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Rules for testing have been eased for travellers arriving in England today, the Government has announced.
From Friday, fully vaccinated travellers no longer have to take a pre-departure test before they travel to England.
And as of today, they may take a lateral flow test purchased from a private test provider within two days of arrival rather than the more expensive PCR.
Until now, travellers have been required to take the PCR test before day two and self-isolate while waiting for the result.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the pre-departure test discouraged many from travelling ‘for fear of being trapped overseas and incurring significant extra expense’, the BBC reports.
The announcement comes after airlines claimed traveller testing was making little impact, with data last week suggesting that one in 25 people in England had the virus.
On Friday, an airline boss said that demand for holidays was returning to pre-pandemic levels after the announcement of the eased restrictions.
The measures will save families hundreds of pounds on not having to buy so many tests and make it much easier to book holidays – and has resulted in a surge in demand among winter sun-seekers and families looking to reunite with loved ones.
PCR tests on average cost around £80 per traveller, compared to £20-£30 for a rapid swab, saving families up to £200 on post-arrival tests alone. They could save another £100 in tests taken for entry into the UK.
Steve Heapy, chief executive of Jet2, told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme that demand for holidays had now reached similar levels to those seen before the start of the pandemic.
A busy terminal 5 arrivals hall at Heathrow Airport on Friday as passengers arriving back into the UK no longer need to take a PCR test
He said: ‘Demand is around pre-Covid levels. Prior to the announcement it was well below, but it has given people the confidence to look for a holiday, that they won’t be caught in resorts quarantining. People now want to start thinking about more cheerful things, ie going on holiday.
‘There’s always a risk that we could have new restrictions but I think the Omicron variant has shown to governments you need to bide your time and look at the science a bit before jumping into lockdown.
‘As Professor Whitty said we have to learn to live with this virus, we can’t just jump into further restrictions every time we have a new variant – we have to learn to live with it. Hopefully this is the beginning of the end we can get back to some form of normality.
‘Our plans for summer 2022 remain the same and we have a bigger programme than summer 2019. Some companies are saying it’s going to take two or three years to recover, we are back to above summer 2019 levels.
‘I think it’s realistic [to be making such preparations], it’s optimistic obviously, but after two years of dealing with the virus, we’re in a place where we can live with it better.
‘People are desperate to get away. It’s two or three years since some people have had a holiday, and I think it’s very good for health getting away in the sun, lying on a beach, getting some Vitamin D etc.’
Fully vaccinated travellers and those aged under 18 will no longer need to take a test two days before travelling to England
Upon arrival, they will only have to take a lateral flow test instead of the more expensive PCR test on day two. This test must be purchased 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
Steve Heapy, chief executive of Jet2, told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme that demand for holidays had now reached similar levels to those seen before the start of the pandemic
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for tour operator Tui said Mr Johnson’s announcement ‘has given Brits the reassurance that travel will once again be easier and more affordable’.
She went on: ‘We’ve already seen an immediate and strong uptick in bookings and we now expect summer 2022 bookings to be normalised.
‘January is traditionally the busiest month for holiday bookings and demand is yet to reach pre-Covid levels, so we need to see sustained confidence in travel so the industry can fully recover.’
The firm’s biggest booking spikes have been for Mexico and the Canaries. Derek Jones, chief executive of luxury travel company Kuoni, said the easing of testing rules ‘should be the beginning of the end of Covid as a blocker to international travel’.
Mr Jones continued: ‘I predict travel will be 90% back to 2019 levels before the end of spring.
‘We’re already seeing increased call volumes and inquiries about trips for the year ahead as confidence builds.’
Britons can fly to 16 countries for under £10 this month – including Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Spain.
The cheapest single flights found by MailOnline for this month were £4 from London Stansted to Zagreb with Ryanair, and £5 for both London Luton to Rome with WizzAir and Stansted to Eindhoven with Ryanair. UK tourists can also go from Stansted with Ryanair to Oslo or Krakow for £6, Vienna for £7 and Sofia or Dublin for £8.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement in the House of Commons earlier this week that the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is now so prevalent in the UK that the measure is having limited impact on the spread of the disease.
Flight booking website Skyscanner now expects 2022 will now be a ‘bumper bargain year for travel’ with prices currently up to 71 per cent cheaper than pre-pandemic for some destinations, compared to the 2019 average.
The company said that in the first hours following Mr Johnson’s announcement, Skyscanner saw an 81 per cent increase in visits to the site, week on week.
It said bookings by UK travellers were already up 25 per cent in the week to this Monday compared to the previous week – and the top five summer destinations booked by Britons are Orlando, Malaga, Faro, Alicante and Palma.
Britons can fly to 16 countries for under £10 this month – including Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Spain
Passengers sit in the international arrivals hall at London Heathrow Airport today after the new testing rules were announced
Passengers walk around the departures area of London Heathrow Airport today after the rules were changed
Flight crew walk through Heathrow Airport today as it was revealed that pre-travel testing requirements will be dropped
Stephanie Boyle, Skyscanner’s global travel industry expert, told MailOnline: ‘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.
‘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 added: ‘We have more information on what we can expect from a calendar year living with the virus now and many will be planning big trips for the summer when traditionally we have seen fewer restrictions.
‘The travel industry has proved its agility and resistance through difficult times and will be hoping for these new simpler rules to remain in place without change to continue the safe and sustained return of travel.’
The current travel testing rules were introduced in November last year amid a global panic over the spread of Omicron – but with the variant now dominant in the UK, many questioned why they remained.
Mr Johnson told the Commons that from this weekend, costly post-arrival PCR tests would be replaced with cheaper rapid swabs for the fully vaccinated.
Travellers must buy the post-arrival lateral flow tests from private providers before returning to England. They cannot use free NHS ones.
Tests which previously needed to be taken within 72 hours of travelling to England have also been axed.
This change came into force at 4am today, whereas the replacement of PCRs with lateral flows post-arrival will come into effect at 4am on Sunday.
The new rules will apply only to those who have been fully vaccinated – which means double, rather than triple-jabbed.
Children aged five to 17 will be treated as fully vaccinated even if they are not, meaning they must also take day two post-arrival lateral flow tests. Under-fives are exempt.
The changes apply only to England, with Scotland and Northern Ireland yet to declare if they will follow suit. In Wales, health minister Eluned Morgan said they would be ‘reluctantly’ following suit.
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 prevalent, these measures are having limited impact on the growth in cases, while continuing to incur significant costs to our travel industry.’
The changes come just in time for the travel industry, with January traditionally the busiest period for summer holiday bookings.
A British Airway aircraft comes in to land at London Heathrow Airport yesterday evening as the rule changes were announced
An aircraft comes in to land at Heathrow Airport last night as Boris Johnson announced a relaxing of travel testing rules
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to the House of Commons yesterday where he announced changes to the travel rules
Willie Walsh, director-general of the International Air Transport Association trade body, said: ‘This is a long- overdue and welcome step back to the pre-Omicron regime. It’s clear that the extra measures had little or no impact on the spread on this new variant.’
Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said: ‘Travellers can now book with confidence and look forward to reconnecting with loved ones and business colleagues. Meanwhile… vital testing capacity can be reallocated where it is needed the most – in hospitals, schools and crucial national infrastructure.’
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the industry body Airlines UK, said it would be a ‘massive boost’ for the sector at a ‘critical’ time of the year.
‘People will now be able to book knowing that – for the fully vaccinated – all emergency testing restrictions have been removed,’ he said.
‘Today marks an important step towards learning to live alongside the virus, helping passengers and the travel sector look ahead to what will be an all-important spring and summer season.’
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren also welcomed the move but said the Government needed to go further.
‘This will make travel much simpler and easier and means our customers can book and travel with confidence,’ he said.
‘However, the Government must now urgently take the final step towards restriction-free travel and remove the last remaining unnecessary test for vaccinated travellers so flying does not become the preserve of the rich.’
A spokesman for Heathrow Airport said: ‘Although this is welcome news, there is still a long way back for aviation which remains the lifeblood of the UK’s economy, supporting millions of jobs in all four nations.’
NHS lateral flow tests cannot be used for international travel, and the tests must be brought from a private provider.
Those who have already brought PCR tests for travelling needs can still use these.
Julia Simpson, chief of the World Travel & Tourism Council, said: ‘The removal of pre-departure tests and replacing Day 2 PCRs with more affordable antigen testing will significantly boost the UK travel and tourism sector and help both it, and the whole UK economy recover much faster than expected.’