NICOLA Sturgeon has climbed down after a backlash from the tourism industry and abandoned plans for continued Covid tests for international travellers to Scotland.
Her administration today confirmed the testing regime will be “eased and will align with the UK following consideration of the logistical, health and economic implications”.
SNP Transport Secretary Michael Matherson said: “We have reluctantly concluded that, for practical reasons, alignment with the UK is the best option.”
It follows an outcry from Scottish travel operators, who warned the tourism industry was being put at “serious risk” by different regimes in England and Scotland.
The Scottish Tourism Alliance said there was a grave concern that international bookings, revenue and visitors were already being lost, and it could “destroy any hopes of a recovery in 2022”.
On Tuesday, the First Minister told MSPs she had “real concerns” about following England’s example and ending the need for negative PCR tests for international travel into the country.
However she also admitted that if Scotland and England had different regimes, there was a risk that people living in Scotland might simply use airports south of the border instead.
“In those circumstances, we would potentially face the economic cost of stricter travel rules, without gaining enough public health benefit to justify that economic cost,” she said.
The upshot is that pre-departure tests for fully vaccinated travellers to Scotland will now be removed.
The Government said 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”.
For practical purposes, Scotland will also align with the UK post-arrival testing regime.
Separately, and in consultation with Public Health Scotland, the Scottish Government will consider additional safeguards to guard against the importation of new Covid variants.
Transport Secretary Michael Matheson 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.”
He added: “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 current traffic light system of checks for international travel comes to an end on October 4.
Business leaders welcomed the change of direction.
Dr Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “This will come as huge relief for Scotland’s aviation sector and the wider Scottish economy.
“For weeks businesses have been in negotiations with the Scottish Government, highlighting the importance of maintaining a four nations approach, to ensure the sector remains competitive and well placed to recover sustainably.
“Divergence in international travel restrictions and testing regimes would have placed Scotland and it’s airports at a significant economic disadvantage.
“Consumers would also have faced higher prices to travel to and from Scottish airports, risking businesses losing custom to competitors in other parts of the UK.
“It’s positive that the Scottish Government have listened to the concerns of industry and reached the same conclusions.
“This sends a clear signal to the world that Scotland is open for business. 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.”
Gordon Dewar, Chief Executive of Edinburgh Airport welcomed the “huge bonus for Scotland’s travel and tourism sector”.
He said: “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.
“We look forward to continuing to work with the government to address concerns and ensure Scotland’s industries can restart as safely as possible.”
Tory MSP Graham Simpson said: “This SNP climbdown will come as a relief to businesses in Scotland’s much overlooked tourism and aviation industries.
“However, such a late U-turn means Scottish airports have missed out on any potential recovery that could have been made during the October break.
“The SNP-Green Government need to realise that this affects more than just holidaymakers and the aviation industry. Their slow decision will have had a damaging impact on jobs and businesses in Scotland.”