England delays pre-departure COVID-19 testing requirement for international arrivals until Monday

Jan 14, 2021

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information.

The U.K. government has revised its plans to make pre-departure COVID-19 testing compulsory for international arrivals. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps detailed on Twitter late Wednesday night that the new testing requirement will become mandatory as of 4 a.m. on Monday 18 January.

Originally, the requirement was set to come into place as of 4 a.m. on Friday 15 January. Shapps said on his Twitter that the delay was made in order to allow travellers more time to arrange their plans.

“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 4 a.m.,” Shapps said.

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Those travelling to England by air, sea or rail must take a test at their destination up to a maximum of 72 hours before departure. The government said that a negative COVID-19 PCR result must be shown to the travel provider in order to travel to England as of 18 January.

“Transport operators will deny boarding if necessary,” the government said.

The new measure applies to all arrivals — regardless if they’re British citizens. Scotland has also introduced its own version of the pre-departure testing requirement, though international arrivals into Scotland have to show a negative COVID-19 test as of 15 January.

Passengers will also have to show their negative test result on arrival into England. Passengers who don’t have a negative test result to show will be subject to an immediate £500 fine.

The test must be either a nucleic acid test, a PCR test or a derivative technology, including loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) tests. Additionally, an antigen test, such as from a lateral flow device, will be accepted. Your test result must include your name, birth date, test result, the date the sample was collected or received by the provider, the name of the test provider and the name of the test device.

At launch, there will be some exemptions to this rule. At this time, that includes some workers, children under 11, those travelling for certain medical reasons, airline crews and for those “travelling from countries without the infrastructure available to deliver the tests.”

For example, due to limited testing infrastructure, those arriving in England from Antigua and Barbuda, St Lucia and Barbados will not need to initially comply. However, this only applies to arrivals until 4 a.m. on Thursday 21 January. Arrivals after this date will be required to comply with the pre-departure testing regulations.

Travellers coming from Ireland, the Falkland Islands, Ascension Islands and St Helena are permanently exempt from the pre-departure test requirement.

All passengers arriving from non-exempt international destinations will have to show the negative COVID-19 test, regardless if they’re coming from a travel corridor country. For travellers coming from a non-travel corridor country, not only will they have to present a negative COVID-19 test result before departure, but they will also have to self-isolate for 10 days on arrival in England.

Passengers arrive at Heathrow Airport days after new lockdown restrictions came into place on December 22, 2020 in London, England (Photo by Joseph Okpako/Getty Images)

Related: All countries, territories and regions that are on the UK’s travel corridor list

“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,” Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps said in a statement. “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 defence.”

Dozens of countries around the world have had pre-arrival testing measures in place for some time now. While the exact requirements vary from country to country, generally, most require all passengers to have a negative COVID-19 PCR test result, taken between 48 and 72 hours prior to arrival or departure.

The aviation industry at large has been pressing the government to implement a testing requirement for arriving passengers since travel began to resume last year. London Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye has long been a proponent of the testing requirement, saying it would restore passenger confidence in international travel and calling for a “common international standard.”

“The new UK test to release scheme is a vital first step in re-opening the skies, but we must now move rapidly towards a single test pre-departure regime in order to ensure the survival of UK aviation and protect 500,000 jobs reliant on the sector,” Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss said in November 2020.

Since mid-December,  England now allows passengers to test out of a full 10-day quarantine. With Test to Release, passengers arriving from non-travel corridor destinations, such as the U.S., are able to take a test five days after arriving. If the test returns a negative result, the passenger will no longer need to quarantine for the full 10 days.

Regardless of where a passenger is coming from, they will have to complete a passenger locator form before arriving into the U.K.

As of 6 January, England entered its third national lockdown. As such, non-essential travel is illegal, rendering holidays not possible at this time. However, the government is not advising Brits who are currently abroad to return home.

Related: What the new national lockdown means for your holiday plans

Featured image by SOPA Images/Getty Images.

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