UK weighs dropping pre-departure Covid-19 tests for visitors

Easing the rules would bring some relief to airlines after the spread of Omicron stifled air travel over the holidays. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - The United Kingdom is considering scrapping its pre-departure Covid-19 test requirement for vaccinated travelers entering the country, according to people familiar with the matter, after airlines hard-hit by the Omicron variant lobbied for the rules to be eased.

The government is likely to keep a mandate for vaccinated arrivals to quarantine until they've done a test within two days of entering the country, said the people, who asked not to be identified before a decision was made.

Ministers are scheduled to hold their regular three-week review of travel rules on Wednesday (Jan 5).

Easing the rules would bring some relief to airlines after the spread of Omicron stifled air travel over the year-end holiday.

While governments have tightened border rules in response to the new variant, evidence is growing that it produces milder symptoms than earlier Covid waves.

Shares of airlines dependent on the UK market, including Ryanair Holdings, EasyJet and British Airways owner IAG reversed earlier losses after local news outlets reported the plans.

Holiday slump

The UK, one of the first countries to identify Omicron's presence, has been subject to targeted restrictions from nations including Germany and France.

Hong Hong on Wednesday banned flights for two weeks from a number of countries including Britain and the US.

Along with other governments, the UK toughened its own entry requirements starting in November, in a setback to what had been shaping up as a broad recovery for air travel.

The clampdown stalled progress toward the use of so-called vaccine passports that had taken hold over summer.

Airlines, which have railed against border restrictions throughout the two-year coronavirus crisis, stepped up a campaign on Wednesday to lift the testing mandate in full, arguing that the significant cost is crushing demand.

Manchester Airports Group and industry lobby Airlines UK published research maintaining that the removal of testing requirements on international travel won't affect Covid's spread, and that domestic restrictions were the only way to stem the virus within Britain.

The airline industry has faced ever changing travel rules through the course of the pandemic.

In May, the UK introduced a so-called traffic light system setting entry requirements by country, with arrivals from places classified as red forced to pay for an expensive hotel quarantine.

The system was revised in late summer to rely more on vaccination status.

Until the onset of Omicron, travelers from most places who could show they had a full dose of approved vaccines were allowed to enter without testing.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK can weather a record wave of Covid-19 without tighter restrictions.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.