Scotland is to ease coronavirus testing requirements for international travellers, bringing these in line with those in England.
Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said while the Scottish Government still has “concerns” regarding the change, ministers have “reluctantly concluded that, for practical reasons, alignment with the UK is the best option”.
The decision was made after talks with the aviation sector – which welcomed the move.
The change means pre-departure tests for travellers flying to Scotland who are fully vaccinated will be removed.
This means anyone arriving in Scotland from countries which are not on the red list, and who have been fully vaccinated in a country that meets recognised standards of certification, will no longer be required to provide evidence of a negative test result before they travel.
The post-arrival testing regime will also be aligned with that of the UK.
Mr Matheson said the Scottish Government is making the change amid concerns that Scotland could lose out if it continues to have a stricter approach than the one in place in England.
To address concerns over the impact of easing the restrictions, the minister said the Scottish Government, along with Public Health Scotland, will consider “implementation of additional public health surveillance around international travel”.
He stressed the intention is for this to be done “at no cost to travellers”.
The change was announced after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon conceded that keeping stricter testing requirements in place could see travellers from Scotland choose to fly from airports in England instead.
She said this could mean Scotland “would potentially face the economic cost of stricter travel rules, without gaining enough public health benefit to justify that cost”.
Mr Matheson said there are “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 he stated: “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.”
Edinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar said the change in stance “will be a huge bonus for Scotland’s travel and tourism sector and will provide some much-needed confidence for people who need and want to travel”.
He added: “We appreciate the Scottish Government’s moves to listen to industry this week and we understand their concerns, but we do think there must be more proportionality when it comes to balancing both the protection of public health and the importance of Scotland’s economic recovery.”
Derek Provan, chief executive of AGS Airports Ltd, which owns and operates Aberdeen and Glasgow airports, said the move is a “welcome step forward”.
He added: “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.
“A number of restrictions on travel still remain in place and we are not yet back to anything like normal operations, but we will continue to engage with Government to ensure the safe return on international travel continues.”
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