The current Covid testing system for people travelling to England has "outlived its usefulness", Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says, as Omicron is now "widespread and worldwide".Ahead of a rule change later this week, he said the system - introduced to slow Omicron's spread - had "done its part".Pre-departure tests will end for fully vaccinated travellers and day two PCRs will be replaced by lateral flow tests.Mr Shapps said ministers would "ensure a stable system is in place for 2022".The shake-up, announced on Wednesday, came after travel firms said the measures were not effective now Omicron was spreading widely.
Pre-departure Covid travel tests to be scrapped
Under the current rules in force until Friday, all fully vaccinated travellers over the age of 12 must show proof of a negative lateral flow or PCR test taken in the two days before coming to the UK. Fully vaccinated people must also pay for a PCR test within two days of arrival and self-isolate while waiting for the result.
People who aren't fully vaccinated must currently take PCR tests on both day two and day eight after arriving, and self-isolate for 10 days.
But under the new rules:
From 04:00 GMT on Friday: people who are fully vaccinated and those aged under-18 will no longer need to take a test two days before travelling to England from countries outside the UK and the Common Travel Area. On arrival, they will have to take a PCR test but they will no longer have to self-isolate while awaiting the result
From 04:00 GMT on Sunday: they will only have to take a lateral flow test instead of a PCR test on day two. But this test must be bought 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
People going abroad should continue to check the travel rules for their destination country.
PCR tests have been used for travellers as they can detect if someone has the Omicron variant, unlike lateral flow tests.
Asked whether the rule change could mean new variants are missed among people arriving from abroad, he said anyone who had a positive lateral flow test must get a PCR test via the NHS so it can be checked for new variants using sequencing techniques.
Mr Shapps said the UK had a much higher level of sequencing than any other country in the world, so it was tracking new variants very carefully "regardless of whether it starts here or somewhere else".
He warned that stricter travel measures could be reintroduced if another variant of concern emerged, and earlier tweeted that the rules would be reviewed by the end of the month.
The travel industry welcomed the relaxation of the rules.