Pre-departure coronavirus tests for travellers arriving in the UK are likely to be scrapped.
The rules were tightened in December as Omicron spread, with all passengers told they must take a pre-departure Covid-19 test and get a negative result before arriving in the UK.
If the tests are scrapped, it would be a major boost for holidaymakers planning winter sun breaks and the beleaguered travel and tourism industry.
The testing rules for international travel will be discussed at a meeting of the Cabinet’s Covid-19 operations (Covid-O) committee on Wednesday.
It it understood Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is pressing for a relaxation of restrictions to help the airline sector.
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There have been calls to drop the requirement for even fully vaccinated travellers to take a PCR test after arriving in the UK – but such a move may be opposed by the Department of Health and Social Care.
Research commissioned by Manchester Airports Group (MAG) – which owns Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands airports – and trade body Airlines UK indicated that removing all international travel testing would not affect the spread of the Omicron variant in the UK.
The analysis, conducted by Oxera and Edge Health, concluded that domestic restrictions would be the only way to reduce Covid cases related to the strain.
Passenger numbers at MAG airports fell by more than 30% from early December, following the introduction of the tougher testing requirements.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament on December 13 that the justification for the rules would be “minimised” as Omicron became the dominant variant in the UK.
MAG chief executive Charlie Cornish and Airlines UK boss Tim Alderslade said in a joint statement: “This latest research by Oxera and Edge Health clearly supports the position that travel testing requirements can be removed in full without impacting overall case rates and hospitalisations in the UK.
“It should give the UK Government confidence to press ahead with the immediate removal of these emergency restrictions, giving people back the freedom to travel internationally to see loved ones, explore new places and generate new business opportunities.”
Mr Cornish and Mr Alderslade said the restrictions “come at a huge cost to the travel industry” and the broader UK economy.
Virgin Atlantic boss Shai Weiss said the aviation industry has demonstrated how “international travel can operate safely, taking full advantage of our world-leading vaccine rollout”.
He continued: “Unnecessary testing requirements will only result in confusion for millions, damaging customer confidence and economic recovery.
“We urge UK Government to act now and lead the way for the return of travel at scale.”
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said “harsh testing measures have really hurt recovery in the sector”.
He added: “Travel bans and restrictions don’t prevent infections coming into the UK, as we’ve seen, but simply damage consumer confidence and slow bookings.
“I don’t need to take any tests to travel from London to Edinburgh by train, where I mix with lots of people, so why should it be any different to travel from Brussels to London by train?
“Testing should only be done when I’m back in the UK and planning to visit relatives or go to a large event.”
Meanwhile, Hong Kong announced a two-week ban on flights from eight nations including the UK in an attempt to stop the spread of Omicron.