Holidaymakers are rushing to book getaways ahead of the Covid travel rules being relaxed tomorrow with airlines seeing demand increase by as much as 400 per cent.
Fully vaccinated travellers and under-18s arriving in the UK will be able to take a lateral flow test rather than the more expensive PCR version for their day two test from 4am tomorrow.
The lateral flow tests only cost around £22, compared to at least £60 for PCRs travellers were previously forced to fork out for.
And from yesterday they were no longer needed to have taken a pre-arrival lateral flow test or isolate on their return. The combined changes will save a family of four around £300.
Travel bosses said they are seeing an ‘immediate and dramatic spike in bookings’ because of the relaxation in the rules.
EasyJet said it saw demand for some destinations increase 400 per cent in a week, with overall bookings up 200 per cent.
Virgin Atlantic reported a jump of 150 per cent in website searches and British Airways saw a spike of 40 per cent.
But yesterday it was claimed Sajid Javid opposed Boris Johnson’s decision to loosen the rules because of fears the move could heighten the risk of another lockdown.
The PM said he had taken the decision because the Omicron variant is now so prevalent in the UK that the border measures were only having a limited impact on the spread of the disease.
But Mr Javid is said to have strongly opposed relaxing the rules, warning his Cabinet colleagues that the move increased the risk of having to shut down the economy again.
Fully vaccinated travellers and under-18s arriving in the UK will be able to take a lateral flow test rather than the more expensive PCR version for their post-arrival test from 4am on Sunday
Pictured A busy terminal 5 arrivals hall at Heathrow Airport yesterday after the rules were relaxed so passengers arriving back into the UK no longer need to take a PCR test
From 4am yesterday, passengers no longer needed to have taken a pre-arrival lateral flow test. The changes will save a family of four about £300
What will the new travel rules be for UK tourists?
If you qualify as fully vaccinated for travel to England (meaning at least 14 days has passed since your second jab), and you will arrive in England from today (Friday, January 7), you do not need to:
- Take a Covid test before you travel to England
- Quarantine when you arrive in England
If you qualify as fully vaccinated and will arrive in England after 4am this Sunday (January 9), you can choose to take a lateral flow test instead of a PCR test after you arrive in England.
If you take a lateral flow test and test positive, you will need to self-isolate and take a free confirmatory PCR.
You must book the test before you travel to England. You can book lateral flows from today.
You must take the lateral flow test no later than the end of day two after arriving. For example, if you arrive on a Monday, this would be by the end of the Wednesday.
You cannot use a lateral flow until after 4am this Sunday. Before this time, you must use a PCR test after arrival.
The fully vaccinated rules also apply to children aged 17 and under, people taking part in an approved vaccine trial, and people who are unable to have a vaccination due to medical reasons. Click here for more details
EasyJet said it has seen a 427 per cent rise in bookings for Lanzarote in the Canary Islands.
Summer bookings for for Tenerife, Alicante and Malaga are also up 200 per cent, the company said.
The Government website states: ‘If you qualify as fully vaccinated for travel to England, and you will arrive in England after 4am, Sunday 9 January, you can choose to take a lateral flow test instead of a PCR test after you arrive in England.
‘If you qualify as fully vaccinated for travel to England, and you will arrive in England after 4am, Sunday 9 January, you can choose to take a lateral flow test instead of a PCR test after you arrive in England.’
It continues: ‘If you take a lateral flow test and test positive, you will need to self-isolate and take a free PCR test.’
Steve Heapy, chief executive of tour operator Jet2holidays and leisure airline Jet2.com, said bookings soared after Mr Johnson announced on Wednesday that the testing and quarantine requirements for arrivals will be eased.
His firm reported huge popularity for trips to mainland Spain, the Canaries, the Balearic Islands, Turkey, and Greece.
Mr Heapy said: ‘The relaxation of travel restrictions is welcome news for both the travel industry and holidaymakers and comes during what is traditionally a very busy period for holiday bookings.
‘We have seen an immediate and dramatic spike in bookings, with volumes since the Government announcement heading towards pre-pandemic levels, which demonstrates just how much demand is out there among people wanting to get away for a much-needed holiday.’
A spokeswoman for tour operator Tui said Mr Johnson’s announcement ‘has given Brits the reassurance that travel will once again be easier and more affordable’.
She went on: ‘We’ve already seen an immediate and strong uptick in bookings and we now expect summer 2022 bookings to be normalised.
‘January is traditionally the busiest month for holiday bookings and demand is yet to reach pre-Covid levels, so we need to see sustained confidence in travel so the industry can fully recover.’
The firm’s biggest booking spikes have been for Mexico and the Canaries.
Derek Jones, chief executive of luxury travel company Kuoni, said the easing of testing rules ‘should be the beginning of the end of Covid as a blocker to international travel’.
Mr Jones continued: ‘I predict travel will be 90 per cent back to 2019 levels before the end of spring.
‘We’re already seeing increased call volumes and inquiries about trips for the year ahead as confidence builds.’
A survey of 2,000 UK consumers by travel trade organisation Abta indicated that Spain is the most popular overseas destination people plan to visit in 2022, followed by the USA, France, Italy and Greece.
Sajid Javid opposed Boris Johnson’s decision to loosen travel testing rules because of fears the move could heighten the risk of another lockdown, it was claimed today
Britons can fly to 16 countries for under £10 this month – including Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Spain
Cheapest flights available for Britons this month
- £4 to Croatia: London Stansted to Zagreb (Ryanair, January 22, 0830-1150, 2h20m)
- £5 to Italy: London Luton to Rome (WizzAir, January 22, 1020-1350, 2h30m)
- £5 to Netherlands: London Stansted to Eindhoven (Ryanair, January 22, 0615-0830, 1h05m)
- £6 to Norway: London Stansted to Oslo (Ryanair, January 22, 1800-2100, 2h)
- £6 to Poland: London Stansted to Krakow (Ryanair, January 22, 0840-1155, 2h15m)
- £7 to Austria: London Stansted to Vienna (Ryanair, January 22, 0830-1135, 2h05m)
- £8 to Bulgaria: London Stansted to Sofia (Ryanair, January 25, 0635-1135, 3h)
- £8 to Ireland: London Stansted to Dublin (Ryanair, January 25, 0530-0745, 1h15m)
- £9 to Czech Republic: London Stansted to Prague (Ryanair, January 25, 1145-1435, 1h50m)
- £9 to Denmark: London Stansted to Copenhagen (Ryanair, January 26, 0840-1125, 1h45m)
- £9 to Germany: London Stansted to Berlin (Ryanair, January 22, 0730-1010, 1h40m)
- £9 to Greece: London Stansted to Athens (Ryanair, January 25, 1545-2115, 3h30m)
- £9 to Latvia: London Stansted to Riga (Ryanair, January 19, 0620-1055, 2h35m)
- £9 to Portugal: London Stansted to Lisbon (Ryanair, January 25, 0620-0910, 2h50m)
- £9 to Romania: London Luton to Bucharest (WizzAir, January 22, 1650-2205, 3h15m)
- £9 to Spain: London Stansted to Zaragoza (Ryanair, January 22, 1245-1555, 2h10m)
- £9 to Sweden: London Stansted to Gothenburg (Ryanair, January 25, 1845-2140, 1h55m)
Checked by MailOnline on Skyscanner. Flight arrival and departures times are local.
But Mr Javid told a meeting of the Cabinet’s Covid-O committee that dropping the PCR testing requirement would restrict the UK’s ability to identify new coronavirus strains, according to The Times.
The Health Secretary told his colleagues that ditching the PCR testing rule could therefore increase the risk of a dangerous new variant spreading undetected in the UK which could then force the Government to impose a lockdown.
A Government source told The Times: ‘Sajid was very unhappy about the decision to remove the requirement for PCR tests.
‘He argued they are instrumental in spotting new variants sooner. He said that by scrapping them you increase the risk of having to shut down the entire economy. But he lost the argument.’
Mr Johnson, who was reportedly not at the Covid-O meeting, ultimately sided with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and decided to loosen the rules.
Downing Street yesterday insisted the changes to the travel system had been ‘collectively’ agreed by ministers.
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said: ‘I don’t think you’d expect me to comment on private meetings but ministers collectively agreed to these changes to our international travel rules, including the changes around day two PCR testing, given we no longer feel they are proportionate, given that Omicron is now the dominant variant in the UK by community transmission.
‘But I would also highlight that we have maintained the requirement for passengers to take a post-arrival lateral flow test and if that test is positive, they will still need to take a PCR test, which will help us identify variants.’
The tougher testing measures were originally introduced following the identification of the fast-spreading Omicron variant in South Africa last November.
Mr Johnson announced the move in the House of Commons on Wednesday, telling MPs: ‘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 are having limited impact on the growth in cases, while continuing to pose significant costs on 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 significant extra expense.’
The announcement – which covers those passengers who are fully-vaccinated or are under the age of 18 – was broadly welcomed by the travel industry, which has been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the industry body Airlines UK, said it would be a ‘massive boost’ for the sector at a ‘critical’ time of the year.
NHS lateral flow tests cannot be used for international travel, and the tests must be brought from a private provider.
People who have already brought PCR tests for travelling needs can still use them.