After UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday (January 5) that testing requirements for visitors to England from abroad would be relaxed, the Scottish Government has changed Covid testing rules for those travelling to Scotland.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced in a coronavirus briefing to MSPs in Holyrood on Wednesday that Scottish Covid rules around testing and self-isolation would change in order to prevent the economy and health service from becoming overwhelmed by the spread of the Omicron variant.
And Thursday brought confirmation from the Scottish Government that differences in Scottish and English Covid travel testing requirements would be resolved through new travel rules in Scotland for under 18-year-olds and those who have been fully vaccinated.
Changes to Scotland’s current requirements for Covid travel testing will see mandatory PCR testing, pre-departure tests and self-isolation rules dropped – with more affordable lateral flow tests reintroduced for Day 2 tests to match the international travel rules in England.
But what are the new travel rules and testing requirements in Scotland?
Here’s what you need to know.
What are the new Covid travel testing requirements for Scotland?
As of Friday (January 7) people looking to travel to Scotland will no longer have to do pre-departure Covid tests, which were reintroduced for travel to Scotland in December in order to try and prevent the spread of Omicron cases.
Due to the fact that Omicron is now the dominant variant in Scotland and across the UK, the Scottish Government has said that these tests, along with prior requirements for those arriving in Scotland to self-isolate until they receive a negative result, will be scrapped for those under the age of 18 or fully jabbed.
People arriving in Scotland from abroad will still need to do a ‘Day 2’ test within roughly 48 hours of their return.
But from Sunday January 9, cheaper lateral flow tests can be used instead of more costly PCR tests.
Lateral flow tests are more accurate in testing symptomless individuals than PCR tests, which are still strongly advised for those who have any Omicron or Covid symptoms.
Where can I get a lateral flow test for travel?
Travel testing changes will now allow fully-vaccinated travellers to opt for a cheaper lateral flow test for their ‘Day 2 test’ on arriving in Scotland – ditching requirements for costlier PCR tests.
However, these lateral flow tests must have a specificity of 97% or more and sensitivity of 80% or more at viral loads above 100,000 copies/ml.
The tests also cannot be those which are made freely available by the UK Government online or at mobile and community testing sites in Scotland.
And if you test positive on your day two lateral flow test, you will be required to self-isolate – and advised take a free PCR test to help genomic sequencing efforts.
Will travel testing requirements change for non-vaccinated travellers?
The new rules allowing those arriving in Scotland to use a lateral flow test for their day two test only apply to those who have received two doses of a Covid vaccine and are thus fully vaccinated against the virus.
Lateral flow tests can also only be used for those arriving in Scotland from non-red list destinations, but there are currently no countries on the UK’s red list of high risk destinations.
The latest travel update will also see quarantine-free travel to Scotland introduced for a further 16 countries from Monday January 10, with the UK approving vaccine certificates of Bhutan, Cameroon, Fiji, Cote d’Ivoire, Iraq, Paraguay, Solomon Islands and more countries.
When will the Scotland travel test changes take effect?
Changes to Scotland’s travel testing requirements will officially come into effect at 4am on Friday January 7.
Travellers will be able to book Day 2 lateral flow tests from the UK Government website from 4am on Sunday January 9.
Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, said: “We still have significant concerns over Omicron, but we recognise that, now it is the most dominant strain in Scotland and across the UK, it is sensible to review the measures currently in place.
“We also fully understand the impact of the restrictions on staff and businesses in the travel and aviation sectors and these changes demonstrate our commitment not to keep measures in place any longer than necessary.
“However, people still need to be extremely careful when travelling and to remember that both our and other countries' Covid-19 requirements can change at short notice as things can evolve very quickly.
“People should therefore ensure they have travel insurance and carefully check their booking terms and conditions, as well as ensuring compliance with the latest regulations for the country being visited.”
How can I book a lateral flow test for travel in Scotland?
Those who are fully vaccinated and looking to get a lateral flow test for their day two travel test for arrival in Scotland will be able to book these from a list of approved providers from 4am on Sunday January 9.
The list of lateral flow test providers is currently available to view on the GOV.UK website, but options for day two lateral flow tests currently are only available for those in ‘England only’.
This will however change on Sunday, when people travelling to Scotland will also be able to book tests for when requirements are eased.
How much do lateral flow tests cost?
While lateral flow tests on the UK Government’s list of providers vary considerably in price depending on the type of test available, those set to become available for those travelling to Scotland are expected to cost between £20 to £30.
This price is far less than the £68 PCR test alternative still required for those arriving from red list countries and who have not received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.
But those travelling to Scotland must keep in mind the strict rules around lateral flow tests to be used for day two tests – which the Scottish Government has outlined as required to have a specificity of 97% or more and sensitivity of 80% or more at viral loads above 100,000 copies/ml.
Find out more on the Scottish Government website.
Additional reporting by PA Scotland Political Reporter Craig Paton