The Government has announced plans to introduce new coronavirus testing requirements for travellers heading to England from abroad.
Here the PA news agency answers some key questions on how the system will work:
– What are the new rules and who do they apply to?
Travellers arriving in England from all international destinations will have to test negative for Covid-19 before they can enter the country.
The requirement, which includes UK nationals and applies irrespective of whether a travel corridor is in place, affects passengers arriving by boat, train or plane.
They will have to take a coronavirus test up to 72 hours before leaving their country of departure.
Passengers will need to present proof of a negative test result to their carrier on boarding, while the UK Border Force will carry out spot checks at arrivals.
Travellers must still complete a passenger locator form before arrival.
– When do they take effect?
The Government has not given a specific date, but said the new rules will apply “from next week”.
It is understood officials are drafting legislation at pace in time for next week.
– Are there any exemptions?
The Government said there will be a “limited” number of exemptions, including for hauliers, children under 11, crews and those travelling from countries without the infrastructure available to deliver the tests.
Further detail is due to be provided, the Government said.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said people whose jobs mean they qualify for travel quarantine exemptions, such as elite sportsmen and women, and health workers, will be required to take a Covid test before travelling.
International arrivals to the UK will need to prove they’ve received a negative #COVID19 test taken no more than 72 hours before departure – helping to further protect people from #coronavirus. Exemptions apply.
— Dept for Transport #StayHomeSaveLives (@transportgovuk) January 8, 2021
– Do I still have to quarantine if I get a negative result?
Yes, if you are arriving from a country not on the Government’s travel corridor list.
People travelling from this limited group of countries currently do not need to self-isolate when arriving to England.
But travellers coming from destinations not on the list will be required to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of a negative test result.
– Can quarantine be shortened?
Yes. Under the test and release scheme introduced in December, this can be shortened if travellers have a private test five days after their departure and it comes back negative.
The scheme will still apply under the new rules. Tests are available from a select list of providers and can cost up to £120.
– What happens if I do not follow the new rules?
Failure to comply with the rules will result in an “immediate” £500 fine, the Government said.
– Do the new rules apply across the rest of the UK?
Scotland plans to introduce similar rules: travellers arriving from abroad will be required to have proof of a negative test taken a maximum of 72 hours before travel.
Mr Shapps said he is “pretty certain” that Wales and Northern Ireland will follow suit at “some point next week”.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said he “strongly supports” England and Scotland’s plans and that he expects the same rules to apply in Wales once international travellers can return.
– What type of test do travellers need to have?
Minimum testing standards will be set out in legislation, but it is understood this will not specify the test type.
Tests will have to take place within 72 hours of a traveller’s departure.
There are currently a range of existing tests for coronavirus, including the widely used polymerase chain reaction (PCR) nasal and throat swab tests which take between 12 and 24 hours to return results.
Other types include loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) testing, which can return results in as little as two to three hours.
Portable lateral flow swab tests can generate results in less than half an hour. They can also detect coronavirus in people who do not show symptoms.
The usage and availability of different tests is likely to vary between countries.
– How easy is it to get tests abroad?
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said the airport has the capacity to test up to 25,000 people every day to help departing passengers meet the travel rules of other countries.
But he warned that airports in other nations may not have the same capacity.
“If you’re caught out in one of those countries, and you now have these new requirements, then you’ll find it quite difficult to get the tests that are needed in order to come back home again,” he said.
“And that’s going to be a real challenge for a lot of passengers.”
– Can people travel at the moment anyway?
Lockdown restrictions currently apply across the UK, limiting international travel.
For people in England, international travel, and travel within the UK, is only legally permitted for limited reasons, such as for work.
Travellers should be aware of the risks of heading abroad, check the rules at their destination and be aware that these could change quickly.
Some tour operators, such as Tui UK, have cancelled holidays while lockdown restrictions are in place.
– Why are the new rules coming in?
Mr Shapps said the new rules are “much more urgent” because of the emergence of new coronavirus strains.
He said the “extra check” will help keep these variants, including one found in South Africa, out of the country.
The Government has already moved to temporarily suspend direct travel from South Africa to England. Anyone who travels indirectly from South Africa must self-isolate for 10 days.
– Will the new testing requirements make a difference?
The Government has faced criticism for not imposing stricter border controls earlier in the pandemic.
Labour MP and Commons Home Affairs Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper said there are still “many gaps” in the UK’s approach.
“Currently the UK still has no testing on arrival and very patchy self-isolation arrangements for arriving travellers in contrast to the strong arrival testing and quarantine arrangements that other countries have,” she said.
Mark Jit, professor of vaccine epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said modelling suggests that stopping international arrivals entering a country only makes a difference if there are very few new Covid-19 cases happening in that country, or if it is about to “tip over” into exponential growth.
“Now testing people and only allowing those who are negative to enter would have a similar impact, but possibly slightly smaller because there will be a few people who test negative even when they are positive,” he said.
Prof Jit added: “These restrictions may also make a difference if you are trying to keep a new strain of coronavirus out of your country, and hardly anyone in your country has that strain yet.”