Holidays cheaper and easier as Covid test rules all but scrapped
Changes to Covid-19 testing measures took effect from 4am today (11 February). From now on, all testing requirements will be removed for eligible fully vaccinated arrivals, with only a passenger locator form (PLF) required.
For travellers who are not fully vaccinated, they will only need to take a pre-departure test and a PCR test on or before day two after arrival in the UK, as well as filling out the simplified PLF. They will not need to self-isolate on arrival, and will only need to do so on receipt of a positive result.
The travel changes come in ahead of February half term, and follow the success of the booster programme.
According to travel association ABTA, hundreds of thousands of people will be heading abroad this half term as the test requirement change “makes foreign travel much easier”, and includes “significant savings on the cost of tests”.
It added the rule change is also “an important next step in the industry’s recovery”, as February half term is the first opportunity families have had since the start of the pandemic to travel abroad with minimal rules and restrictions from UK government for the fully vaccinated.
The association said Turkey, the Canary Islands, Egypt and Portugal are popular for short haul trips, while departures to Dubai, Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean have sold well for longer haul holidays.
Ski resorts in France, Italy and Switzerland are also popular for those taking to the slopes this half term.
A snapshot of airport data shows 200,000 passengers are set to depart from Stansted between 11-18 February, 186,000 from Gatwick, 160,000 from Manchester, in addition to around 90,000 leaving from Luton, 55,000 from Bristol and 17,000 from East Midlands airport.
According to Eurostar, more than 125,000 travellers are booked to travel between the UK and the continent during the school holiday.
‘New chapter for travel industry’
Graeme Buck, director of communications at ABTA, said: “Today’s changes to the travel rules are the start of a new chapter for the travel industry’s recovery. Testing has been one of the biggest barriers to travel, so it’s hugely welcome that the process of travelling abroad is now much cheaper and easier for millions of UK holidaymakers.
“It’s great to see so many families treating themselves to some quality time together this February half term and now that the UK’s restrictions have eased, we expect many more will feel confident to travel and will start to plan their summer break.”
Transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “The UK has eased international travel measures for Covid-19 and now has one of the most free-flowing borders in the world – sending a clear message that we are open for business.
“As our travel sector rapidly recovers, and we accelerate towards a future where we want travel to remain open for good, these rule changes coming ahead of half term are good news for families, businesses and the travel sector.”
Long line of testing changes
The move is the latest in a long line of changes to travel testing rules.
New testing rules were brought in at the end of November and then changed again in early December as Omicron cases surged. The rules meant that people arriving in the UK had to pay for a private PCR test within two days of arrival.
Pre-departure and post-arrival PCR tests were scrapped on 5 January after government accepted that they served no purpose once the Omicron variant had become dominant in the UK.
However, arrivals were still obliged to do a lateral flow test within two days of arrival – but they had to buy this from a private company, rather than use a free NHS test.
The travel testing sector has proven controversial with firms gaming the system with misleading pricing in order to be placed at the top of the government’s approved list of providers. Tests can add hundreds of pounds to the cost of a family holiday. Several firms including Randox and Dante Labs have been investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
Children aged 12-15 in England are now able to prove their vaccination status or proof of prior infection via a digital NHS Covid Pass available from 3 February for outbound travel. This makes it easier for children and families to travel to countries which require proof of vaccination or prior infection to gain entry, avoid isolation, or access venues or services.
The government says the pass will enable families to plan holidays for February half term with greater confidence, as parents can be reassured they will quickly be able to evidence their child’s vaccination status or proof of prior infection for outbound travel and meet the requirements of different countries more easily.
For inward travel, all under-18s regardless of their individual vaccination status will continue to be considered as fully vaccinated.
The changes to travel testing rules come as Australia finally announced it was opening its borders to international travellers.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “For the past two years Australia has been closed to international tourists, so the decision to open its borders to vaccinated visitors will be welcome news for those wishing to travel there soon.
“Travellers will need to obtain a visa showing they are fully vaccinated before visiting the country. Australia’s state governments have the power to enforce their own entry requirements or Covid guidelines, so it is advisable to check these before planning a trip.”