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People walk and cycle over Waterloo Bridge during morning rush hour, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in London, on Jan. 21.HENRY NICHOLLS/Reuters

The British government is scrapping its last remaining COVID-19 restriction for fully vaccinated travellers and returning to test-free travel for the first time since the fall of 2020.

As of Feb. 11, vaccinated travellers to England will no longer have to take a COVID-19 test within 48 hours of their arrival. The government ditched preflight tests earlier this month, which means that once the new change takes effect, vaccinated passengers will face no COVID-19 restrictions. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are expected to follow suit.

“It’s obvious to me now that border testing for vaccinated travellers has outlived its usefulness and we’re therefore scrapping all travel tests for vaccinated people,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the House of Commons on Monday. “We’re moving into a new phase in the fight against COVID. Instead of protecting the U.K. from a pandemic, our future depends on us living with endemic COVID, just as we live with flu.”

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Mr. Shapps said the government will also ease self-isolation rules for travellers who are not vaccinated and Britain will start accepting vaccine certificates from China and 15 additional countries.

The changes have been welcomed by the travel sector, which had been calling on the government to lift the testing regulation before the half-term school break begins in mid-February. “This is a landmark day for passengers, businesses and the U.K.,” said Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, which represents the aviation industry. Monday’s announcement “brings international travel towards near-normality for the fully vaccinated.”

Johan Lundgren, easyJet’s chief executive officer, said the airline was now planning for strong summer bookings and he urged the government to think twice about imposing similar measures in future. “We believe testing for travel should now firmly become a thing of the past,” he said Monday. “It is clear travel restrictions did not materially slow the spread of Omicron in the U.K. and so it is important that there are no more knee-jerk reactions to future variants.”

Several other European countries, including Ireland, France and Germany, have also begun to lift some restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers, although Britain has gone further than most.

Canada’s travel sector has been appealing to the federal government to make a similar move. Canada still requires fully vaccinated travellers to take a predeparture PCR test and passengers can face further testing on arrival.

“Now that Omicron has made its way into Canadian communities, it is important we shift policies to reflect the realities of the current COVID-19 situation,” the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable said in a press release last week. “Canada’s international peers, like the United Kingdom and Israel, have already done so.”

Mr. Shapps’s announcement coincides with the U.K. government beginning to lift nearly all COVID-19 restrictions across most of the country. As of Thursday, face masks will no longer be mandatory in public places in England and the government has dropped advice for people to work from home. Vaccine passports will also no longer be mandatory, although they have only been required at nightclubs and large events such as soccer games. Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have also begun to lift some measures.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also indicated that by the end of March, if not sooner, people who test positive for COVID-19 will no longer have to self-isolate. “Although we have to be cautious, we are now moving through the Omicron wave, and you can see the figures are starting to get better,” Mr. Johnson said Monday.

Britain has seen a steady fall in COVID-19 infections in recent days as the Omicron wave recedes. The number of new daily cases topped 200,000 on Jan. 4 but it has recently fallen below 100,000. On Monday, health officials reported 88,447 new cases. Hospitalizations have also declined 12 per cent in the past seven days and dipped below 2,000 on Monday.

Many health experts have cautioned that infection levels remain high in Britain and that the pandemic is far from over. “The strong desire to return to normal is understandable, but we should be cautious,” said Peter English, past chair of the British Medical Association’s public health medicine committee. “SARS-CoV-2 has not gone away. It will continue to mutate, to become more infectious and to evade immunity from previous infection or vaccination.”

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