London, Jan 25 (AP) – The British government announced Monday that it is scrapping coronavirus travel testing requirements for the vaccinated, news hailed by the travel industry as a big step back to normality.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that “to show that this country is open for business, open for travellers, you will see changes so that people arriving no longer have to take tests if they have been vaccinated, if they have been double vaccinated.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the change would take effect Feb. 11, coinciding with a midterm holiday break for many schoolchildren.
“Border testing of vaccinated travelers has outlived its usefulness,” Shapps said. “Today we are setting Britain free.”
Tourism and travel firms that have been hammered by pandemic restrictions welcomed the move, which makes the U.K. one of the most open countries in the world for international travel.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of airline industry body Airlines U.K., said it was “a landmark day.”
“Nearly two years since the initial COVID restrictions were introduced, today’s announcement brings international travel towards near-normality for the fully vaccinated, and at last into line with hospitality and the domestic economy,” he said.
Johan Lundgren, chief executive of budget airline easyJet, said “testing for travel should now firmly become a thing of the past.”
“It is clear travel restrictions did not materially slow the spread of omicron in the U.K. and so it is important that there are no more knee-jerk reactions to future variants,” he said.
Currently, travelers who have had at least two vaccine doses must take a rapid coronavirus test within two days of arriving in the U.K. Those who are unvaccinated face stricter testing and quarantine rules.
Testing requirements are being lifted for vaccinated adults and all children under 18. Britain is also easing rules for the unvaccinated, who will have to take coronavirus tests before and after travelling to Britain but will no longer face quarantine.
Johnson’s Conservative government is also lifting mask mandates and other restrictions this week, and is relying on vaccinations and widespread testing to keep the virus in check.
The U.K. government sets public health policy for England. The other parts of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — set their own health rules, but said they would adopt the same rules as England for international travel.
Coronavirus cases in Britain soared in December, driven by the extremely transmissible omicron variant, though hospitalizations and deaths have remained well below previous pandemic peaks.
Britain has seen over 154,000 deaths in the pandemic, the second-worst toll in Europe after Russia.