Isolation to £500 fines — our guide to new rules on Covid tests when travelling

FROM Monday, people travelling to England must show proof of a negative Covid test before they will be let into the country.

Tests must be taken in the 72 hours before boarding a plane, train or ferry.

But the scheme is off to a bad start, as confused messaging from the Department for Transport forced Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to delay rollout by three days.

On Thursday, Mr Shapps tweeted that the pushback was “to give international arrivals time to prepare”.

Passengers needed the extra time after the DfT was days late publishing details of which tests would be required in time for people to be tested.

Holidays are currently banned but with most countries now enforcing “test before you travel” rules, the new measures could easily impact plans for overseas holidays throughout 2021.

JACOB LEWIS looks at the new screening scheme.

What are the rules?

Before boarding a boat, train or plane for Eng-land, all passengers must present a negative Covid test result taken no less than 72 hours before the trip.

As of writing, Wales and Northern Ireland have yet to publish when their pre-departure screening requirements will come into effect, while Scotland’s came into effect yesterday at 4am.

What test do I need?

All three main test types (PCR, LAMP and an antigen test, such as a lateral flow device) will be accepted.

Travellers are left to find a test, with strict rules on accuracy.

Holidaymakers must check with their test provider that the testing meets standards “greater than or equal to 97 per cent specificity, greater than or equal to 80 per cent sensitivity at viral loads above 100,000 copies/ml”.

What if the country I’m in does not offer tests?

You should be able to book a private test in most countries.

But people returning from St Lucia, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda are exempt until Thursday, due to their lack of facilities.

What would happen if I tested positive?

Not only would you not be allowed to board your return flight home, you also face self-isolating in a foreign country for up to two weeks.

Destinations such as Spain, Italy and Dubai enforce a quarantine on anyone who tests positive for the virus.

Can I skip quarantine with a negative test taken before I travel?

No. A negative test result only gets you back into the country.

Once back in the UK you still need to self-isolate for ten days. Any exceptions?

Hauliers, children under 11 and flight and international rail crew are all exempt, along with travellers from the Common Travel Area, which includes the Republic of ­Ireland, Channel Islands and Isle of Man.

How will rules be enforc­ed?

Border Force officials will be carrying out spot-checks and handing out fines for a minimum of £500.

Airlines and train and ferry operators must check a passenger has proof of a negative test and they will be fined if caught transporting rule-breakers.

What are the quarantine rules?

Boris Johnson announced yesterday that all travel corridors are to be suspended from 4am on Monday.

This means all international passengers travelling to England must complete a passenger locator form before arrival and must then self-isolate for a full ten days.

Can I still test to leave quarantine on day five?


You will still be able to take a test on day five of isolation and leave home once you have received a negative result.

Any other rules I should know about?

The new strain of the virus first found in South Africa means anyone who has been in that country — plus Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Eswatini, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique, Angola, Seychelles and Mauritius — is banned from entering the UK entirely.

UK residents are allowed home but must self-isolate for ten days.

What does the travel industry say?

Airline groups say the changes need to be temporary.

Industry trade body Airlines UK warned against mandatory testing becoming a long-term solution and called for cheaper, quicker testing.

Airlines UK boss Tim Alderslade said: “We recognise the Government’s need to act now and support the introduction of pre-departure testing to keep the country safe and borders open.

“But this should be a short-term, emergency measure. Once the rollout of the vaccine accelerates, the focus must be on returning travel to normal as quickly as possible in order to support the economic recovery.”

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye, who supported the move, said: “We have always argued for pre-departure testing as an alternative to quarantine and because we are now going to have both, this is a belt-and-braces approach. It can only be a temporary measure.”


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