Scottish Government U-turn on travel restrictions after outcry

The Scottish Government has scrapped its plans to insist on Covid tests for fully-vaccinated travellers arriving in Scotland and will align with the UK regulations.

The Scottish Government has decided to align with the rest of the UK on international travel restrictions.

Transport secretary Michael Matheson said the move, just days after the government said it would not follow the UK easing of restrictions, was the result of “logistical, health and economic implications” of not having a four-nations approach to international travel.

As a result pre-departure tests for fully vaccinated travellers will end from October 4, while those entering Scotland from green list countries with a vaccination programme that meets recognised standards of certification, will also no longer be required to provide evidence of a negative test result.

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Similarly, Scotland will also now align with the UK post-arrival testing regime when the details are finalised.

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However Mr Matheson said there were still concerns about the removal of pre-departure tests as “some travellers could weaken our ability to protect the public health of Scotland’s communities.”

He added: “However, we also recognise that not having UK wide alignment causes significant practical problems and creates disadvantages for Scottish businesses.

"Also, if non alignment led to travellers to Scotland choosing to route through airports elsewhere in the UK, the public health benefits of testing would be undermined in any event.

“We have urgently considered all these implications, weighing any possible impact on the public health and the logistical realities. After liaising at length with stakeholders from the aviation sector to understand the impact of adopting a different approach in Scotland, we have reluctantly concluded that, for practical reasons, alignment with the UK is the best option.

“The new proposals make clear pre-departure tests will no longer be a requirement. We also intend to align with the UK post-arrival testing regime. The detail of that is still being developed with lateral flow tests being considered and we will engage further with the UK government on those plans. Details will be announced at the same time as the UK.

“Lastly, the importance of guarding against new variants entering the country can’t be ignored. We will therefore be considering, with Public Health Scotland, the implementation of additional public health surveillance around international travel. We would intend this to be at no cost to travellers.”

Scottish Conservatives transport spokesman Graham Simpson said the changes by the Scottish Government were a “climbdown” but would be a “relief to businesses in Scotland’s much overlooked tourism and aviation industries.”

He added: “However, such a late u-turn means Scottish airports have missed out on any potential recovery that could have been made during the October break.

“The SNP-Green government needs to realise that this affects more than just holidaymakers and the aviation industry. Their slow decision will have had a damaging impact on jobs and businesses in Scotland.”

Edinburgh Airport’s chief executive Gordon Dewar said the decision was “welcome” and described it as a “huge bonus” for Scotland's travel and tourism sector.

"It will provide some much needed confidence for people who need and want to travel,” he said.

“We appreciate the Scottish Government's moves to listen to industry this week and we understand their concerns, but we do think there must be more proportionality when it comes to balancing both the protection of public health and the importance of Scotland’s economic recovery.”

Derek Provan, chief executive of AGS Airports Ltd, which owns and operates Aberdeen and Glasgow airports, said the delay to lift testing restrictions had “negatively impacted the industry in Scotland and AGS as a group.”

But he added: “By ensuring Scotland has parity with the rest of the UK, this decision is one that will deliver much-needed consumer confidence for our passengers to start travelling again and for our airline partners to look at increasing capacity at our airports.

“A number of restrictions on travel still remain in place and we are not yet back to anything like normal operations, but we will continue to engage with government to ensure the safe return on international travel continues and that we can rebuild the connectivity that plans a vital role in supporting our economy.”

Joanne Dooey, president of the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA), the professional body for travel agents and the travel sector in Scotland said the move was “hugely welcome” but stressed that the change “does nothing to instil confidence to travel to and from Scotland.”

“There’s unlikely to be a rush to the travel agents this weekend to book for October breaks during the school holidays, as the timing means that most families will be unable to organise the time off work now to go on a family break,” she said.

“Those who did want to travel have already booked flights departing from English airports. Travel agents have also recently experienced clients who are already booked on a holiday departing from Scotland, requesting that their return flight is changed to a flight returning to England. So, the impact won’t be immediate but these changes to bring us into line with England could be the start of recovery for the beleaguered travel sector.”

Airlines UK Chief Executive Tim Alderslade and Airport Operators Association Chief Executive Karen Dee both welcomed the move and said it would enable Scottish airports and airlines operating in Scotland to “catch up again with England”.

However they said the UK still had a “more onerous approach” to travel than elsewhere in Europe and a “return to a situation similar to prior to the pandemic, in which people can travel without further tests or forms to fill out” was needed" and the Scottish Government should work with the UK and other devolved administrations “to aim for this as soon as is safely possible.”

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