Former Prime Minister Theresa May Urges Johnson to Drop COVID-19 Tests for Travellers

By Tim Ogden
Tim Ogden
Tim Ogden
Tim Ogden is a freelance journalist with a particular focus on the former Soviet Union.
January 20, 2022Updated: January 20, 2022

Former British Prime Minister Theresa May has urged the UK government to abandon mandatory COVID-19 testing for travellers arriving in England, as the administration is set to lift most other coronavirus restrictions next week.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Jan. 19 that the British government will be removing its “Plan B” restrictions in England, which were developed as a contingency plan in September but did not come into force until early December.

The introduction of Plan B measures followed the emergence of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus and its subsequent rapid spread.

The restrictions included a return to mandatory mask-wearing in shops, public buildings, and on public transport, as well as recommendations to work from home where possible and undergo vaccination.

While the government continues to urge the public to receive a booster vaccine, the restrictions will still be lifted and the need to self-isolate for people who test positive for COVID-19 will end at the latest on March 24.

However, May, who was succeeded by Johnson in 2019, told the House of Commons on Jan. 19 that the prime minister had not made any mention of ending the tests that are still required for people entering the country.

Quoting back to the prime minister his earlier statement of “needing to learn to live with COVID,” May stated that “we need to facilitate travel.” She cited concerns from professionals in the aviation industry, which has suffered badly since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020; these were echoed by Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, a backbench group that has consistently opposed government-mandated COVID-19 restrictions.

When May asked the prime minister to clarify that when the Plan B restrictions are lifted, the government will also end testing for people coming to England, Johnson replied that the testing arrangements for travel remain under review.

He added that Health Secretary Sajid Javid will release a statement in the coming days.

The prime minister’s announcement on dropping Plan B was well-received by his own party, but produced a negative reaction from the National Education Union and warnings against “complacency” from the National Health Service Confederation.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer stated that he would support the move as long as the prime minister could show it is backed by evidence.

During his reply to May, the prime minister drew attention to his view that the public must understand that getting a booster shot “is going to be a crucial thing to do.”

The Plan B restrictions will be lifted on Jan. 26.