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Pre-departure tests for double-jabbed travellers could be axed

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Pre-departure tests for double-jabbed Britons returning to the UK face the axe under plans being considered by ministers to ease restrictions on foreign travel for holidaymakers.

Ministers will meet this week to determine whether the tests, required to be taken 72 hours before flying back to the UK, should be ditched for fully vaccinated travellers returning from "low risk" countries.

The tests, which are generally cheaper lateral flows costing £30 per person, would, however,  be retained for any travellers from "high risk" red list countries, and for any arrivals into the UK who are not vaccinated.

The option comes on top of a government intention, set out by Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, at the weekend to ditch the more expensive PCR tests for double-jabbed travellers once they are back in the UK, and replace them with the cheaper lateral flow tests.

"The removal of pre-departure tests is an option on the table," said a source. "It would mean fully jabbed travellers could avoid both pre-departure tests as well as PCR tests on day two of their return to the UK as long as they are not coming from a red list country."

Pre-departure tests have been seen as a major impediment to travel because of families' fears of a positive result forcing them to quarantine in a foreign country on top of the cost and bureaucracy of organising them.

It would cut the costs of a holiday for a fully jabbed family of four by more than £100, on top of a saving of up to £400 if ministers go ahead with plans to scrap PCR tests.

It is part of Boris Johnson's decision to scrap Covid regulations, which will also see the traffic light system for travel axed, with the amber and green travel lists of countries merged into a single category.

The aim is to make foreign travel focused on the vaccination status of the individual rather than it depending on Covid-19 status of the country.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, urged the Government to follow Europe's example and ditch pre-departure and PCR tests as "anything else is just tinkering around the edges".

"Getting rid of PCR testing would be a real step forward, but not if we still end up with two tests you have to pay for," he said. "The cost savings would be relatively minor and you'd still have all the hassle and inconvenience, which, as we found this summer, is a huge barrier to travelling."

Tory MPs are also concerned there should not be any delay in introducing any changes, which are expected to be announced on Thursday. 

A senior backbencher said: "It is completely unsustainable to say to people: 'You are not going to need tests in a month's time but you have to keep paying for them now.' If they are going to make a change it has to happen straight away."

It came as British holidaymakers were able to use digital vaccine passports to travel for the first time under a trial launched on Monday to slash airport queues.

Holidaymakers were able to verify their vaccine status before returning to the UK by uploading the information from their NHS app to their passenger locator form, the travel document that allows them to re-enter the UK.

The technology means that airlines and Border Force staff will no longer have to check people's vaccine status manually - one of the main causes of delays of up to four hours at airline check-ins pre-departure and on arrival in the UK.

Officials have also deployed technology that allows children to be included on their parents' passenger locator form, which means families will be able to go through airport e-gates.

Children under 18 were not previously allowed through e-gates, requiring families to have their travel documents checked by Border Force officials by hand. This has been one of the major reasons for the queues at Heathrow this summer.

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