UK Reportedly Lifting Testing Requirements for Vaccinated Travelers This Month
The British government is reportedly preparing to lift travel restrictions this month, even as the world continues to grapple with COVID-19 surges caused by the Omicron variant. In the United Kingdom (U.K.), however, the strain's spread seems to have passed its peak and the number of new infections is falling.
Perhaps it's for that reason that U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is said to be in favor of withdrawing the current testing requirements for fully vaccinated travelers entering (or re-entering) the country. This would also enable Britons to go on their half-term holidays in February without worrying about post-arrival testing upon their return home.
According to The Independent, the U.K.'s prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce the end of all 'Plan B' social restrictions, which he had implemented in December. The guidance included advice that residents work from home, present COVID-19 passes to enter certain venues, and wear masks while in shops or on public transportation.
The Sunday Times reported that a source close to Shapps disclosed, "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."
In early January, the British government had already relaxed its international travel restrictions a bit by removing the need for vaccinated foreign visitors take a pre-departure PCR test; instead, being required to take a cheaper and faster lateral flow test within two days of their arrival in the U.K.
Those who test positive upon arrival must comply with a 10-day isolation order, but their quarantine can be reduced if follow-up rapid tests on days six and seven produce negative results. Although, for fully vaccinated individuals, the isolation period will be shortened to five days as of January 17.
The government's relatively rapid policy reversal might seem counterintuitive, but Johnson's move to tighten social and travel restrictions last month appears to have been aimed largely at getting the country safely through the holiday season. Wishing to avoid strict lockdown measures, he seemed to have been betting that booster vaccination and public compliance with the issued guidance would suffice to ride out the Omicron storm.
According to Reuters, the prime minister 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."
Dr. Susan Hopkins, the U.K. Health Security Agency's (UKHSA) chief medical adviser told BBC Radio 4's 'Today' that the U.K.'s volume of COVID-19 cases remains relatively high, but that the Omicron-fueled surge seems to be "plateauing" in London, and in such areas as England's southern and southeastern regions.
Come springtime, it's predicted that Britain's ministers will alter the definition of "fully vaccinated" status to include a third vaccine dose or booster shot, which could further complicate matters.
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