All COVID testing requirements for vaccinated passengers arriving in the UK are to be scrapped. The relaxation of the travel rules has been touted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as being a signal that the UK is open for business and tourism. While full details on the date of implementation are expected later today, the UK’s airlines and travel industry are celebrating the news.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has today announced that all COVID testing requirements will be scrapped for fully vaccinated travelers. At present, vaccinated arrivals to the UK need to undertake a day 2 lateral flow test, regardless of whether they are UK residents or overseas visitors. This was downgraded from a PCR test requirement in January.
The precise details of the announcement are expected to be unveiled later today, but industry pundits are eyeing a date as soon as February 1st for the changes to take effect. Although fully vaccinated travelers will be pleased to see the end of testing, there is no change for unvaccinated passengers. Those will still need to take multiple tests and quarantine on arrival in the UK.
According to aviation analytics expert Cirium, the February half term is already looking to be a busy time for travel. International flights from the UK are up 555% compared to the same period last year, although they remain down by 41% on February 2020. Still, more than 7,800 international flights will leave the country this half term, offering in excess of 1.5 million seats for departure.
Although other countries may still maintain some testing requirements, for fully vaccinated passengers holidaying from the UK, the removal of the need for the day 2 return test and the associated costs makes travel a far more attractive proposition. Similarly, those seeking to visit the UK will find the removal of this barrier a welcome change.
UK airlines celebrate
For the UK’s airlines, the removal of testing cannot come fast enough. Since the start of the pandemic, British airlines have had to contend with confusing and rapidly changing rules, dampening demand for travel and snatching away any chance of profitability. But now, the UK is properly open for business and 2022 is looking up.
CEO of major European low-cost airline easyJet, Johan Lundgren, celebrated the news, commenting,
“We welcome this news knowing that millions of our customers will also be delighted to see the return of restriction free travel in the UK. We now look ahead to what we believe will be a strong summer.
“We believe testing for travel should now firmly become a thing of the past. It is clear travel restrictions did not materially slow the spread of Omicron in the UK and so it is important that there are no more knee jerk reactions to future variants.
“We commend the Government for removing all testing. easyJet plans to return to near 2019 levels of flying this summer and so we can’t wait to welcome our customers back onboard.”
Fellow UK airline and international specialist Virgin Atlantic also welcomed the news. A spokesperson told Simple Flying,
“Britain is now open for business and it’s vital that the aviation industry is allowed to lead the way in boosting prospects for economic recovery. The removal of all testing for vaccinated passengers is the final step in moving towards frictionless air travel, allowing passengers to reconnect with loved ones and business colleagues. It restores customer confidence and demand will be boosted in a critical booking window for the travel industry.
“We have demonstrated that international travel can operate safely, taking full advantage of our world leading vaccine rollout. To ensure certainty for the industry, we will continue to work with UK Government on an evidence-based framework for variants of concern, eliminating border closures which have proven to be ineffective.”
While the abolition of testing for arrivals to the UK will be a welcome reprieve for airlines and the travel industry, it will need to be reciprocated by other countries to have a significant impact. At present, different countries still require different actions, ranging from just proof of vaccination all the way up to PCR tests taken within a couple of days of flying. Until widespread removal of testing takes place, the confusing rules will continue to stifle the appetite for travel.