Travel firms prepared for a surge in demand for winter sun and ski holidays on Wednesday as Boris Johnson scrapped PCR and pre-departure tests in a move that will save families hundreds of pounds.
The Prime Minister lifted all the travel restrictions introduced to combat the spread of the omicron variant, meaning fully vaccinated holidaymakers will only have to fork out between £20 and £30 for lateral flow tests on their return to Britain.
They will replace PCR tests, which are currently required on or before day two of a traveller’s arrival in the UK and cost on average £80 per person. Pre-departure tests for the fully jabbed are also ditched, saving a family of four a combined total of around £300.
Passengers will also no longer have to self isolate until they get a negative lateral flow test result. However, if positive, they will have to follow up with a PCR and self isolate for at least seven days until they test negative.
The moves – to take effect from 4am on Friday – will be a major boost for holidaymakers planning ski trips or winter sun breaks and the beleaguered travel and tourism industry.
Announcing the changes, Mr Johnson said the restrictions were “no longer serving their purpose”.
“Now Omicron is so prevalent these measures are having limited impact on the growth in cases while continuing to pose significant costs on our travel industry,” he said.
The changes were agreed by Cabinet after Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, warned Heathrow and BA had plummeted down their respective league tables, that inbound tourism had lost £50 billion in the past year and that omicron cases had skyrocketed in Australia despite its travel restrictions.
After falls of 40 per cent or more in sales over Christmas, travel analysts including Skyscanner predicted an instant spike in demand similar to the 131 per cent surge in searches just hours after the restrictions were lifted in September.
Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of Airlines UK, which represents carriers, said: “This is a hugely welcome move at a critical time in the booking season for passengers, and will provide a massive boost to those wanting to travel abroad or come to the UK this year.
“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.”
Willie Walsh, the former boss of BA who now heads IATA, representing international airlines, urged ministers to go further and “remove testing entirely for vaccinated travellers.”
Removal of all travel testing ‘ultimate goal’
Shai Weiss, the chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said: “We look forward to working together towards the next review at the end of January, when the ultimate goal will be removal of all testing for travel and developing a playbook for how to deal with any new variants.”
Unvaccinated travellers will still have to pay for pre-departure tests, quarantine on their return to the UK and take PCR tests on days two and eight.
Other countries including Germany and Ireland are also beginning to lift travel restrictions with officials in France on Wednesday indicating that they would start to ease its border controls on arrivals from the UK.
Gabriel Attal, the government’s spokesman, said that France would make it a “bit easier” to travel to and from the UK, widening the official list of valid reasons for travel.
It is believed that rules will initially be eased for business travel with a further announcement expected next week, which could include holidaymakers. Currently all arrivals in France must have a “compelling” reason to gain entry.
France is the UK’s most popular ski destination, with hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers typically heading there at half-term.