What are the UK's new Omicron travel rules?

Passengers will no longer need to take a pre-departure test before travelling to England

From Friday, January 7, travellers will no longer be required to take a pre-departure Covid-19 test before entering England. Getty Images

Live updates: follow the latest news on Covid-19 variant Omicron

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson has bowed to pressure from travel bosses and announced changes to testing rules.

From 4am on Friday, people will no longer need to take a pre-departure test before entering England and the requirement to self-isolate until a negative result comes back from a post-arrival test has been dropped.

Addressing the House of Commons on Wednesday, Mr Johnson also said less expensive lateral flow tests could also be used in place of PCRs for the day 2 testing rule.

“Our balanced approach also means that where specific measures are no longer serving their purpose, they will be dropped,” Mr Johnson said. “So, when the Omicron variant was first identified, we rightly introduced travel restrictions to slow its arrival in our country.

“But now, Omicron is so prevalent these measures have a limited impact on the growth in cases while continuing to pose significant cost to our travel industry.

“So, I can announce that in England from 4am on Friday, we will be scrapping the pre-departure test, which discourages many from travelling for fear of being trapped overseas and incurring in significant extra expenses.

“We will also be lifting the requirement to self-isolate on arrival until received a negative PCR, returning instead to the system we had in October last year where those arriving in England will need to take a lateral flow test no later than the end of day two and if positive, a further PCR test.”

Earlier, Mr Johnson headed a Cabinet meeting to discuss the worsening Covid-19 crisis with ministers. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is understood to have called for the testing rules to be relaxed to help the ailing sector.

What was the travel industry demanding?

Travel bossed had called on the government to drop strict testing rules, arguing they were no longer necessary to curb the spread of Omicron because the variant is now dominant in the UK.

Virgin Atlantic boss Shai Weiss said the aviation industry has demonstrated how “international travel can operate safely, taking full advantage of our world-leading vaccine roll-out”.

“Unnecessary testing requirements will only result in confusion for millions, damaging customer confidence and economic recovery,” he added.

“We urge the UK government to act now and lead the way for the return of travel at scale.”

Manchester Airports Group chief executive Charlie Cornish and Airlines UK boss Tim Alderslade said the requirements could be removed without having a huge impact on overall UK Covid-19 case rates and hospital admissions.

“The health secretary rightly acknowledged, as early as December 8, that the value of any form of restrictions was significantly reduced once Omicron became dominant in the UK,” they said on Tuesday.

“It should give the UK government confidence to press ahead with the immediate removal of these emergency restrictions, giving people back the freedom to travel internationally to see loved ones, explore new places and generate new business opportunities.”

Mr Cornish and Mr Alderslade said the restrictions “come at a huge cost to the travel industry” and the wider UK economy.

Mr Alderslade told Times Radio: “If we cannot get rid of these restrictions before the end of January, then we are concerned about the impacts in terms of revenue and [the] balance sheet of a sector that has been absolutely decimated.”

What rules apply for entering the UK until January 7?

After the Omicron variant was found in people who had recently travelled from South Africa, the strain began to spread rapidly through community transmission.

The UK government tightened travel freedoms for England and the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales followed suit with similar measures.

Until 4am on Friday, January 7:

In the 48 hours before arriving in the UK, all travellers have to take a pre-departure test, either a PCR or lateral flow.

If they test positive they are not allowed to immediately travel to Britain, and must wait until they can show a negative test.

Unvaccinated people have to take a PCR test in the three days before travelling and show a negative result to be allowed into the UK.

What rules apply after entering the UK?

Until 4am on Friday, January 7:

After arriving, travellers must take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive their result. The test must be completed before the end of day two after their arrival. The day of arrival is day zero.

Travellers must self-isolate until they have received a negative test result. This means travellers do not necessarily have to wait the full two days if they get their results quickly.

If they are positive they are required to isolate for seven days and take two negative tests before leaving their place of stay.

The rules applies to everyone over the age of 12, regardless of their vaccination status.

PCR tests can be purchased from private providers. Free NHS tests are not valid for this purpose.

Passengers who are not double-vaccinated have to self-isolate for 10 days upon arrival in the UK, even if they test negative on day two. They are required to take a further PCR test on day eight after arrival and can leave isolation only if this test returns a negative result.

The changes announced by Mr Johnson on Wednesday mean that from Friday morning a lateral flow test, which is cheaper than a PCR, can be used on day 2 and people will not have to self-isolate until they receive their result.

What has changed since the curbs were initially introduced?

When the measures were introduced last month, the number of Covid cases being reported in the UK each day was running between 40,000 and 50,000. The rate was rising relatively slowly because the Delta variant accounted for the majority of infections.

Little was known about Omicron and Health Secretary Sajid Javid said ministers were unsure how severe a disease the variant would cause.

In recent weeks, the Omicron variant has caused new daily infections to rise sharply and it is now the dominant strain.

On Tuesday, the UK recorded 218,724 infections — its highest figure to date.

However, scientific studies have since shown the variant is likely to result in a less-severe case of Covid when compared with the Delta variant. It has also been found to spread more rapidly.

Right as the UK’s travel industry had been getting back on its feet following multiple lockdowns, a new set of rules was imposed after Omicron was first detected in November.

The tighter restrictions, which came into effect in early December, were aimed at curbing the spread of Omicron. But with the variant now being the dominant strain in the UK, industry leaders say travel measures are no longer necessary.

Initially, ministers reintroduced the red list, which meant people travelling to Britain from 12 nations had to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days. This rule was later scrapped but travel bosses want ministers to go further to help the ailing sector.

Watch: UK brings in new rules for travellers

Updated: January 6th 2022, 2:27 PM