It’s official: You’ll now be able to test out of the mandatory 14-day quarantine
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The U.K. government is shifting the way it enforces travel restrictions. On Tuesday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced that England will implement a new quarantine and test strategy for international arrivals.
As of 15 December, England will introduce a testing strategy for passengers who arrive in the country from non-travel corridor countries. As of that date, arrivals from non-travel corridor countries can choose to have their quarantine period slashed from 14 days to five days as part of what is being billed as the “Test to release for international travel” strategy — a development of the Global Travel Taskforce.
“We have a plan in place to ensure that our route out of this pandemic is careful and balanced, allowing us to focus on what we can now do to bolster international travel while keeping the public safe,” Shapps said in a statement.
After five days, passengers who arrived in England from a destination not on the travel corridors list will be able to test out of the remainder of their quarantine period. The traveller, provided they pay for the test themself from a government-approved private provider, will be able to leave quarantine if their test produces a negative result.
Passengers entering England by plane, train or ferry who are planning to use the Test to Release strategy are required to book their test from a government-approved provider before they travel. Government-approved providers will be listed on the gov.uk website once the Test to Release programme comes into effect on 15 December. These passengers must still complete a passenger locator form before travelling to England.
On arrival, the passenger must head directly from the airport, ferry port or train station to their self-isolation location. On the fifth day, the passenger can then either take their at-home test or go to a provider’s testing site. Only on receipt of the negative result can the traveller then immediately leave their self-isolation.
If, on entry to England, you don’t intend to use the Test to Release programme and note that on your passenger locator form but then change your mind to use it, you will have to resubmit the form.
Additionally, the government is keeping the option open for travellers to go about a full two-week quarantine if they so choose. In other words, if you have the flexibility and willingness to quarantine for a full two weeks, you can continue to do so if you’re arriving in England from a non-travel corridor country.
“Our new testing strategy will allow us to travel more freely, see loved ones and drive international business,” Shapps said. “By giving people the choice to test on day five, we are also supporting the travel industry as it continues to rebuild out of the pandemic.”
When travel resumed following England’s first lockdown in July, the government implemented a travel corridor approach to who it allowed to enter the country without quarantine. Each week since July, the government has added to and removed destinations from that travel corridor list, depending on their risk level.
Arrivals from any destination listed have not been required to quarantine for two weeks. However, for passengers arriving in England from any destination not on the travel corridors list, such as the United States, Italy, Spain and more, there has been a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
The government said on Tuesday that it’s going to continue to use the travel corridor approach in conjunction with the Test to Release programme. So, if you arrive from a destination that’s on the travel corridor list, such as Israel, St Lucia, The Azores and more, you do not have to quarantine or test out of quarantine. The government will continue to revisit which destinations are included on that list every week.
The government said on Tuesday that it has evidence that demonstrates “a test after five days of self-isolation provides materially better results than just having a test on arrival,” according to a press release. The delayed testing allows time for the virus to incubate, reducing the risk of a false negative result, similar to Barbados’ strategy for testing on arrival.
“Ensuring that safe travel is possible has been a priority for the Global Travel Taskforce,” Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said in a statement. “This test on day five of the 14-day self-isolation period will identify positive coronavirus cases and allow those who test negative to return to work and see their loved ones while abiding by domestic coronavirus restrictions.”
Travel industry executives have long pushed for the government to take a testing approach to travel. Since the restart of travel, Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye has pressured the government to implement a testing alternative to quarantine. Additionally, Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss and other travel leaders have pushed for the same.
Some airlines, such as United, American and British Airways have begun offering testing for passengers on routes between the U.S. and the U.K. Last week, United Airlines’ first COVID-19-free flight landed at Heathrow. Every passenger and crew member was tested for COVID-19 before being permitted to board the plane in Newark.
However, testing prior to arrival is not enough to avoid quarantine altogether, the English government has made clear. With its Test to Release approach, it’s still requiring that travellers coming from high-risk destinations self-isolate for a period of five days before being able to test out.
Still, the move to implement a testing alternative is expected to give a much-needed lift to the travel industry once it takes effect on 15 December.
The timing of the introduction is beneficial for both travellers and travel providers as well. As the Christmas holidays approach, the new Test to Release scheme will provide a more accessible way for travellers to enter England without having to quarantine for a full 14 days.
It’s worth noting that for all travellers looking to take advantage of Test to Release, the cost of the test will be out of pocket. And for the most part, home testing kits are not cheap. With most at-home or in-person clinic visits costing more than £150, it will likely not come without some thought.
Consider a family of four looking to test out of a full 14-day quarantine, they are looking at a potential £600 additional cost to their holiday. While it’s possible that prices could drop as a result of the Test to Release initiative, we will have to wait to see.
It’s also worth noting that while the introduction of a Test to Release programme will largely open England up to American travellers, Britons largely still can’t travel to the U.S. Since March, the U.S. has been closed to non-nationals who have been in Europe, the Schengen Area, China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) or Iran in the past 14 days.
There were reports that there could be an air bridge opening for travellers between London and New York, however, Tuesday’s announcement of a Test to Release programme didn’t mention anything about that possibility. However, there’s still a chance that could happen by the end of the year.
Those who breach self-isolation rules on entering England will still be subject to steep fines. Travellers arriving from non-exempt countries can be fined £1,000 for first violations and up to £10,000 for subsequent breaches.
Featured photo by Adrian Dennis/Getty Images.
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