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Will all Covid travel testing be scrapped?

Written by: Emma Lunn
Heathrow Airport has urged the government to ditch all Covid travel testing requirements after 600,000 passengers cancelled Christmas travel plans.

A statement from the UK’s largest airport said that aviation was in for a long-haul recovery with Covid-19 continuing to pose significant challenges for the travel industry.

Heathrow only welcomed 19.4 million passengers in 2021 – less than one quarter of 2019 levels and below even those seen in 2020.

The airport said that more than 600,000 passengers cancelled travel plans from Heathrow in December due to Omicron and the uncertainty caused by swiftly imposed government travel restrictions.

New testing rules were brought in at the end of November and then changed again in early December as Omicron cases surged.

Forecasts from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) suggest passenger numbers will not reach pre-pandemic levels until 2025, provided travel restrictions are removed at both ends of a route and passengers have confidence they will not return rapidly.

The latest changes to the travel testing rules, which came into effect last Friday, mean UK arrivals no longer need to take a Covid test before flying, or do a PCR test on arrival in the UK.

Those fully vaccinated arriving in England now just need to take a lateral flow test no later than the end of day two after arriving and, if positive, a further PCR test to help identify any new variants at the border.

Heathrow is urging the UK government to remove all testing for fully vaccinated passengers and to adopt a ‘playbook’ for any future ‘variants of concern’ that is more predictable, limits additional measures only to passengers from high-risk destinations and allows quarantine at home instead of in a hotel.

John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow CEO, said: “There are currently travel restrictions, such as testing, on all Heathrow routes – the aviation industry will only fully recover when these are all lifted and there is no risk that they will be reimposed at short notice, a situation which is likely to be years away. 

“While this creates enormous uncertainty for the CAA in setting a new five-year regulatory settlement, it means the regulator must focus on an outcome that improves service, incentivises growth and maintains affordable private financing.” 

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