Despite a troubling increase in instances and hospitalizations, all remaining Covid travel restrictions will be lifted across the UK later this week.
Ministers authorised the abolition of passenger locating forms and the requirement that all unvaccinated arrivals be tested, with the amendments taking effect at 4 a.m. on Friday.
Quarantine hotels that have not been utilised since the “red list” of countries were emptied in December but have been maintained on standby will also be completely decommissioned by the end of March.
Tory MPs and the aviation sector had urged the government to make the change before April, despite the fact that all domestic limitations had already been lifted. Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, announced the change on Monday, saying it will “offer greater freedom for travellers ahead of the Easter holidays.” The travel sector will applaud the move.
Heathrow stated on Monday that flying travellers passing through the airport will no longer be needed to wear masks beginning on Wednesday. When going to places that do not require face coverings on planes, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic announced they were also planning to abolish the restriction onboard.
Heathrow said it would still strongly advise visitors to wear masks at the airport, recognising that the pandemic was far from ended, but it would no longer be a mandatory requirement – echoing UK transport policy.
British Airways and Virgin said the rules would be determined by the destination, with masks required on many itineraries, including those to the United States, until at least April 18.
Optional mask-wearing will be permitted on Virgin flights to the Caribbean from both Heathrow and Manchester. It comes as Britain’s Covid situation worsens, with health officials worrying that the number of patients hospitalised with the virus is also rapidly increasing. 444,201 positive cases have been documented in the last week, representing a 48.1 per cent rise.
The number of patients admitted to hospitals in England has also climbed sharply to 10,576 as of 8 a.m. on 14 March, up 19% from the previous week. Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said on Monday that there was no need for new restrictions to assist slow the spread of the virus.
He said the prime minister was “keeping a close eye on the data” but that “at the moment, we don’t see anything nearing any of the sorts of pressures we saw at the peak of the pandemic when such large proportions of the population weren’t vaccinated or boosted”.
He added: “We obviously will always have contingency plans, but the prime minister and others have talked about how the vaccination and our therapeutics mean we will not need to return to the lockdowns of the past that saw such significant measures be necessary.”
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, also stated that the UK was in a “really strong position” due to vaccine uptake, but that an increase in infection rates was to be expected. To assuage those worried about the loss of border controls, he promised, “We will continue monitoring and tracking potential new variants, and preserve a reserve of measures that can be promptly deployed if needed to keep us safe.”
According to the Department of Transport, the “default approach will be to utilise the least restrictive restrictions,” and contingency plans “will only be applied in exceptional circumstances.”
Johnson drastically relaxed lingering Covid requirements last month, declaring that persons infected with the virus were no longer obliged to isolate and that free mass testing would halt on April 1.
Self-isolation assistance payments were also eliminated, and sick leave policies reverted to less generous pre-pandemic arrangements. According to the Department of Transport, the “default approach will be to utilise the least restrictive restrictions,” and contingency plans “will only be applied in exceptional circumstances.”
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