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Travel firms call for removal of testing rules

The BBC understands the government could scrap the need for people to test two days before arriving in the UK. With data last week suggesting one in 25 people in the UK currently had the virus, airlines have said passenger testing is having no real impact. They said compulsory testing has held back the sector's recovery. It comes as the prime minister is to meet his cabinet and urge them to back his decision not to impose any further Covid restrictions in England.  The BBC understands alongside changes to travel test, the government is discussing the removal of advice that people who test positive on a lateral flow device should seek a confirmatory PCR test. 

On Tuesday, Boris Johnson said he hoped the country could "ride out" the current wave, although he acknowledged parts of the NHS would feel temporarily overwhelmed. 

The government has said it continued to "keep all measures under review". 

What are the current travel rules?

Currently, all travellers to the UK aged 12 and over have to show proof of a negative test, which can be a PCR or a lateral flow test, and must be taken up to two days before departure for the UK.

They then have to take another test - which this time must be a PCR test - within the first two days after their arrival in the UK.

But at the time that rule was brought in a month ago, the number of new cases reported in the UK each day was running between 40,000 and 50,000 - and was only rising relatively slowly because it was almost entirely made up of the Delta variant of Covid.

But now, the UK has announced more than 200,000 new cases in a day for the first time in the entire pandemic and Omicron is the dominant variant - so airlines can argue that there is no longer any hope of relying on testing to "keep out Omicron".

The only other countries in the world that have topped 200,000 positive tests in a single day this week have been the US and France.

The trade body Airlines UK has argued that continuing the current measures would be financially disastrous for the industry. Travel and tourism businesses added that the current limits have depressed demand and dented consumer confidence. 

Manchester Airports Group (MAG) has sent the government research it commissioned, which it claims shows that pre-departure testing has had little or no impact on the spread of Omicron.

It said that passenger numbers at MAG's airports fell by more than 30% after Omicron measures were introduced. 

Tim Hawkins, chief of staff at MAG, told the BBC's Today programme the research showed there was a "basis for taking out all tests" related to international travel, due to the high number of Covid cases in the UK.

"We are beyond the point where international travel restrictions can play a role in managing that peak and if there is no benefit to it then we shouldn't be doing it and we should take those measures out," he added.

Asked on BBC Breakfast if she would support the removal of pre-departure tests for people travelling back to the UK, Gillian Keegan, Care Minister at the Department of Health, said against the backdrop of the high case numbers, "you look at what makes sense in terms of travelling and travel arrangements".

Last month, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that "very soon", if Omicron became the dominant variant, there would be "less need to have any kind of travel restrictions at all".

BBC NEWS

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