Change of policy
Holyrood u-turn brings Scots airports in line with England
Scottish airports have called for greater assistance
Testing for inbound international travel is to be eased and will align with the UK after Nicola Sturgeon’s government reversed its earlier decision to diverge from Westminster guidelines.
Scottish Transport Secretary Michael Mathieson said the change of policy followed “consideration of the logistical, health and economic implications”.
Pre-departure tests for fully vaccinated travellers will be removed. Travellers from non-red list countries who have been fully vaccinated in a country that meets recognised standards of certifications will no longer be required to provide evidence of a negative test result before they can travel to Scotland.
In its statement the government said that “for practical purposes”, Scotland will also align with the UK post-arrival testing regime.
“Details for the UK are still being finalised and we will continue to engage with the UK Government ahead of confirmation as soon as possible.”
The u-turn on testing follows widespread criticism from the aviation and tourism sectors that retaining restrictions in Scotland that were being removed in England would put business north of the border in jeopardy.
Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh airport, said earlier this week that some travellers were getting around the rules by using English airports.
Responding to today’s announcement, Derek Provan, chief executive of AGS Airports, which owns and operates Aberdeen and Glasgow airports, said: “This will mean that pre-departure testing to return to Scotland will no longer be needed as of Monday 4 October and free lateral flow testing will soon replace the expensive PCR current requirement.
Derek Provan: ‘a welcome step forward’
“While this is something we have been urging the Scottish Government to do for months, and the subsequent delay has negatively impacted the industry in Scotland and AGS as a group, it is a welcome step forward.
“By ensuring Scotland has parity with the rest of the UK, this decision is one that will deliver much-needed consumer confidence for our passengers to start travelling again and for our airline partners to look at increasing capacity at our airports.
Joanne Dooey, president of The Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA), said the move was welcome but the decision came too late to prevent many Scots booking holidays through English airports.
“The removal of the pre departure in-destination test and the change to an initial lateral flow test on arrival back in Scotland is hugely welcome, but the delays which Scottish travellers experience with the confirmation of these changes does nothing to instil confidence to travel to and from Scotland.
“There’s unlikely to be a rush to the travel agents this weekend to book for October breaks during the school holidays, as the timing means that most families will be unable to organise the time off work now to go on a family break.
“Those who did want to travel have already booked flights departing from English airports.
Liz Cameron, chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “This decision was always more than just about international travel and tourism – it’s about securing business investment, international trade and exports, and supporting the many thousands of jobs that are supported by Scotland’s connectivity with the world.”
Separately, in consultation with Public Health Scotland, the Scottish Government will consider how additional safeguards and surveillance of inward travel can be implemented to guard against the importation of new variants. This will be at no cost to travellers. Details will be set out in due course.
Mr Mathieson said: “We have concerns that the UK Government’s proposals to remove the requirement for a pre-departure test for some travellers could weaken our ability to protect the public health of Scotland’s communities.
“However, we also recognise that not having UK wide alignment causes significant practical problems and creates disadvantages for Scottish businesses. Also, if non alignment led to travellers to Scotland choosing to route through airports elsewhere in the UK, the public health benefits of testing would be undermined in any event.
“We have urgently considered all these implications, weighing any possible impact on the public health and the logistical realities.
“After liaising at length with stakeholders from the aviation sector to understand the impact of adopting a different approach in Scotland, we have reluctantly concluded that, for practical reasons, alignment with the UK is the best option.
“The new proposals make clear pre-departure tests will no longer be a requirement. We also intend to align with the UK post-arrival testing regime. The detail of that is still being developed with lateral flow tests being considered and we will engage further with the UK Government on those plans. Details will be announced at the same time as the UK.
“Lastly, the importance of guarding against new variants entering the country can’t be ignored. We will therefore be considering, with Public Health Scotland, the implementation of additional public health surveillance around international travel. We would intend this to be at no cost to travellers.”
The traffic light system of checks for international travel put in place to protect the public health comes to an end on 4 October.
Travellers from red list countries, and those that haven’t been fully vaccinated, will need to comply with existing restrictions.