Omicron now so dominant
The Telegraph reports online this morning that pre-departure testing for holidaymakers could be scrapped, with ministers arguing privately that they have been rendered pointless by the rapid spread of the omicron variant (there were 1001 new positive cases recorded yesterday in Madeira – details on the link below as usual).
The newspaper understands that a number of senior government figures are pushing for the test requirement for holidaymakers returning to the UK to be dropped, with the issue expected to be raised when travel rules are reviewed on Wednesday.
They include Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, who is now said to believe that the benefit of pre-departure testing has been reduced because omicron has become the dominant strain across Britain.
A number of senior Tory MPs including Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee, are also calling for the requirement to be dropped.
Currently, all people travelling back to the UK must take a PCR or lateral flow test in the two days before travel and must have booked and paid for a PCR test to be taken within two days of arrival. They must also self-isolate until they receive a negative result from the second test.
Testing is a major deterrent to travel
Despite Omicron now accounting for almost all cases in Britain, the border testing regime is continuing to have a significant impact on the aviation and travel industry, which has warned that the additional expense and bureaucracy is proving a “major deterrent” to travel.
Urging Boris Johnson to drop the requirement, Sir Graham told The Telegraph: “The PM made the right call over Christmas and New Year, trusting people to make the right choices in their own lives and throwing a lifeline to the struggling hospitality sector. “We now need to see this extended to international travel, which is facing yet more restrictions at a crucial time in the booking season. We need to see consistency and, if a more relaxed approach is good enough for the domestic economy given what we know about Omicron, it should be good enough for travel too.”
He was joined by Henry Smith, the Tory chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on aviation, who said: “International travel can’t be the forgotten sector as we learn to live with Omicron. We long ago had community transmission in the UK, and thankfully the data on severity is looking positive.
“These emergency restrictions simply aren’t required any longer, but every week they are imposed means more money lost to the Treasury, a further erosion of our international competitiveness and jobs threatened.”
Testing could end this week
Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of Airlines UK, said: “We can’t have international travel – and the hundreds of thousands of jobs and livelihoods that depend on it – being treated differently to hospitality and other domestic sectors.
“If Omicron doesn’t warrant further restrictions at home, then the case for continuing with testing for aviation beyond Jan 5 is undermined, especially now it is the dominant variant in the UK. We need consistency, not favouritism.
“Tens of billions of pounds of Treasury revenue depends on getting this sector moving again, not to mention the ability of families across the country to get away this half-term. There are some amazing deals out there – but this redundant testing is what is killing demand.”
COVID-19 in Madeira: previous daily updates can be found in an earlier post
Travel latest: requirements for entering and leaving Madeira: is kept up-to-date on a previous post
New restrictions: a detailed updated explanation of the latest regulations can be found here