Today’s decision to end the need for fully-vaccinated travellers to show evidence of a negative lateral flow pre-departure test taken within 48 hours of returning to England is a vital boost to holidaymakers and the travel industry.
The rule had been part of a raft of measures introduced a month ago to try to stem the spread of the Omicron variant. They have had a hugely negative effect on travellers. Bookings dropped immediately in response – Manchester airport, for example, reported a 30 per cent fall in traffic in December.
And it’s not surprising. The need to make sure that you had booked the right tests at the right time combined with the risk that you might fail your pre-departure swab and be unable to return home added a huge amount of stress to what should be a pleasurable experience. One reader told me today that she didn’t feel she could really relax and properly enjoy her recent holiday until the last two days – when she had passed her test and knew she could fly home as planned.
That the Government also announced that you can one again take a Day 2 lateral flow rather than a PCR test within 48 hours of arriving back in the country is also a big help to travellers. Not only are lateral flow tests about £50-£60 cheaper than PCRs, but you get the results immediately and aren’t trapped in self-isolation while waiting for the analysis to be done. Depending on exactly when you took the Day 2 PCR test, how long it took to reach the lab and how quickly you got the result back, it meant you could be stuck at home for four days or more after you return from holiday.
The timing of the move gives a particular fillip, not only to those hoping to travel in the next few weeks, but for anyone making plans for family holidays this summer. January is traditionally the peak booking time for departures in July and August, and although it was considered virtually certain that the Government would withdraw what were called temporary measures long before the spring, the fact that it has done so already can only help confidence levels. After what has been a grim four or five weeks, it does now look as though we can start planning ahead with a little more optimism.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that travellers won’t continue to face significant uncertainties. While it is reassuring that the Government has shown that it will lift redundant restrictions relatively quickly, what the emergence of omicron showed was that it is prepared to impose new ones at extremely short notice. It is not much comfort to those who were caught out by the sudden resurrection of the red list on November 28, the reintroduction of compulsory hotel quarantine and the ban on flights from South Africa, that the Government went on to scrap those very same rules only 18 days later.
Meanwhile, of course, there is nothing the Westminster government can do about the policies of other countries. Currently, the ski season has been decimated by the decision of France to exclude UK holidaymakers and the vaccination rules for families visiting Austria. And Switzerland requires proof of a negative test taken less than 24 hours before boarding a flight and entering the country. Only when barriers and stress points such as these are removed will it really begin to feel like our holiday sun is rising again.