Travellers heading to the UK will no longer need to conduct post-arrival COVID-19 testing, with the government there expected to announce that it will lift all pandemic restrictions later this month, according to an exclusive report by The Sunday Times.
This is great news for fully vaccinated travellers heading to the UK from Singapore this year, who are already benefiting from the removal of a pre-departure test requirement since 7th January.
Vaccine passports, work from home requirements and mask-wearing on public transport, in schools, supermarkets, restaurants, pubs, gyms and nightclubs is also set to be scrapped in tandem with traveller testing from 26th January.
How it works now
Currently, the travel process including Day 2 testing for fully vaccinated travellers flying to the UK is:
- Pre-book a Day 2 arrival ART test
- Complete the Passenger Locator Form (including your Day 2 test booking reference)
- Complete Day 2 ART test on or before Day 2 after arrival (arrival day is Day 0)
- No self-isolation / quarantine is required
As part of the recent relaxation for pre-departure testing, the requirement to self-isolate while awaiting Day 2 test results was thankfully removed, and the test itself reverted from a more expensive PCR version to a lateral flow (ART) quick test.
Typically, a Day 2 lateral flow (ART) test costs around £16 (~S$30).
That said, the test kit itself must still be sourced from an approved private provider.
If you test positive from a Day 2 test, you must must self-isolate for 10 days, although this can be reduced subject to a negative lateral flow (ART) tests on both Day 6 and Day 7.
Day 2 testing to be abolished
According to The Sunday Times report (paywall), the requirement for fully vaccinated travellers entering the UK from overseas to take a ‘Day 2 test’, any time from their arrival (Day 0) though to the end of their second full day in the country, will be scrapped.
An announcement is due to be made on 26th January, to coincide with a relaxation of the UK’s ‘Plan B’ restrictions, which were designed to counter the Omicron variant.
The proposal means that fully vaccinated travellers departing from Singapore to the UK will only need to:
- complete a Passenger Locator Form (PLF) prior to departure; and
- show the PLF and evidence of full vaccination at the check-in desk.
Children aged 17 and under by date of birth on the date of arrival in the UK can follow the process for fully vaccinated travellers, even if they are not.
Unvaccinated travellers aged 18 or over will continue to be subject to 10 days self-isolation and two COVID-19 tests on Day 2 and Day 8, according to the report.
England typically relaxes its rules first, prior to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but for most of our readers flying non-stop to London or Manchester on Singapore Airlines or British Airways flights, it’s the England rules that apply on arrival anyway.
UK approved vaccines
To be considered fully vaccinated, you must have had a complete course (two doses, except for Janssen) of one of the following vaccines at least 14 days before you arrive in England:
- Novavax (Nuvaxovid and Covovax)
- Pfizer BioNTech
- Sinopharm Beijing
The day you have your final dose does not count as one of the 14 days.
Formulations of these vaccines, such as AstraZeneca Covishield, AstraZeneca Vaxzevria and Moderna Takeda, also qualify as approved vaccines.
The UK will become one of the simpler VTL options
Once the Day 2 test is scrapped, the UK will be one of only four of Singapore’s 24 VTL countries requiring no pre-departure or post-arrival testing in the Singapore – VTL country direction:
- UK (pending)
That will make it one of cheapest options for VTL travellers, who will only begin to incur testing costs at the pre-departure test stage on the way back to Singapore.
A professionally-administered ART (lateral flow) or PCR test is then required on the day of your flight departure, or either of the two preceding days, followed of course by the latest daily onslaught of nose-poking after touching down in Changi.
Travel to the UK on a range of flights
Remember that if you’re making a VTL trip to the UK, you aren’t restricted to non-stop Singapore Airlines or British Airways flights.
In fact you can also transit in other VTL countries or any of Singapore’s Category 1 countries en-route to your destination, without impacting your ability to take a quarantine-free VTL flight back to Singapore, regardless of your trip length.
While Hong Kong (Category 1) is not currently an option, you can transit in cities like Istanbul, Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam if those offer cheaper fares or better award availability.
If you travel to the UK via a Category 2+ country, like Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, you will have to make sure your trip is 14 days or longer in order to use a designated VTL flight on the way back to Singapore, or return sooner on any routing under prevailing SHN measures (typically, seven days of home isolation).
VTL flights UK – Singapore
Here’s a list of all the VTL flights from the UK to Singapore, operated by both British Airways and Singapore Airlines, which you’ll need to use on your return journey to benefit from quarantine-free arrival in Singapore.
The list has been recently extended to include confirmed VTL flight schedules through to late October 2022 (click to expand):
Omicron has peaked in the UK
In case you were wondering why the UK is set to relax its COVID-19 measures, it’s because the Omicron wave is basically over there.
In common with South Africa, where the first Omicron COVID-19 wave happened, cases in the UK have followed a similar pattern, with a sharp rise lasting around three weeks, but cases have now peaked and are declining as fast as they increased.
The UK recorded around 80,700 new COVID-19 cases on 15th January 2022, having peaked at over 221,200 per day on 4th January 2022.
Crucially, hospitalisations and ICU admission levels have remained much lower than the previous waves, pointing towards the milder nature of this highly transmissible variant.
Hospitalised patients in the UK have been discharged more quickly with Omicron than with previous variants because it is milder, according to Dr Susan Hopkins, the chief medical adviser to the UK Health Security Agency.
This pattern will hopefully be replicated as Omicron becomes prevalent and causes waves in other countries, including here in Singapore.
In 10 days from now, the UK is set to relax all testing requirements for arriving travellers from overseas who are fully vaccinated, which is great news for those planning a trip from Singapore, who have had to deal with restrictive and changing requirements when making a quarantine-free trip to Britain.
Domestic restrictions are also set to be relaxed from the same date, as the UK moves towards an endemic phase even with the Omicron variant, which appears to be fast passing its peak in the country having had a much lesser impact than some modelling had predicted.
If you’re travelling to the UK on or after 26th January 2022, don’t rush to book a ‘Day 2 test’, since this likely won’t be necessary, and you’ll then avoid the hassle of claiming a refund.
Let’s hope there are no more surprises between now and then, allowing travellers to make more certain, simpler and cheaper travel plans to this popular destination.
With Omicron already in Singapore, we’re also hoping for a similar (large but milder) wave here, so that some of the travel restrictions including daily testing for VTL travellers and a temporary 50% reduction in quarantine-free arrival caps can be progressively relaxed in the weeks ahead.
(Cover Photo: Heathrow Airport Limited)