Covid testing before travel to the UK: What we know so far – The Independent

Passengers to the UK by air, sea and rail will be required to present a negative coronavirus test certificate before they are allowed to travel.

But when does this requirement start? What kind of test is needed? And are there any exceptions?

These are the essential questions and answers.

What is happening – and why?

Governments of the UK nations are keen to reduce the chances that coronavirus infections – particularly of the new South African variant – are brought in by incoming travellers. So pre-travel tests will be demanded from passengers before they board flights, ferries or trains to the UK.

The measure will apply to arrivals from all foreign countries except the republic of Ireland.

England and Scotland have announced the measure – with few details – while Wales and Northern Ireland are expected to implement the same rules.

Scotland’s transport secretary Michael Matheson, said: “The requirement for pre-departure testing will add to our suite of public health measures as we seek to help drive down transmission of the virus to safeguard health, protect the NHS and save lives.”

Airlines, ferry firms and rail operators will be required to ensure that travellers meet the requirement. Anyone who gets through to the UK border without a test faces a fine of £500.

Under-11s, lorry drivers and crew for aircraft, ships and trains are exempt.

What sort of test will be required?

The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “We’ve been very flexible about the kinds of tests.” Lateral-flow tests and loop-mediated isothermal amplification (Lamp) tests will be allowed, in addition to the NHS-standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

Lamp and lateral flow tests can be processed on site – for example at the departure airport.

It is not known what standard of proof will be required yet.

How will it be enforced?

Airlines, train operators and ferry firms will check documentation, with fines imposed if they fail to do so.

On arrival, the UK Border Force is expected to carry out spot checks on travellers to monitor compliance.

Is it feasible to expect enough tests to be available?

At present, very few British travellers are abroad, and almost no one is travelling to the UK. Therefore it is hoped that most locations will be able to meet the demand.

But there will be some places – such as the Caribbean island of Aruba – where the prospect of organising tests for 300 people all leaving on the same flight may be beyond the resources of the local health providers. In such cases, exemption is expected to be granted.

The government will provide a list of locations not expected to be able to comply.

What happens if I test positive?

You will be expected to self-isolate in accordance with local laws at your own expense until you are deemed well enough to travel.

What if I miss my flight home due to late results?

You will have to arrange to travel on a later flight (it is likely that airlines will be flexible with rebooking) and pay for accommodation until you can return home.

Will I need another test at the UK border?

No. The government has long insisted that tests immediately on arrival in the UK are pointless.

Must I still self-isolate?

Yes, if you are arriving from all but the small number of “quarantine exempt” countries on the travel corridors list you will be expected to self-isolate for 10 days. In England, the traveller can end quarantine after five days with another negative coronavirus test.

Why can’t I take a test on arrival?

Many countries demand travellers undergo tests, either in addition to a pre-arrival test or on its own. But the UK government insists that testing on arrival is ineffective.

I am only going abroad for two days

Bizarre as it may seem, it will be possible for you to take a test in the UK just before departing, rather than using any of your precious time abroad getting tested – as Ben Kentish from LBC Radio discovered from the government. This appears to go against the principle of a scheme designed to prevent infections being brought in from overseas.

Any exemption if I have had Covid or a vaccine?

No. People who have recovered from coronavirus, and those who have been vaccinated, are also expected to be tested and to self-isolate.

I have a holiday booked but I can’t afford this. Can I get my money back?

You will not be able to claim a refund. All travel contracts assume that the passenger will meet whatever governmental requirements are in place at the time of the trip.

What will this do to holiday bookings?

It will prove extremely difficult to sell many holidays when people believe they could end up paying for tests both outbound and inbound, which in many cases could double the cost of the trip.

Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, said: “This measure will destroy any confidence in forward bookings for air travel and for ferries, and it will essentially close off the UK.

“The real solution to this is vaccination, not artificial travel restrictions.”

He said that Ryanair has cancelled almost all UK flights in February, and called for the government to set an “end date” for the rules.