Anyone travelling into the UK will soon be required to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test, taken up to 72 hours prior to departure.
This comes as part of a significant toughening of border controls, as the Government attempts to control the rapid rise of Covid cases in the country.
Announcing the move, the transport secretary, 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 defence – helping us control the virus as we roll out the vaccine at pace over the coming weeks.”
So how will this work? How much will it cost? Who will need to take the test? And which countries will it apply to? Here, we explain what we know about the UK's new testing requirements.
Which countries will it apply to?
This will apply to arrivals from all countries. The travel corridors list has now been suspended indefinitely.
Will any countries be exempt?
Travellers from three overseas territories – St Helena, Ascension Island and the Falkland Islands – will be exempt due to lack of testing infrastructure.
Passengers from Antigua and Barbuda, St Lucia and Barbados will be exempt until 4am on January 21, also due to a lack of testing infrastructure in those countries.
Arrivals from the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands will not be required to take a test before travelling to England. Nor will anyone travelling to England from Scotland, Wales, Ireland or Northern Ireland.
Who needs to take a test?
Every passenger over the age of 11 will need to take a test, including returning UK residents and foreign nationals.
Will I still need to quarantine on arrival?
Now that the Government has slashed the UK's travel corridors list, everyone will have to quarantine on arrival – even if their test is negative. They will be able to end their self-isolation after taking a second test after five days.
When will this begin?
The new policy comes into force from 4am on January 18 2021. This is an extension of the original deadline of January 15, after delays in the roll out of the new measures.
What type of test will I need to get?
The Government says the test must:
Meet performance standards of ≥97% specificity, ≥80% sensitivity at viral loads above 100,000 copies/ml
This could include tests such as: a nucleic acid test, including a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or derivative technologies, including loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) tests an antigen test, such as a test from a lateral flow device
What information needs to be on my certificate?
The Government says you need the following information:
Your name, which should match the name on your travel documents
Your date of birth or age
The result of the test the date the test sample was collected or received by the test provider
The name of the test provider and their contact details
The name of the test device
How much will it cost?
The cost of a private PCR test varies from country to country. In the UK, a (non-NHS) test costs anywhere from £80 for a home kit to £300 for guaranteed same-day result. Clinics in other countries typically offer the test for significantly less. Rapid antigen tests are cheaper – around £60 to £100 in the UK and cheaper overseas.
How will this be enforced?
Arrivals will still need to fill in a passenger locator form (as they already do, before arriving in the UK) and will be liable to £10,000 fines if they breach quarantine.
Anyone who travels to the UK without a negative Covid certificate faces a fine of up to £500. It will be the responsibility of airlines to check certificates, and Border Force will carry out further compliance checks on arrivals.
Will anyone be exempt?
People doing the following jobs do not need to take a test:
border and customs officials
channel tunnel system workers
air, maritime and rail crew
civil aviation inspectors
people transporting human cells and blood products
seamen and masters and inspectors and surveyors of ships
specialist technical workers - goods and services
Also, in limited circumstances:
defence personnel, visiting forces and government contractors
foreign government officials
UK government officials conducting essential state business, essential government work or essential policing
Does this apply to the whole of the UK?
The rules apply to the whole of the UK, Boris Johnson confirmed on January 15.
Can I travel right now?
No. Due to the new national lockdown in England, and strict new lockdown measures in the devolved nations, all UK citizens are being advised to stay home and avoid non-essential travel.
Don’t I already need to get a test to travel?
No. In December Home Secretary Priti Patel wrongly said we need to take a test before travel. Only certain countries require a negative Covid-19 certificate from UK arrivals right now.
But it is something that leading figures in travel industry have been lobbying for since last summer. Heathrow Airport tweeted yesterday to reiterate its position: “We continue to request that the UK government establish a common international standard for pre-departure testing to ensure safer travel to and from all destinations.”
How long will this be the rule for?
This is uncertain, but industry insiders are calling for there to be an end in sight. Paul Charles, CEO of the PC Agency, said: “This has to be a policy that has an end point, otherwise it will put people off flying,” he said. “It has to be removed once vaccination is fully up and running.”
Transport Under-secretary of state for Transport Robert Courts said: "Measures are likely to be in place until the end of the current lockdown, although a review will take place before the end of that period."
Full details of the Government's test before arrival scheme can be found here.