Travellers should not need PCR Covid tests if they are vaccinated or coming from low-risk countries, easyJet boss says

There is no evidence travellers from a low risk country should take a PCR Covid test, EasyJet boss Johan Lundgren said on ITV's Peston show

Holidaymakers should not need to take costly PCR Covid-19 tests if they are vaccinated or if they are travelling from a low-risk country, the boss of EasyJet has said.

The government is expected to announce later this week that international travel can resume later this month, so long as certain measures, such as coronavirus tests pre-departure and on day two of your arrival in the UK, are followed.

On Tuesday, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said government plans which will be set out "very shortly" will "cover what is happening from May 17 onwards", so people have the "details they need" to book a holiday abroad.

traffic light system for travel destinations is expected to be revealed later this week, according to the government, ahead of England taking its next step out of lockdown on May 17 - as set out in the PM's roadmap.

Countries will be divided up into green, amber and red, with different rules for each category.

  • Green: There is no need to self-isolate. Take a pre-departure test and a PCR test on day two of your arrival in the UK.

  • Amber: Self-isolate for 10 days, unless you receive a negative result from a test taken at least five days after arrival. Take a pre-departure test, and PCR tests on day two and day eight of your arrival in the UK.

  • Red: Spend 10 days in a quarantine hotel. Take a pre-departure test, and PCR tests on day two and day eight of your arrival in the UK.

Johan Lundgren, chief executive of EasyJet warned that the UK should avoid "unnecessary PCR testing" in its international travel controls, or risk stifling tourism to and from the UK.

He told ITV's Peston show that there is no evidence that people coming to the UK from low-risk countries and who have been vaccinated would need to do a PCR test.

He continued that the high costs of these tests, which he said were £100 on average, would put people off travelling.

The cost of a PCR test go 'far over and above' the average cost of an EasyJet flight, Mr Lundgren said

"I think that the idea that you think that you know, people can afford to pay these amounts that go far over and above what the average fare is of an EasyJet flight, just for example, it's not going to happen," he told ITV News' political editor.

Asked on ITV's Peston show whether EasyJet is seeing more bookings in Europe than bookings in the UK, he said: "In the late week, we have. Because basically the members (of the European Union) said: Look, there would be no expenses, and in many cases from low risk countries, unnecessary PCR testing."

He continued: "There’s no PCR testing required in Europe if you’re vaccinated. So we’re looking for the UK to reciprocate that, otherwise millions of people will be left behind and there will be (travellers from) other EU member states who will make all the bookings and taking all the beds in hotel rooms.

"And why shouldn’t people benefit from the [UK's] huge vaccination programme if it is proven safe that it [international travel] can be done?"

He added that more affordable lateral flow tests can be used in place of PCR tests for travellers coming from low risk countries: "There’s no evidence from a low risk country that you should do a PCR test - it’s quite simple. Two lateral flow tests would be as efficient as a PCR test. We’re talking from the green low risk countries."

The airline boss criticised the UK government, saying he has had more information and guidance about international travel controls from the EU than from the UK.

He said a study by the Yale University shows that much of Europe can be put into the low risk green category. He said the risk of travelling to many countries Europe is not more than the risk of travelling from London to Cornwall.

Although the UK has not yet revealed which countries will be put in which categories, he said if the UK does not put most of Europe in the green category, the question he would ask is: "Why would you treat international travel from low risk countries in a different way than you’re opening up the economy here."

Despite Mr Lundgren's optimism, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, Covid-19 technical lead for the World Health Organization (WHO), told Robert Peston the UK remains at risk so long as coronavirus cases are still surging elsewhere in the world.

She said: "The big message is that none of us are safe until all of us are safe."

She explained: "The pandemic is far from over, and so while in one country we are seeing transmission be reduced to such low levels, remember we were in similar situations last year.

"Transmission had been driven down to almost single digits across much of Europe in springtime as societies were opening up, as people started going indoors again, mixing increased, transmission increased.

"We saw the introduction of the variant B117 that was first identified in the UK. That had increased transmissibility, we're seeing B117 circulate around the world. The virus can take off again."

Although the existing vaccines are shown to be effective against the three known Covid variants, she said there is a risk the continued surge in cases globally could allow the virus to mutate even more.

She said: "It may change enough that we will need to update our vaccines and have new second, third, fourth generation vaccines. And so there are a lot of uncertainties ahead."

She added it is important for vaccines to be distributed fairly across the world: "The inequity that we've seen with vaccine distribution is grotesque and you know less than one percent of low income countries have access to the vaccine.

"And that is a moral outrage around the world, and so we're not faulting those who have access to the vaccine but we need more sharing of these doses through Covax because we have a fair allocation process to reach those who are most in need."

Asked about the situation in Africa, Dr Van Kerkhove shared her observations that countries that have fared better in the pandemic are those with effective public health infrastructure.

She said: "Countries across Asia with experience with SARS and MERS and avian influenza. Countries in Africa that have experience with ebola, with MERS, with meningitis.

"They have community systems that are built for surveillance, for case detection, for rapid response, for cluster investigation. I think the north has quite a lot to learn from countries in Africa in terms of epidemiology, public health."