The UK government is reportedly planning to remove testing requirements for fully vaccinated travelers entering, or re-entering, from overseas.
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is said to be in favor of lifting the mandatory COVID pre-departure test. A source close to him said:
“We are looking at removing all COVID tests for vaccinated travelers by the end of January, which is likely to coincide with the review of the Plan B measures on January 26.”
Though the COVID-19 Omicron variant is still very much prevalent in Great Britain, authorities are reporting a drop in new cases, indicating that the virus has passed its peak.
The removal of the testing requirement will be a welcome move for UK citizens returning from abroad, as well as foreign tourists visiting the UK.
Current plans indicate that this will only affect travelers who are fully vaccinated against coronavirus, with a vaccine that meets the UK’s requirements. Passengers who are unvaccinated, or only partially vaccinated, will still have to take a COVID test to enter.
Current Entry Requirements for the UK
All international arrivals must follow the UK’s entry requirements by completing the Passenger Locator Form (PLF) before they travel. The mandatory pre-departure test must be uploaded when the traveler completes the travel form.
With the possible changes, the PLF test requirement would only apply to those who are not fully vaccinated. Passengers who are exempt from the test would still need to complete the form, demonstrating their vaccination status.
The UK’s Eased Restrictions
The UK government has avoided strict social and travel restrictions during the Omicron variant wave, instead of trusting that the rollout of vaccine boosters and public compliance with current regulations would be enough.
The prime minister, Boris Johnson, said in early January:
“With the Plan B measures that we introduced before Christmas, we have a chance to ride out this Omicron wave without shutting down our country once again. We can keep our schools and our businesses open, and we can find a way to live with this virus.”
The UK has been easing restrictions rapidly since the Christmas holidays. The government has already scrapped the mandatory pre-departure PCR test, allowing fully vaccinated visitors to take a cheaper lateral flow test instead.
The quarantine period has also been gradually reduced for fully vaccinated coronavirus cases. On January 22, the UK government stated that fully vaccinated individuals with COVID could leave isolation on day 7 (instead of day 10). This was then reduced further to day 5, as of January 17. In order to leave on day 5, they must test negative with a lateral flow test.
Fully Vaccinated Definition Changes
In line with the current uptake of booster shots, the UK is predicted to modify the classification of fully vaccinated to include boosters and third vaccine doses. This would mean that those who have received 2 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine are no longer classified as fully vaccinated.
If the UK government decides to change the definition of fully vaccinated, it could complicate both travel and quarantine restrictions.
The Omicron Variant in the UK
After being hit hard by the Omicron variant during the end of 2021, the UK’s reported number of positive cases seems to be stabilizing in several regions.
Dr. Susan Hopkins, the chief medical advisor of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), commented that although COVID cases in the UK remain relatively high, the Omicron wave appears to be “plateauing” in London, as well as the southern and southeastern regions of England.