Sajid Javid is expected to back the scrapping of passenger locator forms for all international arrivals in England before Easter, the Guardian has learned.
The health secretary has acquiesced to pressure from the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, and Tory MPs concerned about the requirement, which has remained despite domestic restrictions having been rolled back.
Currently, all travellers – apart from those arriving on internal flights or journeys that began in Ireland, the Channel Islands and Isle of Man – must complete a passenger locator form before beginning their journey to the UK.
The form became a requirement when border controls were much stricter and allowed officials to ensure people complied with quarantine rules.
It has been simplified over time, but the Ryanair boss, Michael O’Leary, complained that scrapping the forms was long overdue. He called them “completely irrelevant” because “nobody collects them, nobody checks them or follows up on them”.
Javid, Shapps and other senior ministers are expected to sign off on the decision to scrap the forms at a meeting of the Covid operations committee next Monday. A government source said the “expectation is to remove all remaining Covid border measures” and speculated that the requirement for unvaccinated travellers to get tested on arrival could also be dropped.
After the public row over Novak Djokovic’s vaccination status which culminated in his removal from Australia, the source noted it could mean the tennis player would be able to attend Wimbledon this summer.
Others doubted that Javid would back the move to end the testing requirement, particularly given the wider Covid backdrop, with cases and hospitalisations both rising.
Prof Denis Kinane, an immunologist and founder of Cignpost Diagnostics, said it was “very concerning” that the testing rule could be changed. He added: “Any move to scrap testing for unvaccinated travellers will hinder our ability to detect new variants and to analyse the mutation of the virus.”
Changes to the travel rules could come into effect in time for the Easter holidays next month, to allow families to travel abroad and return more easily.
Huw Merriman, the Conservative MP who chairs the Commons transport select committee, said he and colleagues were pushing for the forms to be dropped, adding that the Department for Transport “cannot see the point of it”.
He told the Business Travel Association’s spring conference earlier this month: “We don’t need restrictions domestically so why the heck do we need to be asking all these questions of people when they come back into the country?”
He added: “It’s our job to put it to the prime minister and then ultimately to try and get it [the form] dropped by Easter, which I’m pretty confident we’ll do. We have to constantly chip away. It’s slower than I’d like – but we do get there.”
The travel industry has been one of the heaviest hit by Covid restrictions. While its supporters concede the passenger locator form is a relatively small measure they do not think puts many people off travelling, they are keen to clear up the disparity between some rules existing for international arrivals and the lack of any domestic restrictions.