Research has found that the removal of all testing requirements on international travel would not impact the spread of Omicron in the UK.

The research, commissioned by Manchester Airports Group (MAG) and trade body Airlines UK, and conducted by Oxera and Edge Health, showed that domestic restrictions would be the only way to reduce the spread of Omicron, now the dominant variant.

According to MAG, this conclusion supports comments from the UK Health Secretary on December 8, that once Omicron had become the dominant strain, there would be no further need for travel restrictions, as they would no longer be effective in reducing the spread of the virus.  

Further findings showed that pre-departure and Day 2 PCR testing introduced in late November and early December respectively had little to no impact on Omicron case rates in the UK, compared to retaining the single Day 2 antigen test policy. 

The impact of the re-introduction of testing requirements for international travel was felt by the sector from early December, with the recovery of passenger numbers at MAG’s airports falling by more than 30% after Omicron measures were introduced. An economic impact study, conducted by Oxera at the time, showed that extra testing in response to Omicron reduced the UK aviation’s contribution to the economy by £60m per week.

Key conclusions from Oxera and Edge Health’s most recent study, on December 31, 2021, were: that the removal of all travel testing requirements in January would have no impact on the spread of Omicron in the UK; that the travel restrictions imposed in late November had virtually no distinguishable effect on Omicron case rates in the UK; and that even if the government had put in place pre-departure and Day 2 PCR testing from the beginning of November, the peak would have been delayed by only five days and would have been 3% lower. 

MAG CEO Charlie Cornish and Airlines UK CEO Tim Alderslade said, “This latest research clearly supports the position that travel testing requirements can be removed in full without impacting overall case rates and hospitalisations in the UK.

"It should give the UK Government confidence to press ahead with the immediate removal of these emergency restrictions, giving people back the freedom to travel internationally to see loved ones, explore new places and generate new business opportunities.”

They concluded, “Travel restrictions come at huge cost to the travel industry, and to the UK economy as a whole, placing jobs at risk and holding back the recovery of one of our most important sectors. It is therefore vital they do not remain in place a day longer than is necessary.”