Britain has become the first major country in the world to spare all unvaccinated travellers self-isolation, as ministers on Monday lifted nearly every restriction for people arriving in the UK.
Grant Shapps announced that unvaccinated travellers will no longer have to quarantine for 10 days, and will instead only have to take a pre-departure test and a day two PCR swab on arrival.
In a boost for half term breaks, the Transport Secretary also confirmed that fully-jabbed travellers will be freed from taking any Covid tests as the current day two lateral flow tests are scrapped, saving a family of four up to £120.
Children aged 12 to 15-years-old will also get access to digital Covid passes from February 3 in time for half term. At present they are excluded from using it, curbing their ability to easily prove their vaccine status.
Writing in The Telegraph, Mr Shapps said the changes - to take effect from February 11 at 4am - meant Britain was “back and open for business” with “one of the most open travel sectors in the world.”
Holiday companies last night braced for a surge in demand. Bookings to all holiday destinations have already jumped by 67 per cent on average compared to December 2021, according to analysts Skyscanner.
Mr Shapps said the Government would move away from “blanket border measures” and instead replace tests and quarantine with a “more sophisticated and targeted surveillance system.”
He said tests for the fully-vaccinated had “outlived their usefulness,” while the time had also come to review the travel restrictions for the unvaccinated as they had remained unchanged since last March.
All travellers will still have to fill in passenger locator forms but the only difference between those with and without vaccinations will be that the unvaccinated will have to pay £80-£100 per person for their two sets of tests. Day eight tests have been scrapped.
Britain will be alone in opening its borders to unvaccinated travellers from anywhere in the world. Only the EU allows unvaccinated travellers from countries within the Schengen area to enter without quarantine although they still have to test. Anyone not vaccinated from outside the zone still has to self-isolate.
Mr Shapps said: "This is a proportionate system that moves us a step closer to normality while maintaining vital public health protections.”
He signalled that hotel quarantine will be ditched as a policy and instead replaced with self-isolation at home if the Government is forced to re-introduce a red list for countries with new more potent variants.
Ministers are considering changing fully-vaccinated status to include a third or booster jab, although they have not set a timescale. However, Mr Shapps warned that many other countries were already introducing such requirements, as he urged people to “get boosted.”
The changes were widely welcomed by Tory and Labour MPs. Huw Merriman, the chairman of the Commons transport committee, said families should feel confident to book holidays “with certainty,” and demanded a new “culture across Whitehall” that should not again “be made an example of.”
After two years of waiting, we can finally return to travel normality
By Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport
For two long years Britons travelling abroad have had to contend with a host of restrictions and test requirements resulting in lost time and money. Families have been separated, holidays scuppered, business meetings cancelled, and airlines, airports and tour operators starved of revenue.
That these measures have been vital in safeguarding the nation’s health in the face of a pandemic unprecedented in our lifetimes has not made this ordeal any easier. This Government has poured billions into supporting our threatened travel sector – a world leader before Covid – but the pain has been real and long-lasting.
So, it gave me enormous satisfaction to announce to the House of Commons on Monday that we are scrapping all tests for inbound vaccinated passengers and reducing test requirements for the unvaccinated, while at the same time removing the self-isolation requirement for the latter. For vaccinated travellers, this coming half-term will see a return to normality not witnessed since early 2020, with remaining tests scrapped and bureaucracy reduced to the bare minimum.
The Prime Minister and I have always believed that Covid restrictions on travel should last not a minute longer than is necessary. A Conservative government must maintain personal freedom as its core value – we should never become addicted to bureaucratic restraints on free movement and free trade. And now, with our vaccination programme proof against omicron and our genome surveillance capability safeguarding us against new variants, we can remove the last shackles to international travel. We can set Britons free.
At every stage in our journey back to pre-Covid travel we have assessed the data, weighed the risks and charted a path balancing health security with the need to minimise the economic shock to some of our flagship industries. You don’t win any popularity contests trying to do this, I can tell you. But it comes with the territory.
At the end of January 2020, we advised against all but essential travel to China, following the initial pandemic outbreak, and our measures escalated as the virus did, with flight bans, self-isolation, quarantine hotels and, of course, an array of testing.
Fast-forward to the present day, and the tough choices taken, together with foresight shown in pushing forward vaccine development and uptake, have left us in a very different position. We have managed to turn the tide on the virus and get ourselves to a position that was impossible even two months ago, when the virulence of omicron was unknown.
Covid can always spring another surprise – we have learned that to our cost. But we are now building momentum towards a post-pandemic world, in which we live with Covid much as we live with other endemic diseases. Life must go on.
And we are already reaping the benefits of our newfound, post-Brexit agility as a nation. Our vaccination programme has allowed us to enjoy one of the most open societies in Europe, resulting in GDP growth that is outstripping our G7 partners. We have delivered a staggering 137 million jabs in order to achieve this, and we need to guard against any future resurgence of Covid by getting our boosters now. Remember, while we in Britain have not yet made a booster a condition of test-free travel, other countries have or will. So, get boosted to prevent your holiday this year being interrupted by requirements in destination countries.
We can now all look forward to the date - 11 February - when these restrictions are lifted. Britain is back and open for business, and we look forward to welcoming visitors from around the world, as well as visiting other countries ourselves.
If you are travelling abroad for pleasure this year, have a great holiday. After this strange, dark interlude in normal life, we all deserve it.