England will soon require all travellers arriving in the country to take a COVID-19 test within 72-hours of departure and ruler breakers face an immediate £500 fine as the country struggles to contain a surging third wave of Coronavirus infections. Grant Shapps, the UK’s transport minister said mandatory pre-departure testing, which will be in addition to existing self-isolation rules, would “provide a further line of defence” to prevent importation of the virus.
Despite repeatedly rejecting the idea of pre-departure testing for months, Shapps finally acknowledged that requiring travellers to take a test before entering the country could be useful in someone who is already infectious importing the virus. The British government decided to act after new variants of the virus, especially one found in South Africa, caused alarm at the high rate of transmissibility and fears the variants could thwart recently approved vaccines.
While the British government said the new rules would come into effect next week, the Department for Transport was not immediately able to say exactly when the requirement would be made law. Nor was the government able to say what type of tests would be approved.
Many countries and territories, including Dubai which was the first to introduce pre-departure testing in July 2020, require molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests that are more expensive and take hours to process in a lab. England could, however, also approve rapid tests that are more easily accessible and able to provide results from 30 to 90 minutes.
The rules will apply to all travellers over the age of 11 entering England, except for limited exemptions like aircrew and hauliers. It will be the responsibility of airlines to check that passengers have evidence of a negative COVID-19 test dated within 72-hours of departure.
It was believed that the British government had considered imposing the rules for just foreign visitors but on Thursday, Shapps confirmed the rules would also include British citizens.
If travellers arrive in the country from a ‘high risk’ destination, they will also have to self-isolate for 10-days or take a second test on day five of quarantine for early release.
The rules are similar to those drawn up by the Canadian government that requires proof of a negative test, alongside mandatory self-isolation. The airline industry slammed Canada last week for the policy, saying pre-departure testing should be used to reduce or totally eliminate quarantine periods.
Analysts believe the British government was eventually convinced to introduce mandatory pre-departure testing over its botched attempt to prevent importation of the South African variant. The government quickly banned direct flights but did nothing to screen passengers who travelled from South Africa via a third country.
“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,” Shapps commented on Thursday.
“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,” he continued.
The government is expected to publish further details on the new rules in the next few days. There are separate rules for passengers arriving in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.