UK to scrap tests for fully vaccinated returning travellers

© PETER NICHOLLS A traveller in an international arrivals area of London’s Heathrow Airport. Reuters

Covid tests for travellers returning to Britain are set to be scrapped for the fully vaccinated when Boris Johnson replaces the traffic light system on Friday.

The UK prime minister is also expected to reduce the number of countries on the red list.

Rules look set to tighten for the unvaccinated, who may have to enter quarantine for 10 days, regardless of which country they return from.

The overhaul follows six months of fierce criticism over the cost of PCR tests and the complexity of the travel system, which has enforced different rules on different groups of nations.

It will complete a week of changes to the government’s Covid approach for the autumn and winter, with a new vaccination drive and approach to Covid restrictions announced.

The exact details of the new travel system are unknown, with government sources saying the package will be finalised only after meetings on Friday.

There is already a backlash emerging from the Scottish government, which could choose different rules, and some government scientific advisers, The Telegraph reported.

But Downing Street is confident that the core elements of Mr Johnson’s travel rules shake-up will be implemented.

“This is about making it easier to travel abroad to see friends and family again, while maintaining protections to keep us safe,” a senior government source said.

It is hoped within the government that the reforms can be put in place in time for the autumn half-term break, which begins on October 25 for many schools.

One core change expected to be approved on Friday concerns Covid testing when returning from overseas holidays.

Currently, people who are double-vaccinated have to take a PCR test on their second day back in the UK.

That requirement is expected to change to a lateral flow test, which is much cheaper than PCR tests that can cost more than £100 ($138).

People who have been fully vaccinated have to take a lateral flow test before they get on a flight home from overseas but that could be stopped altogether, although government sources insist that is not yet locked down.

But the rules for people not fully vaccinated will be tighter.

It is expected that the unvaccinated will still have to take a Covid test before boarding a flight home, a PCR test on day two after returning and at least a lateral flow test on day eight. They must also be in quarantine for 10 days.

Under all the new rules, it is expected that only lateral flow tests paid for by travellers can be used, rather than the free ones given by the Government, so some costs continue.

A second big area of reforms coming is the end of the traffic light system. Countries will no longer be divided into green, amber and red lists, or any sub-categories between them.

Instead, there will be two groups: countries the government is happy for people to travel to, and a red list of destinations that pose a Covid risk.

The red list will be much shorter than the current one, government sources say, with possibly dozens of countries, including Turkey, to be taken off.

This new system means that the unvaccinated face slightly tougher Covid rules, as they will now have to enter quarantine from nations that were on the green list.

Obligatory hotel quarantine for people returning from red list countries, which means forced stays for 10 days in hotels selected by the government, will remain.

One source said authorities in Public Health England were opposing the removal of PCR tests on return, because such results are logged more efficiently than those from lateral flows.

Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of Airlines UK, urged the government to scrap the PCR testing.

“The economic costs of not reopening are increasing every day and this is the last opportunity to change the travel rules under the government’s own task force timeframe,” Mr Alderslade said.

“They are removing furlough support for a sector that hasn’t been allowed to reopen.

“We either take this opportunity to pare back these restrictions or thousands of jobs will be at stake and our competitiveness as a trading nation will be further eroded.”

Henry Smith, chairman of the All-Party Future of Aviation group, welcomed the plans for fully vaccinated travellers.

“A decision needs to be made without any further delay because that is what the industry requires,” Mr Smith said.

“It is draconian for the unvaccinated, but I can see where the government is coming from, that if you want to travel internationally, getting vaccinated is the best thing to do.

“It doesn’t prevent people from travelling.”

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