Call for return of restriction-free travel as study claims tests are ineffective

Governments are unable to implement travel restrictions quickly enough to limit the spread of new coronavirus strains, research found.

Neil Lancefield
Friday 21 January 2022 12:24
Pre-departure testing for people arriving in the UK was scrapped earlier this month (Steve Parsons/PA)
Pre-departure testing for people arriving in the UK was scrapped earlier this month (Steve Parsons/PA)

Coronavirus testing for fully vaccinated international travellers should be scrapped as it is not effective against new variants, according to a study commissioned by aviation organisations.

Governments are unable to implement travel restrictions quickly enough to limit the spread of new strains of the virus, research by consultants Oxera and Edge Health found.

It said that once a variant spreads internationally for five days, new restrictions would only delay its peak in the UK by a single day.

The time it took to identify Omicron meant the UK was not able to bring in additional travel testing requirements until the variant had been transmitting internationally for at least 19 days.

Manchester Airports Group (MAG), which owns Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands airports, and trade body Airlines UK commissioned the study.

Pre-departure testing for people arriving in the UK was scrapped earlier this month.

Travellers must continue to pre-book and take a post-arrival test from a private supplier.

Fully vaccinated people can take a lateral flow test, which typically costs around £19.

MAG chief executive Charlie Cornish said it is critical that policies are “based on the best available analysis”.

He went on: “The latest findings from Oxera and Edge Health show conclusively that testing for international travel will not deliver significant benefits in managing the spread of new variants.

“As we learn to live with Covid-19, it is important that people are allowed to travel free of the additional cost and uncertainty which testing creates.

“This study provides ministers with the clear evidence that this is achievable.”

Airlines UK boss Tim Alderslade added: “Testing restrictions for the fully vaccinated make no sense at all given the delay in governments being able to detect and act on the arrival of a new variant, as we saw with Omicron.

“We need to be smarter in how we deal with future variants rather than resorting to blanket but wholly ineffective measures.”

The UK Government will review testing requirements for England next week.

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