Transport secretary Grant Shapps has announced the end of all coronavirus border restrictions in the UK, reopening frictionless travel for the first time in nearly two years.

Travellers arriving in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland from 4am on Friday will no longer need to fill out a passenger locator form, and unvaccinated people will not need to take a coronavirus test before departing for the UK and after their arrival.

Shapps said the changes were thanks to the UK’s vaccine programme and would mean “greater freedom in time for Easter”.

“The UK is leading the world in removing all remaining Covid-19 travel restrictions,” he said.

After clamping down on international travel with some of the strictest rules in Europe at the height of the pandemic, the decision puts the UK in a different position to many other European countries and the US, where there are still some restrictions including a requirement to show proof of vaccination.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry group Airlines UK, said the UK was the first major aviation market to announce a complete lifting of all coronavirus-related travel rules, and the decision meant “the UK travel sector is back”.

“With travellers returning to the UK no longer burdened by unnecessary forms and testing requirements, we can now look forward to the return to pre-Covid normality throughout the travel experience,” he said.

The Department for Transport said the UK would retain contingency measures for dealing with variants of concern, but these would not include hotel quarantine and that the default position would be to use “the least stringent measures” possible.

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Travel executives had expected the passenger locator form to be scrapped imminently, but the end of all rules, including for unvaccinated travellers, will come as a welcome boost to the industry.

Virgin Atlantic said the decision would help to “further restore consumer confidence” for the busy spring and summer seasons, but warned the government needed to work with the industry to make sure the UK border can cope with rising passenger numbers.

The caution echoed comments from London’s Heathrow airport last week, which said it was “particularly concerned over Border Force’s ability to scale up to meet demand” during peak periods in the summer holidays.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, which represents UK tourism businesses, said the removal of restrictions would give “a real boost to consumer confidence” and “a clear signal that Britain is open to international visitors”. But she warned that “the big problem is the uncertain situation in Ukraine” with the war impacting both “fragile” business confidence and costs.

The lifting of the final travel requirements was “the beginning of the end, not the end in itself”, Nicholls added, with long-suffering travel businesses in need of ongoing government support.

Heathrow, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic on Monday also announced plans to phase out requiring passengers to wear masks while travelling.

The UK’s busiest airport said it would end its mandatory mask rules from Wednesday, while BA and Virgin both said that from Wednesday flyers will only have to wear a mask when on routes to or from countries where local mask mandates applied.

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