Also on Friday, Bulgaria will add the US, Canada and Australia to its red zone list.
Austria, Hungary, Luxembourg and Romania are the only EU member states that are currently not on Bulgaria’s red zone list.
Lamiat Sabin5 January 2022 19:45
Cuba brings in new requirements for arrivals
Cuba has tightened border controls today over concerns that Omicron is fuelling an increase in Covid cases.
The Caribbean nation had previously only required proof of vaccination for most travellers.
Authorities have said they will continue to welcome tourists, but that arrivals will now have to show both a negative PCR within 72 hours and proof of vaccination.
There were 967 new Covid cases reported on Tuesday – more than a tenfold increase since the weeks before Christmas.
Covid-linked deaths have not increased.
Communist-run Cuba, which detected its first case of Omicron in early December, has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world.
More than 92 per cent of its population have had at least one dose of a Cuban vaccine, and at least 85 per cent have had more than one.
Lamiat Sabin5 January 2022 19:13
France to ease restrictions for Brits amid ‘supersonic’ rise in cases
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal has announced that France will widen the list of reasons Britons can enter the country in the coming weeks, making it “a bit easier” to travel to and from the UK.
Mr Attal said there are plans to “widen the list of compelling reasons, notably professional” for travellers coming from the UK, suggesting that any imminent change will mostly affect business travel.
At present, all visitors from the UK must have a “compelling reason” to enter France, a measure introduced after the emergence of the Omicron variant.
However, now that France’s case numbers are comparable with the UK’s, an update to their travel restrictions is expected next week.
Mr Attal told reporters that the exact details would be decided at a defence council meeting over the next few days.
Lucy Thackray5 January 2022 18:17
Wales ‘reluctantly agrees’ to testing change
The Welsh minister for health and social service has “reluctantly agreed” to adopt the same travel testing rules as England from Friday 7 January.
Eluned Morgan said: “Just a few weeks after its notification to the World Health Organisation, Omicron has spread around the world and is now the dominant form of the virus in the UK.
“In line with decisions being taken elsewhere in the UK, 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.
“We are concerned at the speed at which the UK government is re-opening international travel, given on-going concerns of importing new variants and adding additional pressure to our health services.
“Day two PCR testing acts as something of a surveillance system for international travel – if we had retained the requirement for a day two PCR test, we may have been alerted to the presence and introduction of Omicron earlier.”
Lucy Thackray5 January 2022 17:57
‘It was clear before Christmas that measures were futile’ – Simon Calder
Simon Calder, travel correspondent of The Independent, has commented on the latest change to travel rules, calling the U-turn on testing for international arrivals to England “too little too late”.
He said: “It just takes us back to where we were from 24 October to 30 November where you have one test after you arrived – a quick and cheap lateral flow test.
“When the UK introduced Europe’s most onerous and expensive testing rules overnight, we were told that these would stay in place only as long as was necessary to ‘buy time’ and hold back the Omicron variant.
“It was clear before Christmas that the international travel measures were futile, which is why hotel quarantine ended – but it has never been explained why these tests continued for another three weeks.
“The fear is that the government may act in the same way again when the next variant of concern appears – continuing the ‘on-off’ travel policy that ministers have demonstrated throughout the coronavirus pandemic.”
Lucy Thackray5 January 2022 17:55
‘We expect to see a surge in demand’, says Skyscanner
Stephanie Boyle, Global Travel Industry Expert at flight-booking website Skyscanner, has commented on the latest travel rules update, saying the change will “go a long way towards boosting confidence”.
“Winter-weary workers returning this week after the festive period tend to want something to look forward to and will be keen to book breaks in the short term as well as planning bigger trips for the summer,” she wrote in a statement.
“This news will go a long way towards boosting confidence for travellers who are hoping to visit loved ones overseas or book a holiday in 2022.
“We expect to see a surge in demand from UK holidaymakers following the scrapping of pre-departure testing and self-isolation requirements, especially given the timing which aligns with a traditionally busy time for travel.”
Lucy Thackray5 January 2022 17:45
‘Why not immediately?’ – travel industry reacts to testing rules change
Travel industry figures have spoken about in favour of this week’s change to the travel rules, with many voicing frustration that ministers did not make the call earlier.
“Although the scrapping of pre-departure tests from Friday (why not immediately?) is welcome, the test-on-arrival still remains, which is very disappointing,” said Danny Callaghan, CEO of the Latin American Travel Association, in a statement.
“It’s difficult to see what that test is supposed to actually achieve. You can go to a crowded football match without having to test afterwards, but not sit on a plane with 200 other people.”
Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO at Advantage Travel Partnership, said: “In order to recover from the decimating impact the pandemic has had on the travel industry and people we must start to see a consistent approach from government in terms of the future relaxation of rules given our highly vaccinated population.
“Travel will remain ever complex this year, but if the consumer can rely on less confusing government intervention, a continuation of a more flexible approach from travel suppliers, and the expertise of a human travel agent to help guide them through the booking process from take off to landing, I am hopeful we will see the industry start to finally bounce back.”
Lucy Thackray5 January 2022 17:17
Next travel review set for end of January, says Grant Shapps
Grant Shapps has confirmed that another travel review will take place at the end of the month, with a firmer plan in place for travel over the year ahead.
“We’ll do a full review of travel measures by the end of Jan to ensure a stable system is in place for 2022,” tweeted the transport secretary at this end of his thread of travel rules.
Mr Shapps’ update to the travel rules followed Boris Johnson’s announcement that testing requirements would be eased for the double jabbed from Friday onwards.
Testing rules for fully vaccinated travellers and under 18s are being simplified in a bid to support “the safe reopening of international travel”, said the transport secretary.
Lucy Thackray5 January 2022 16:57
‘Damage has already been done’ – ABTA chief executive
Mark Tanzer, Chief Executive of ABTA – The Travel Association, has commented on the latest government changes to the UK’s travel rules.
“The government’s announcement that travellers will no longer have to take a pre-departure test on return to the UK is extremely welcome news,” wrote Tanzer in a statement shortly after the announcement.
“The removal of pre-departure testing recognises that with the Omicron variant widespread throughout the UK these tests do not serve a useful purpose.
“Pre-departure tests not only add to cost and create inconvenience, they can also plant a seed of doubt among some travellers who wonder ‘What will happen if I test positive abroad?’ which can be a considerable disincentive to booking an overseas trip.
“The two announcements are potentially very positive for the travel sector, but damage has already been done.
“We now hope to see confidence return as we enter what is usually the peak booking season for summer holidays.
“We would urge the government to ensure greater stability in the international travel system, including avoiding similar disruption in future, to enable business to recover fully and to rebuild consumer confidence.”
Lucy Thackray5 January 2022 16:43
What are the new rules for travel from Friday?
The government has announced that the UK’s travel rules are once again changing from Friday – but only for the fully vaccinated and under 18s.
From 4am on Friday 7 January, travellers to the UK who have had at least two doses of the vaccine, as well as those aged 17 and under, will no longer have to present a result from a pre-departure test taken before journeying to the UK.
The same groups will also no longer have to self-isolate while waiting for their “day two” test results.
From 4am on Sunday 9 January, those groups will also be able to take a lateral flow (antigen) test instead of a PCR for their “day two”.
Wondering how this affects your next trip?
Here’s everything we know so far.
Lucy Thackray5 January 2022 16:39