London: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday that compulsory COVID-19 tests required by overseas travellers no earlier than 48 hours before arriving in England will be scrapped from Friday morning.
Addressing the year's first Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) session in the House of Commons, Johnson said the government is also lifting the requirement for international travellers, including those flying from India, to self-isolate on arrival in England until receiving a negative PCR test result. Instead, people can take a cheaper lateral flow test on day two of their entry into the UK.
"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, Johnson said in his COVID-19 update to Parliament.
"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, he said.
"We will also be lifting the requirement to self-isolate on arrival until receipt of a negative PCR, returning instead to the system we had in October last year, where those arriving in England will need to take a lateral flow test no later than the end of Day 2 and, if positive, a further PCR test to help us identify any new variants at the border, he added.
It came as the UK continues to record very high daily infections with another 194,747 COVID cases on Wednesday, down from Tuesday's 218,724 cases.
Johnson highlighted in his statement that as many as 90 per cent of those in intensive care with COVID have not had their booster vaccine dose and over 60 per cent have not had any vaccination at all.
He urged members of Parliament to spread the vaccination message in their constituencies as he confirmed that no further lockdown measures will be imposed over and above the Plan B measures involving mandatory face coverings, work from home where possible guidance and COVID vaccination certificate checks for larger events.
"Together with the evidence that Omicron causes less severe disease than previous variants, and the way the public have conscientiously changed their behaviour in response to Plan B, this level of protection means we are in a very different position than during previous waves," he said.
Johnson also confirmed an earlier announcement by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) of a change in COVID testing rules within the country, amid concerns of massive staff absences due to lengthy self-isolation even among asymptomatic cases.
Thanks to the sheer size of the Omicron wave, we still need to take steps to ensure our testing capacity reaches those who need it most. So we will be suspending the need to do a PCR to confirm the result of a positive lateral flow test, said Johnson.
Lateral Flow Devices (LFDs) are made available for free by the National Health Service (NHS) for home testing and are believed to be a reliable indicator of an individual's COVID infectiousness level, requiring them to self-isolate following a positive test. They can end their isolation after a week if they test negative on day six and seven consecutively, or carry on isolating for 10 days.