Scotland will not follow England in relaxing Covid tests for returning travellers

The easing of Covid tests for returning international passengers announced by the UK Government today will not be adopted north of the Border because of “significant concerns” about the public health risk, the Scottish Government has announced.

The decision follows UK transport secretary Grant Shapps saying fully-vaccinated passengers will not need to take a pre-departure test before returning to England from non-red list countries from Monday, October 4.

The day two PCR test required after arrival will also be replaced south of the Border with a cheaper lateral flow test from the end of October, in time for school half-term breaks there.

However, Scotland will follow England in merging the green and amber country lists to abolish the “traffic light” system.

The last changes to the travel list came into force on August 30. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

It will also follow suit in removing eight countries from the red list from 4am next Wednesday – Turkey, Pakistan, Maldives, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Oman, Bangladesh and Kenya.

The Scottish Government said the current amber list restrictions, where fully-vaccinated passengers do not have to self-isolate on their return, would become the default for passengers from non-red list countries.

But it said: “A UK Government decision to implement proposals to remove the requirement for a pre-departure test in England and to use lateral flow tests on day two have not been adopted at this stage in Scotland due to significant concerns at the impact on public health.

“The testing of international travellers, both before and after travel, is an important part of our border health surveillance to minimise the risk of importing variants of concern.

“The Scottish Government aims to maintain a four-nations approach to international travel restrictions, but will need to carefully consider the risks associated with aligning with the UK Government.”

Urgent consideration of implications

Transport secretary Michael Matheson said: “We have concerns that the UK Government’s proposals to remove the requirement for a pre-departure test for some travellers will weaken our ability to protect the public health of Scotland’s communities.

"While we want to maintain a four-nations approach to these matters, we need to consider urgently their implications.”

Mr Shapps had argued the new “simplified system” for England was “striking the right balance to manage the public health risk as No.1 priority”.

He said: “Public health has always been at the heart of our international travel policy and with more than eight in ten adults vaccinated people fully vaccinated in the UK, we are now able to introduce a proportionate updated structure that reflects the new landscape."

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The Scottish Government also said the number of countries recognised under the “eligible vaccinated traveller policy” was being widened from Europe and USA to include Canada, Australia, Israel, and New Zealand from October 4.

Edinburgh Airport predicted Scottish passengers would now head across the Border to save on testing costs.

A spokesman said: "The simplification of the system and the removal of more countries from the red list is of course welcomed, but what is not is the Scottish Government's decision to diverge yet again and further curtail Scotland's aviation and travel industries in their recovery.

"We are now the most restrictive country in Europe, yet there is no justification or health benefit to retaining testing measures, something clinical professionals and experts have themselves said.

"This is great news for airports in Manchester and Newcastle – passengers will now travel there to avoid expensive tests and save around £100 per person, taking money out of Scotland’s economy and threatening our airline capacity.

“This will harm our recovery, impact on Scotland's economy and cost jobs and livelihoods across the country.

"It now seems the economy boosting step previously referred to will benefit England rather than Scotland."

Traffic light system ‘costly and confusing’

AGS Airports, which owns Aberdeen, Glasgow and Southampton, urged the Scottish Government to fall into line with the UK Government as part of a “four-nations approach” with the rest of the UK.

Chief executive Derek Provan said: “Today’s announcement to overhaul international travel rules may be significant, but the reforms detailed today are what we have been urging the UK Government to implement for months.

“The outgoing traffic light system was both costly and confusing.

"Not only did the data show it to be ineffective in terms of protecting public health or detecting variants of concern, but it has been extremely damaging to our industry which has been on the brink for the last 18 months.

“It was inconceivable to think 2021 would be worse than 2020 for aviation, however, that is the reality.

"Now that progress is being made to strip away the layers of complexity associated with international travel, we urge the Scottish Government to adopt a four-nations approach without delay.

“We need government to work with the industry to help rebuild passenger confidence and, more importantly, restore the connectivity we have lost.”

The Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association, which represents travel agents and the travel sector, called for the testing requirements to be relaxed by the Scottish Government in time for the mid-term school holiday, which starts in areas such as Glasgow on October 8.

‘We don’t want Scots travelling across the Border’

President Joanne Dooey said: “We would like to see the PCR test replaced by a lateral flow, with those testing positing at this stage having a PCR test which can then be used for sequencing to identify any emerging variant.

"And we need them to make this announcement now so that hard-working Scots have time to book holidays for the October schools’ break.

"We don’t want Scotland to be perceived as being asleep at the wheel when the traffic lights change.

"And we don’t want Scots travelling across the Border to England to fly in order to avoid any stricter controls in Scotland.”

Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee said: “Airlines are now deciding and finalising their winter schedules and capacity.

"That means every day of delay in the Scottish Government aligning with the rest of the UK will damage Scotland‘s connectivity and thus its economy.

"Meanwhile, Scotland’s European competitors are powering ahead without any tests required after arrival for fully vaccinated passengers.”

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, which represents carriers, said: “We need to see reciprocity with England as soon as possible.

"It’s great that this decision has been taken as it follows the science and the data that shows international travel does not pose any greater health risk.

"Any delay is only going to hurt Scotland’s aviation and wider tourism industry.”

Price rise fear

Mike Owens, a global sales trader at investment bank Saxo Markets, said: "Airlines have been working hard to restore flight capacity, with Ryanair and Wizz having recently reached 2019 levels – this should help keep ticket prices low for the rest of the year.

"However, the industry is anticipating very strong demand for Easter and summer 2022, which could see the cost of travel rise."

Today’s announcements follows the last changes which took effect on August 30, which added Canada, the Azores, Denmark, Finland, Liechtenstein, Lithuania and Switzerland to the green “traffic light” list, where travellers do not have to quarantine on arrival in Scotland.

However, Montenegro and Thailand were added to the red list, where travellers have to pay to stay in quarantine hotels for ten days after arrival.

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