All international passengers will soon have to test negative for Covid-19 before travelling to the UK.
People arriving by plane, train or boat, including UK nationals, will have to take a test up to 72 hours before leaving the country they are in.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said travellers “can’t board… without having that negative test”.
It will be on top of the rule to self-isolate for 10 days when arriving in the UK.
Mr Shapps said the government was “very keen to do it now” because of the new variant of the virus circulating in South Africa, which he said was “causing great concern with the scientists”.
“They’re not sure whether for example the vaccine will be able to deal with it in the first place, and we’re very, very keen to keep it out,” he told BBC Breakfast.
The new measures are expected to come into force across the UK from next week,
It comes after a further 1,162 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were reported in the UK – the second consecutive day of more than 1,000 recorded fatalities. There were also 52,618 new cases.
Amid the surge in cases, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to offer “hundreds of thousands” of Covid vaccines per day in England by 15 January.
Under the new rules, anyone who arrives in the UK and has not got proof of a negative test could face an immediate £500 fine.
But there will be exemptions for:
- children under 11
- those travelling from countries without the infrastructure to deliver tests – although details of those have not been released yet
- arrivals from the Common Travel Area with Ireland.
All passengers arriving from countries not on the government’s travel corridor list must still self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their test result.
Mr Shapps told LBC the testing rule will come into force “likely on Wednesday or Thursday next week”, and details of how to get tests abroad will be published on the gov.uk website.
The rule will be UK-wide, although non-essential travel to and from Scotland and Wales is already banned.
The Welsh government said there were currently no international passengers arriving into Wales through Cardiff Airport, but “when they do, they will be subject to the same requirements as the rest of the UK”.
‘Belt and braces’ rules
Members of the aviation industry, which has been devastated by the pandemic, acknowledged the need for testing but urged ministers to lift the rules as quickly as possible.
“If this will help, then so be it,” said John Holland-Kaye, the boss of Heathrow, which has had testing facilities for months.
But he said it was a “really belt and braces approach”, adding: “We have always argued for pre-departure testing as an alternative to quarantine… now we’re going to have both”.
“And it can only be a temporary measure, very few people will travel with this in place,” he added, calling for the government to set out a plan of how to lift the measures.
He also called for a “common international standard for testing” so countries had consistency, saying it was “confusing” for travellers.
Asked when he reckoned travel could return to normal, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We are anticipating that as the vaccination starts to take effect in the UK and in other countries, we’ll see flights starting to come back and passenger numbers building up through the summer and then into the autumn.”
Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of the industry body Airlines UK, said the move should be “a short-term, emergency measure only”.
“Once the rollout of the vaccine accelerates, the focus must be on returning travel to normal as quickly as possible”, he added, including “removing the need to quarantine or test”.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the new measures were “necessary” but highlighted that the opposition party “has been calling for a comprehensive strategy on testing for international travel since April”.
It comes after England banned travellers from countries near South Africa to stop the spread of the new local Covid variant.
The latest travel curbs come as all of the UK is under strict Covid rules, with lockdowns in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and most of Scotland – meaning there is very little international travel.
At a Downing Street press conference on Thursday, the prime minister confirmedalmost 1.5 million people in the UK had now received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, but warned there would likely be “lumpiness and bumpiness” as the rollout continued.
The government has set a target to offer vaccination slots to the top four priority groups – including all over-80s – by 15 February.
Source: BBC News