UK ends COVID-19 testing for vaccinated arrivals and reduces testing for unvaccinated
Editors note: This story has been updated to include the newly announced date and time of when the current travel rules officially change.
Boris Johnson announced Monday that testing requirements for vaccinated arrivals to the U.K. be scrapped starting 4 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 11.
The announcement follows speculation last week, as reported by TPG U.K., that a move to reduce current testing requirements in the U.K. would be imminent.
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Speaking during a visit to the Academic Centre at Milton Keynes University Hospital, the prime minister said: "Although we have to be cautious, we are now moving through the omicron wave, and you can see the figures are starting to get better.
"So what we're doing on travel, to show that this country is open for business, open for travelers, you will see changes so that people arriving no longer have to take tests if they have been vaccinated, if they have been double vaccinated."
Related: A breakdown of the new testing rules for travelers headed to the U.K.
In addition to the rule change for vaccinated people no longer needing to take a COVID-19 test on arrival, there has also been a change to rules for the unvaccinated.
Travelers who haven't received a vaccine dose will now no longer need to take a day eight test. Though unvaccinated people will still need to take a pre-departure and day two test to prove they don't have coronavirus.
Until Feb. 11, vaccinated travelers entering the U.K. are required to take a day two test to leave self-isolation and unvaccinated travelers must quarantine for 10 days and take a day two and day eight test.
The restriction changes will be a breath of fresh air for both travelers and the airline industry, the latter of which penned an open letter to the U.K. government today calling for a rollback of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
With winter and spring break on the horizon, families could stand to save around £100 (about $135) on visits abroad, according to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
The Transport Secretary will also be hoping that the changes will prompt a considerable boost to the travel and airline sectors which today also saw changes to airport slot rules that have left the pandemic-stricken industry divided.
Already, international flights booked from the U.K. this February are up 555% compared to 2021, according to aviation analytics experts at Cirium — though it's worth noting flights are still down 41% compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Meanwhile, the U.K. itself is expected to see 7,861 flights land on its shores next month, equating to more than 1.5 million seats booked for incoming passengers, who — presuming they are fully vaccinated — will be among the first to fully take advantage of the U.K.'s relaxed testing measures.
Related: U.K. could drop predeparture COVID-19 testing restrictions for arrivals this week
In addition, the shift toward the so-called Plan, announced last week, will mean from Jan. 27, mandatory COVID-19 passports for large events and venues such as nightclubs will no longer be officially required — though businesses can still choose to use the National Health Service pass if they wish.
Face masks will also no longer be a mandatory requirement anywhere in England. However, it will still be advised that people wear face coverings when in enclosed or crowded spaces. Self-isolation for those who have tested positive for COVID-19 will still be a requirement.
The U.K.'s decision to scrap testing appears, while separate from the issue of travel bans, to be somewhat in line with the World Health Organization's own assessments last week that said it’s time for countries to lift or at least loosen their existing travel restrictions related to COVID-19.
WHO’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee said during their most recent meeting that coronavirus-related travel bans are “are not effective in suppressing international spread,” and cited the most recent surge as proof, VOA News reported.
Related: WHO says it's time to lift COVID-19 restrictions
“The failure of travel restrictions introduced after the detection and reporting of the omicron variant to limit the international spread of omicron demonstrates the ineffectiveness of such measures over time,” the committee’s report stated. In addition, it said such restrictions “do not provide added value and continue to contribute to the economic and social stress experienced by citizens.”
The agency advised that safety measures such as masking, testing, isolation, quarantine and vaccination “should be based on risk assessments to avoid placing an excessive financial burden on international travelers."