British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday announced that pre-departure tests for people traveling to the United Kingdom will no longer be required because restrictions meant to contain the international spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant are now meaningless.
The change should come as welcome news to people who had refrained from traveling overseas for fear they would get stuck in a foreign country.
Johnson also announced measures to loosen testing rules for its own citizens.
Starting Jan. 11, British residents who are asymptomatic but test positive for COVID-19 using a rapid test will not need to confirm that with a follow-up PCR test, the U.K. Health Security Agency said. This will likely reduce self-isolation time.
“While cases of COVID continue to rise, this tried-and-tested approach means that LFDs [lateral flow devices, or rapid tests] can be used confidently to indicate COVID-19 infection without the need for PCR confirmation,” Jenny Harries, the U.K. Health Security Agency’s chief executive, said in a statement.
“All these measures are balanced and proportionate ways of ensuring we can live with COVID without letting our guard down,” Johnson told lawmakers Wednesday.
The change in testing requirements will mean authorities have less data about the spread of different variants because PCR swabs are used to identify variants through genotyping and sequencing.
But John Edmunds, a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, told the Associated Press that the move made sense, although daily updates “may need more careful interpretation.”
“When the prevalence is high, and it is incredibly high at the moment, almost everyone who tests positive with a lateral flow test will be a true positive,” Edmunds explained. “There is really no need to confirm this with a PCR, a step that not only wastes time but costs a lot of money and uses up laboratory resources that could be better used elsewhere.”
Johnson has resisted calls from opposition politicians and some public health experts to tighten restrictions on businesses and personal interactions, the AP reported.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 infections have led to staffing shortages across the United Kingdom, a pausing of some non-urgent surgeries at some hospitals, and cuts to train and garbage services.
Visit the World Health Organization for more on COVID-19.
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