International travelers will have to show a negative Covid-19 test before being allowed to enter the UK, the government said, in a significant tightening of border controls to try to stem the spread of new variants of the coronavirus.
The new rules will take effect next week and will apply to returning UK nationals as well as foreign citizens. Passengers will be required to produce a test result taken less than 72 hours before boarding planes, boats or trains to the UK, and could be fined £ 500 during point-of-time border checks without results negative.
Arrivals will still need to be quarantined for 10 days, even with a negative test, unless they come from one of the few countries deemed low risk on the government’s travel corridor list.
The move comes months after border restrictions were put in place in other countries, which have managed to end local transmission, and amid mounting pressure for tighter controls with fears over the southern variant. -African Covid.
The rules will only formally apply to England, but ministers would work closely with devolved administrations on similar measures for Wales and Northern Ireland. The Scottish government has confirmed it will adopt the same plan, while adding that it will not affect current rules which make non-essential travel to and from Scotland illegal. The rules will not apply to Irish visitors, who are also expected to put in place a similar program this week.
It comes as other countries, including France, are closing their borders to British travelers due to the new highly transmissible variant of Covid-19 first identified in the UK.
Pre-departure testing is considered safer than arrival testing in reducing the risk of infection during travel – although the aviation industry has argued that the risk of in-flight transmission is minimal.
Announcing the decision, Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps said: “We have already put in place important measures to prevent imported cases of Covid-19, but with the international development of new strains of the virus, we need to take steps. additional precautions.
“Coupled with the existing mandatory self-isolation period for passengers returning from high-risk countries, pre-departure testing will provide an additional line of defense – helping us control the virus as we roll out the vaccine on a weekly basis. to come up. ”
The legislation will be introduced early next week, the Transportation Department said, establishing testing standards and required proof of a negative test. Carriers, flight crew and children under 11 will be exempt. Passengers will still be able to reduce their isolation period by paying for another test five days after arrival, as part of the Test to Release program.
Heathrow Airport Managing Director John Holland-Kaye said: “Having called for the introduction of pre-departure testing since last April, we are supporting this development which ensures that passengers can continue to travel in completely safe. The government must now prioritize the creation of a common international standard for testing that would introduce a global process to protect confidence in future travel.
Earlier, London Mayor Sadiq Khan had urged Shapps to implement stronger measures due to capital exposure through international airports, Eurostar rail arrivals and freight ports. Contrasting the UK policy with protection restrictions in other countries, he said pre-departure testing should be combined with on-arrival testing and stricter and better enforced quarantine rules.
The government has also extended the general ban on entry from South Africa to include parts of southern African countries. From 4 a.m. on Saturday, entry will be refused to most people who have traveled from or through any country in southern Africa in the past 10 days – including Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, and the Seychelles and Mauritius holiday destinations. British and Irish nationals can re-enter but must self-isolate with their household for 10 days.