Fully vaccinated travellers to the UK will no longer have to take a “day two” test if they arrive after 4am on 11 February.
The decision, which has been demanded by the travel industry for months, will reduce the cost and complexity of international journeys – and remove some of the obstructions for overseas visitors.
Even more significantly, unvaccinated travellers need no longer quarantine on arrival, though they will need to take multiple tests.
Most foreign countries continue to impose some restrictions on visitors from the UK.
What’s the background?
The UK government spent most of 2020 saying that Covid testing for travellers was a waste of time. But in 2021, ministers embraced tests enthusiastically.
A so-called “day two” test has been required for travellers to the UK continuously since 17 May last year, when the 19-week ban on non-essential travel was lifted.
Despite the name, the test can be taken any time on the day of arrival or either of the two following days.
Currently, incoming travellers cannot complete the necessary passenger locator forms until a test is booked, typically at a cost of £20 to £30 per person, as a reference number is required.
With many UK travellers now fully vaccinated and boosted, airlines and holiday companies have long argued for testing to be abolished – in line with many other European nations.
What has changed?
The one remaining test for fully vaccinated arrivals to the UK will be lifted from 4am on Friday 11 February .
The UK transport secretary, Grant Shapps, told Parliament: “2022 is the year in which restrictions on travel, lockdowns and limits on people’s lives are firmly placed in the past.”
The government says: “The fully vaccinated rules apply if you are under 18.”
Why aren’t the rules being changed immediately?
Mr Shapps said: “We promised we wouldn’t keep these measures in place a day longer than was necessary, and it’s obvious to me now that border testing for vaccinated travellers has outlived its usefulness.”
Given his assertion, the obvious conclusion appears to be to end the testing requirement immediately.
But he told Parliament: “It takes a little bit of time to put those technical changes in place and indeed to bring all four [UK] nations with us.
“The good news is, it will be ready for the half-term break.”
When tests were put into place, they were normally brought in within a couple of days. The Independent calculates that around 2.5 million arriving travellers will require tests between now and 10 February, spending around £60m to comply with the current rules, and is seeking clarification from the Department for Transport (DfT).
What constitutes being fully vaccinated?
“You must have proof of vaccination with a full course of an approved vaccine,” the government says. The last jab must have been received 14 full days earlier.
There is no requirement for boosters at present.
The government says:”Proof of natural immunity will not be accepted as an alternative to proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test.”
Is everyone happy?
No. The first minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, said: “We continue to raise our concerns with the UK government about the speed at which it has removed public health protections in relation to international travel and the progressive erosion of such protections.
“The unravelling of the system of international arrival surveillance in particular, leaves a major gap in future protections. We continue to advocate a more precautionary approach towards retaining these public health protections because of the ongoing risk of importing new variants of Covid-19 through international travel.
However, in view of the significant practical difficulties associated with diverging from the arrangements in England in this area – a significant number of Welsh travellers use English airports and ports – we are reluctantly retaining alignment with the decisions made by the UK government and agreed by the other devolved governments.
Michael Matheson, the Scottish transport secretary, said: “We believe further surveillance measures will be necessary across all nations – as intelligence will help in terms of variants of concern.
“Work to take this forward will be carried out over the coming weeks.”
Will the passenger locator form still be required?
Yes. the government will continue to demand all travellers to the UK to complete this complex and confusing form. It is seen as necessary to distinguish between travellers who have been fully vaccinated and those who have not, and to allow passengers arriving in the UK to use eGates.
Mr Shapps said he will simplify the passenger locator form, and that travellers will be allowed to fill it in from 72 hours before arriving in the UK. Currently it must be completed within 48 hours of arrival.
Boris Johnson made a similar promise in August 2020, but instead the form became more complicated.
Can I get a full refund for tests I’ve booked but now don’t need?
Probably not. Eurofins, for example, says: “The cost of administration and of the non-transferable electronic code, which is consumed at the point of order, means that all Eurofins Covid-19 tests carry a £15 fee for cancellations.
“If a home sampling kit is cancelled after it has left our warehouse a £10 fee will be charged in addition to the administration fee as the sampling kit can no longer be certified as sterile and must be disposed of rather than returned and re-used.
“We may ask you to return the kit or to destroy it”.
Many of the “get rich quick” operations set up to take advantage of the testing bonanza are unlikely to offer any refund at all.
The Independent has always advocated booking tests as late as possible to avoid paying for unnecessary or inappropriate tests.
What are the rules for unvaccinated travellers?
They get a much easier ride, with no need to self-isolate on arrival.
Such travellers must still take a pre-departure test two days ahead and book a PCR test for the day of arrival or one of the two following day. The “day eight” test has been dropped.
When will things change again?
That rather depends on further variants – and the government’s response to them.
Ministers have had no hesitation in reintroducing tests and self-isolation, as well as hotel quarantine for some arrivals, in response to new variants of concern.
Grant Shapps said: “We’re looking now to work within a new toolbox that will help to set out a framework.
“We will always act quickly, of course, if we have to. But I believe the days of having to go back to these big lockdowns at the borders are past.”
What happens if I contract Covid-19 abroad?
You must immediately notify the local health authority and follow their instructions for isolation, which could be at your cost. Some travel insurance policies will cover the expenses involved.
Travel firms will generally be flexible about moving bookings for people who test positive ahead of their flight/ferry/train and allow postponements without additional fees.
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