Pre-departure Covid tests removed for vaccinated adults and under 18s while lateral flows on day two can now be used instead of PCRs
Travellers heading to England will no longer be required to take a pre-departure Covid test before they set off as the government switches back to travel rules in place before the arrival of the Omicron variant.
The change, which it is hoped will make travel easier and cheaper, will apply to fully vaccinated adults and under 18s and comes into force from 4am today (Friday).
While the government presses ahead with its continued Plan B, domestic restrictions to try and manage the spread of the Omicron variant, testing and border measures are changing.
Alongside abandoning the need for travellers to take a coronavirus test before setting-off for England, the requirement to self-isolate on arrival is also being scrapped for those eligible.
Also among the changes for holidaymakers coming into force in the coming days, is the move to now accept a lateral flow test instead of a PCR for fully vaccinated travellers and over 5s, who are testing themselves to ensure they remain clear of Covid before or on their second day in England.
Up until now those coming back into the country were required to pre-book and pay for PCR tests to identify whether they had carried any infection back into the country.
But from 4am on Sunday (January 9), children aged over five and adults who are fully vaccinated will now be able to take and register the results of a rapid test instead.
In preparation for lateral flow tests being accepted for returning travellers – these will be available to be booked from tomorrow (Friday) ahead of Sunday's rule change.
Lateral flow tests for international travel must be purchased from a private provider as NHS Test and Trace lateral flow tests cannot be used.
Passengers who have already bought a PCR to use for travel, who did so before the guidance changed, do not need to buy another test as PCRs will still be accepted.
With Omicron now the dominant coronavirus variant in the UK and spreading 'widely', says the government, ministers believe now is the time to reduce some stringent testing measures that had been in place at England's borders.
Anyone who uses a new lateral flow test to detect Covid after their arrival in England and who receives a positive result must self-isolate immediately and then order an NHS PCR test from the government website to confirm the result of that rapid test.
Positive PCR tests for arrivals will, says the government, then be sequenced to understand if and where variants are emerging around the globe in order to protect the UK public.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: "As we learn more about the Omicron variant it is right that we keep our testing and border measures under review to ensure they remain proportionate.
"The steps we’re taking will make travel easier for people while protecting the UK public from the virus.
"Omicron continues to be a serious threat and it is important that travellers continue to get tested. The most important thing anyone can do if they haven’t already is come forward for their vaccine.
Unvaccinated passengers must continue to take a pre-departure test, a PCR test on or before day two and again on or after day eight and self-isolate for 10 days.
However the Test to Release scheme remains an option for unvaccinated people to shorten their self-isolation period, who can choose to pay for a private Covid test on day five, which if negative, will enable them to end their quarantine period early.
Many countries continue to operate their own entry rules for UK travellers to control the spread of Omicron – including France which only permits travel from the UK, regardless of vaccination status, for essential reasons.
But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said removing rules in England would help make travel more straightforward.
He explained: "I’ve always said that we won’t keep international travel restrictions in place any longer than they are necessary to protect public health.
"That’s why we’re removing the temporary, extra testing measures we introduced for Omicron in November, making travel easier and cheaper for fully vaccinated passengers and providing a big boost for the travel industry as we enter the peak new year booking period."
A 'full review' of all international travel measures for 2022 is expected at the end of this month.
Ahead of this, from Monday (January 10), proof of vaccination from more than 15 further countries and territories will be accepted for entry into England including Bhutan, Cameroon, Fiji, Iraq, Liberia, Mali, north of Cyprus, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Solomon Islands, The Gambia and Uzbekistan.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also recently granted WHO Emergency Use List authorisation to two versions of the Novavax vaccine called Covovax and Nuvaxovid.
Eligible travellers who have received either version of this vaccine abroad will be recognised for international travel into England, also from 4am on Monday.