The UK government recently introduced mandatory COVID testing, presenting a negative COVID result before they enter the UK. This applies to people arriving by plane, train or boat and needs to be taken up to 72 hours before travelling. The new rule will apply to both international travelers and UK nationals. The obligation was due to come into effect from 4am GMT on Friday the 15th of January following the government’s announcement on the 8th of January. This rule has already been pushed back by three days, now due to come into force on Monday the 18th of January at 4am.
Grant Shapps, the UK governments Transport Secretary, tweeted late on Wednesday night hours prior to the regulation coming into effect: “To give international arrivals time to prepare, passengers will be required to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test before departure to England from Monday 18 January at 4am.”
However, Sky News interviewed safeguarding minister, Victoria Atkins, who had a slightly different explanation, stating it was for economic reasons: ‘“There’s a very delicate balancing act here between controlling the virus but also ensuring that we are not putting too much of a burden on the economy,” adding “We have listened to the concerns that many people had about whether the message has quite got through to people who are making the flights over the weekend, and we have acted in relation to those concerns.”
Many are outraged at the delay of a measure, as the UK battles high numbers of COVID cases and fatalities, and the UK is in its third national lockdown to reduce the spread. Many have argued that these regulations should have been put into effect months ago. According to the BBC, the initial announcement of ‘test before travel’ came ‘after a further 1,162 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were reported in the UK on Thursday – the second consecutive day of more than 1,000 recorded fatalities. There were also 52,618 new cases. The R number – the average number of people that one infected person will infect – is now between one and 1.4, scientists have estimated.’
The new regulations will require passengers entering the UK to present a negative COVID-19 test taken up to 72 hours prior to departure, those that do not comply will be subject to an immediate fine of £500. Spot checks by the UK border force will be utilized to ensure compliance. Those that have been found to be positive will not be allowed to travel, follow the local guidance in the country which they are in and contact the nearest consulate should they need support. The UK government website outlined:
- ‘all passengers arriving from countries not on the government’s travel corridor list will still be required to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of test result.’
- ‘passengers will still be required to fill in a passenger locator form and be subject to national lockdown restrictions.’
Exemptions will be apparently made for children under 11, haulers, arrivals from the Common Travel Area within Ireland and those travelling from countries that are unable to deliver tests. According to ITV news, travelers will need to take an internationally approved test and to this, transport minister Robert Courts said: “We will keep test standards and innovative testing technologies under review.” The rules will apply to every country in the world including the UK’s travel corridor list – a list of countries that you could travel to the UK from without needing to self-isolate, any countries outside of the list would require undertaking self-isolation after arrival.
On the initial announcement of the ‘test before travel’ scheme in early January, Grant Shapps said: ‘we already have significant measures in place to prevent imported cases of COVID-19, but with new strains of the virus developing internationally we must take further precautions. Taken together with the existing mandatory self-isolation period for passengers returning from high-risk countries, pre-departure tests will provide a further line of defense – helping us control the virus as we roll out the vaccine at pace over the coming weeks.’
Other countries have brought in or are bringing in similar restrictions, meaning that travelers can only enter the country with a negative COVID test. In the USA, the CDC recently announced: ‘On January 12, 2021, CDC issued an Order requiring all air passengers arriving to the US from a foreign country to get tested no more than 3 days before their flight departs and to provide proof of the negative result or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 to the airline before boarding the flight. This Order will go into effect on January 26, 2021’