New Rules Begin 4 AM Friday January 7th
The government of the United Kingdom is scrapping its current rules on PCR tests. The move will allow visitors and citizens to enter the country without taking a pre-flight test, as long as they are fully vaccinated.
The current rules were put in place as the Omicron variant emerged from the southern regions of Africa. The swift spreading variant quickly gripped the travel world once again, prompting immediate bans for several countries.
But as of Friday at 4 am, those who have received two doses of an approved vaccine will no longer have to provide a negative COVID test to enter the UK. A lateral flow test will be required on the second day after arrival, but no quarantine period will be mandated (although recommended).
It should be noted that unvaccinated travelers must still take PCR tests up to three days before arrival, quarantine for ten days, and take a PCR test on day two and day eight. These must also be booked and paid for in advance.
Officially, these rules currently only apply to England, but Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are all expected to follow suit to allow consistency of message.
It marks a return to the same restrictions in place before Omicron reared its head.
Aside from the immediate bans on individual countries, the UK previously implemented a mandatory PCR test for all arrivals over the age of 12 to enter the country. This applied regardless of vaccination status. Another COVID test had to be taken two days after arrival as an added safeguard. This test had to be booked and paid for before departure. Arrivals were expected to self-isolate until the results of the second test come through.
These rules will still apply until Friday at 4am.
For a traveler hoping to enter the UK, the costs were high. In some countries, individual tests could run as steep as $200, especially to receive results quickly enough. Add another private test upon arrival and a family of four could be looking at a significant sum of money.
The move was set in place to offset the speed of Omicron’s spread but the restrictions did little to counter the variant.
Omicron is now the dominant strain of COVID in the UK – a fact that critics of the travel restrictions have viewed as evidence of their ineffective use in the battle against the virus. The travel industry and several members of parliament have all been reported as stating the restrictions are all but redundant and should be scrapped to avoid hampering tourists any further.
The news would be welcomed by British citizens and visitors alike, who may find the lack of any aggressive restrictions domestically at odds with the travel mandates. The UK did not implement any serious lockdowns over the Christmas period, unlike several other European countries. Smaller restrictions like masks enforcement and no more than three households mixing were more commonplace.
UK entry rule change summary for fully vaccinated passengers starting Jan 7:
- No pre-departure test is required
- No on arrival quarantine
- The Day 2 test may now be rapid antigen/lateral flow (PCR-type no longer required)
For US travelers hoping to head to the UK, it will be a welcome sigh of relief. America is struggling with stratospheric infection rates and wait times for PCRs are as long as a week in some areas of the country. Even at-home antigen tests are sold out leaving millions confused as to what procedure to follow. With the CDC guidelines dropping the isolation period to five days, many citizens are lost as to how to deal with a potential infection.
Within the United Kingdom, testing requirements surrounding isolation periods have also relaxed. The high number of infections has prompted the guidelines to now recommend that a positive lateral flow test can be used to begin any isolation period. Previously, a PCR test was used as the baseline.
The UK’s decision could mark an interesting departure point for world travel. While many countries have taken the no-nonsense approach and locked down borders, industry pressure and frustration have prompted a much more open stance.
It could prove a turning point for some tourist-reliant countries suffering from a lack of business. Omicron is proving to be a fast-spreading variant, but not as severe in terms of symptoms. The Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson, has been quoted using verbiage such as “riding it out”, suggesting a much different approach than in the past.
Travelers are still strongly advised to keep abreast of any developments as they are prone to changing quickly.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com