The cost of a family holiday will fall by about £200 after ministers announced that PCR tests for foreign travel are to be scrapped by half-term and reduced the red list to seven countries.
The tests, costing about £75 each on average, will be replaced by lateral flow tests, which cost as little as £25. Passengers will have to send a photo of their negative result two days after arriving in Britain.
Popular winter destinations such as Mexico, South Africa and Brazil were given a boost after the Department for Transport said that the toughest travel restrictions would be dropped for 47 countries and territories from 4am on Monday.
Boris Johnson overruled Sajid Javid, the health secretary, who wanted travellers to film themselves taking a lateral flow test in response to fears that the results could be faked.
Ministers have not given a date for when the requirement to take the PCR tests will end. Government sources confirmed, though, that the change would be made in time for the half-term school holidays that begin in England on October 22.
At the same time the Foreign Office will drop its warnings against all but essential travel to the countries, making it easier to get travel insurance.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said: “With half-term and winter sun around the corner, we’re making it easier for families and loved ones to reunite by significantly cutting the number of destinations on the red list, thanks in part to the increased vaccination efforts around the globe.” Airlines and tour operators welcomed the “long overdue” changes. Only Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Venezuela will remain on the red list, which requires arrivals to submit to ten days’ hotel quarantine at a cost of £2,285 per person.
“It finally feels like we are seeing light at the end of a very long tunnel,” Sean Doyle, the chief executive of British Airways, said. “Britain will benefit from this significant reduction in red list countries, and now it’s time to turn our attention to eradicating testing for fully vaccinated travellers to ensure we don’t lose our place on the global stage.”
Rules on international travel were eased on Monday with the scrapping of the amber and green lists. Fully vaccinated arrivals from more than 60 countries, including the whole of Europe and the United States, no longer need to present a negative lateral flow test at the UK border. “We expect a surge in bookings now South Africa is removed from the red list,” Liezl Gericke, the head of Middle East, Africa and South Asia for Virgin Atlantic, said.
“London to Johannesburg has been in the top-five selling routes in the Virgin network over the past weekend, with most bookings for travel in December and January. This is a 460 per cent week-on-week increase, albeit from a low base.”
Javid said: “We’re now making it easier and cheaper for people to travel by allowing fully vaccinated travellers from non-red-list countries to use lateral flow tests on day two of arrival, as long as they provide proof of use.”
A PCR test requires the sample to be sent for specialised laboratory analysis, which makes them more expensive, whereas lateral flow tests usually give results within 15 to 30 minutes. Airlines and tour operators continued to lobby the government to drop all tests for fully vaccinated holidaymakers.
Andrew Flintham, managing director of Tui, Britain’s biggest tour operator, said that the plans to replace PCR tests with lateral flow tests should be abandoned, bringing the UK into line with most European destinations.
He said: “Our high vaccination rate means we should be removing all testing for travellers that are fully vaccinated and we must move away from continuing to demand people pay for private testing so they can travel. By doing so, this will put us in line with other countries in Europe who, as a result, have been able to reopen safely and recover faster from the impacts of the pandemic to our sector.”