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HomeUK NewsCOVID-19: Pre-departure testing has 'outlived its usefulness' - transport secretary

COVID-19: Pre-departure testing has ‘outlived its usefulness’ – transport secretary

Pre-departure coronavirus testing for people returning to England has been scrapped because it has “outlived its usefulness” amid the rapid spread of Omicron in the UK and around the world, the transport secretary has told Sky News.

“Omicron is global, it is worldwide, everybody has it now, the proportion that comes in overseas is completely minuscule by comparison with the numbers that are here,” Grant Shapps said.

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“So, it’s now widespread and in a sense Omicron testing has outlived its usefulness, so we are able to withdraw it from international travel.”

The change will take effect from 4am on Friday.

People will also no longer have to isolate until they get a negative PCR test, but will instead have to take a lateral flow test at the end of day two after arriving.

If that lateral flow is positive, they will need to get a follow-up PCR.

Omicron ‘will be hard to outcompete’

Mr Shapps said this provided “protection” against the threat of new variants, as those PCR tests will still be sequenced to identify what strain of the virus people have.

“Because it is global we are just as likely to perhaps have a variant here, we saw that last year, the year before with the Kent/alpha variant so of course a variant can occur anywhere,” he said.

“This country does do more genomic sequencing, that is when you find out what the variant might be, than any other country in the world so we are still carrying on that massive sequencing programme.”

Speaking to Sky News on Wednesday, Professor Andrew Hayward of University College London said it is unlikely there will be a variant more severe than Omicron as it “will be hard to outcompete”.

Professor Hayward added that for a “variant to stick”, it needs to have “some advantage over the existing variant and that advantage needs to be really in terms of increased transmissibility or escape from immunity”.

He said: “There’s no advantage to the virus itself becoming more severe.”

‘Trying to find the right compromise’

Mr Shapps also insisted in his Sky News interview that the government’s current policy of sticking to its Plan B measures and holding off on introducing further restrictions was the “right approach”.

There have been calls from health leaders for more action from ministers amid pressure on the NHS.

The transport secretary said 24 hospital trusts have declared critical incidents as the health service contends with a wave of Omicron infections.

“We are always trying to find the right compromise on going too tight on restrictions – lockdowns, let’s face it, they have a lot of costs connected,” Mr Shapps said.

“Then again, not wanting our hospitals to be overrun. This is where I think Plan B has been shown to be the right approach so far,” he added.

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