How the rules on Covid testing are changing for travel abroad

  • By ITV News Content Producer Jocelyn Evans

Pre-departure Covid tests for travellers heading to England and Wales are being scrapped, and rules around the post-arrival test are being relaxed too.

Despite Covid cases soaring to daily record highs across the UK, the Covid regulations around travel are easing from those brought in last December to try and stop the spread of Omicron - the dominant variant in the country.

What are the existing rules around testing and travel?

Fully vaccinated travellers arriving into the country must take a pre-departure test (PCR or lateral flow) in the destination they're leaving to return to England or Wales.

They then need to take a PCR test, after arriving home, and isolate until they receive a negative result. If the result is positive, the usual self-isolation rules for Covid cases kick in.

Those who are not fully vaccinated must self-isolate for 10 days after they arrive home, regardless of any testing.

How are the rules changing?

The test taken before departing to return to England or Wales is being scrapped completely.

The rules on post-arrival tests are being relaxed significantly too, so travellers will no longer need to take a PCR once they're back in England or Wales - and won't need to isolate.

Instead the rules will return to what they were in October 2020. Those arriving in England or Wales will need to take a lateral flow test before the end of their second day back in the country.

Only if that lateral flow is positive will travellers need to take a further PCR test and then follow existing rules for confirmed Covid-19 cases.

These changes impact fully vaccinated passengers only, with the rules for unvaccinated people remaining unchanged.

Passengers will still need to take any tests required to enter the country they're travelling to in the first place - and follow the guidance of the foreign government while overseas.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Why are the rules changing?

Announcing the changes in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister said: "Our balanced approach means that where specific measures are no longer serving their purpose, they will be dropped.

"When the Omicron variant was first identified we rightly introduced travel restrictions to slow its arrival in our country. But now, Omicron is so prevalent these measures have a limited impact on the growth in cases while continuing to pose significant cost to our travel industry."

Tougher travel rules were introduced in mid-December last year in response to the spread of the Omicron variant overseas. At the time, health secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament the justification for the rules would be "minimised" as Omicron became the dominant variant in the UK.

Back then England had reported 27 Omicron cases - that figure now stands at more than 212,000 with the data no longer being collected, as Omicron has become the dominant strain.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps is believed to have pushed for the rule changes, keen to help protect the beleaguered aviation industry after nearly two years of Covid-related disruption.

A man is tested at a drive through testing facility for COVID-19 at Edinburgh Airport as Scotland. Credit: PA

Meanwhile research commissioned by Manchester Airports Group (MAG) – which owns Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands airports – and trade body Airlines UK indicates 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.

Do the changes go far enough to protect a struggling industry?

Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK, the industry body representing UK-registered carriers said the change was "hugely welcome". He added: “Today marks an important step towards learning to live alongside the virus, helping passengers and the travel sector look ahead to what will be an all-important spring and summer season.”

Airport Operators Association Chief Executive Karen Dee also welcomed the move and called on the devolved governments to "follow suit, enabling a continued four-nation approach to travel in the UK."

She added: "The UK and devolved governments should set out how they will support aviation towards a sustainable recovery to ensure the UK has the connectivity and the airports necessary for our economic recovery."