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London: Fully vaccinated Australians travelling to the UK will not have to take a single test before or after their arrival after the British government said it would free the country from the shackles of costly and restrictive bans, quarantine and testing regimes.
British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that COVID-19 travel tests had outlived their usefulness for the fully vaccinated and that they would be scrapped from 4am (local time) on February 11.
COVID-19 testing at Heathrow Airport will soon be a thing of the past for arrivals.Credit:AP
“As part of our efforts to ensure that 2022 is the year in which restrictions on travel, on lockdowns and limits on people’s lives are firmly placed in the past, today we are setting Britain free,” he told the Commons. “With these changes today we have one of the most open travel sectors in the world … today is a momentous moment.
“Because it’s important that we’re able to unlock the borders, people are able to travel again, do business and, most importantly, see family who many people won’t have seen for a very long time because of the prohibitive costs.
“But be in no doubt, it’s only because the government got the big calls right, on vaccination, on boosters, on dealing with Omicron [that] we can now open travel and declare that Britain is open for business.“
All passengers arriving in the UK will still have to complete a passenger locator form to identify unvaccinated and fully vaccinated arrivals, but the form – which currently runs to several pages – will be simplified.
Pre-departure tests will remain for unvaccinated travellers, as will a requirement to take a PCR test on day two after arrival. However, unvaccinated people will not have to self-isolate upon arrival.
The UK also wants to end hotel quarantine for red-list countries and replace it with enforced home quarantine, but only if a variant that is more worrying than Omicron emerges.
There are currently no countries on the red list and Shapps said that the government wanted to turn away from blanket measures in favour of “global sophisticated surveillance.”
Britain’s Omicron cases have plateaued at around 90,000 cases per day, a rate of around 1350 per million. Australia’s COVID-19 cases are higher at around 2454 cases per million people.
Australia’s vaccination rate for those aged 12 years and over is 91.98 per cent compared to the UK’s 83.8 per cent. The UK’s boosted rate is at 64.2 per cent.
The seven-day rolling average death rate per million people was 3.94 for the UK and 2.53 for Australia in the week to January 19.
In the UK, nearly 154,000 people have died within a month of testing positive for the virus following two deadly waves prior to vaccine development.
Shapps conceded the government had not got everything right.
“It’s never going to be easy tackling a global pandemic – there’s no rule book, there’s no sort of textbook that tells you what you have to do,” he said.
The unlocking of the travel regime comes in the same week that the last remaining restrictions will be removed.
From Thursday, masks will no longer be required – except on Transport for London – and the limited use of vaccine passports for big events will also end.
Tim Alderslade, from Airlines UK, said international travel was returning to “near normality” for the fully vaccinated.
“It will offer further reassurance to those planning to travel, both overseas and into the UK, and demonstrates again that following the success of the vaccine programme, the UK can lead the world in our recovery from the pandemic,” he said.
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