New rules requiring travellers arriving in England to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test before making their journey have been delayed “to give international arrivals time to prepare”.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps last week announced that passengers arriving in England by boat, train or plane – including UK nationals – will have to test negative for Covid-19 up to 72 hours before leaving their country of departure.
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The restrictions were due to come into force at 4am this Friday 15 January, but the rules will now not be in place until the same time on Monday 18 January.
The delay comes amid concerns over a new strain of coronavirus discovered in Brazil. The Government is said to be preparing to ban flights from Brazil in a bid to limit the cases of a new Covid variant reaching the UK, with an announcement expected on Thursday.
UPDATE: 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 4am ????
— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) January 13, 2021
In a statement on Twitter announcing the change to the travel requirement, Mr Shapps said: “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 4am.”
Victoria Atkins, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Safeguarding was questioned about the change on Thursday by Sky News presenter Niall Paterson. “We are almost a year on from identifying Covid-19 on our shores and we are still not testing anyone arriving into the country. Why is that?” he said.
“We have had some travel restrictions, indeed quarantine restrictions have been enforced for some time,” Ms Atkins told the broadcaster. “But there’s a very delicate balancing act here between controlling the virus, but also ensuring that we are not putting too much of a burden on the economy. We have been decisive in the way we’ve dealt with travel restrictions.”
The Government defended the delay to the broadcaster (Photo: Sky News)
“I think others would disagree,” Mr Paterson said. “People in the UK were told they couldn’t go to the shops with 24 hours’ notice. Why are we providing non-UK nationals an additional four days to pick up a test? Why are we allowing these people to come into the country without a test?”
“We’ve had very strong travel restrictions in terms of leaving the country for some time now. We have listened to the concerns many people had about whether the message had quite got through to people making the flights over the weekend, and we have acted in relation to those concerns,” Ms Atkins replied.
Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, described the delay in introducing the new rules as “truly shocking”.
She wrote on Twitter on Wednesday night: “Questioned PM repeatedly today on why border testing/quarantine is weaker than other countries.
Questioned PM repeatedly today on why border testing/quarantine is weaker than other countries
Repeatedly he said Govt is bringing in new testing (months later than elsewhere but due Fri)
But now it’s not. More delays. As they haven’t published guidance in time https://t.co/IrEmcyTOYE
— Yvette Cooper (@YvetteCooperMP) January 13, 2021
“Repeatedly he said Government is bringing in new testing (months later than elsewhere but due Friday). “But now it’s not. More delays. As they haven’t published guidance in time.”
Fines for non-compliance
When the new rules come into effect, travellers will need to present proof of a negative test result to their carrier on boarding while the UK Border Force will conduct spot checks on arrivals.
Travellers will have to take an internationally approved test and guidance released by the Department for Transport said this could include PCR tests, the nasal and throat swab tests which take between 12 and 24 hours to return results.
Loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) tests, which can return results in two to three hours, and lateral flow tests which generate results in less than 30 minutes, are also acceptable.
All travellers to the UK will need to present a negative Covid test from 15 January (Photo: Getty)
Results can be produced as physical documents or by email or text, but must be in English, French or Spanish. Translations will not be accepted.
New arrivals who flout the rules will face a minimum £500 fine, while the operator that transported them will also be fined. Passengers will still have to quarantine for 10 days regardless of their test results.
British nationals attempting to return home who test positive must not travel and must follow the local guidance in their host country, and contact the nearest consulate if they need support.
Scotland is also set to adopt the same approach to international travellers, while Wales and Northern Ireland are expected to announce their own plans for pre-arrival testing in the coming days.
i has contacted the Department for Transport for comment.
Additional reporting by Press Association