Coronavirus: Arrivals in England and will soon need negative test

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All international passengers will soon have to present a negative Covid-19 test result before travelling to England amid soaring coronavirus cases.

Inbound arrivals, including UK nationals, will have to take a test less than 72 hours before departing the country they are in.

The new measures are expected to come into effect in England early next week.

The move comes in a bid to stop the spread of new strains of coronavirus, the transport secretary 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,” Grant Shapps said.

Failure to comply with the new regulations, which apply to those travelling by plane, boat or train, will lead to an immediate £500 fine.

There will, however, be a small number of exemptions, including hauliers, children under 11, and those travelling from countries without the infrastructure to deliver tests.

Arrivals from the Common Travel Area with Ireland will also be exempt.

Ministers were also said to be working with the devolved administrations on similar measures for Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Scottish government confirmed on Thursday that those travelling to Scotland from abroad will also be required to have proof of a negative test taken a maximum of 72 hours before travel. It said it was keen to “implement this as soon as it is possible.”

Pre-departure testing for England should provide “a further line of defence”, Mr Shapps added, as coronavirus vaccines are rolled out over the coming weeks.

In a briefing on Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the vaccination programme presented a national challenge requiring an unprecedented effort involving the armed forces.

He confirmed that almost 1.5 million people in the UK have now received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

It came as a further 1,162 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were reported on Thursday – the second consecutive day of more than 1,000 recorded fatalities – and 52,618 new cases.

‘Focus must be on returning to normal’

Figures in the aviation industry, which has been devastated by the pandemic, acknowledged the need for the restrictions to ensure that hospitals in the UK are not overwhelmed by the pandemic.

However, they have urged ministers to lift them as quickly as possible.

Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of the industry body Airlines UK, said: “We recognise the UK government’s need to act now and support the introduction of pre-departure testing in order to keep the country safe and borders open.

“However, this should be a short-term, emergency measure only and once the rollout of the vaccine accelerates, the focus must be on returning travel to normal as quickly as possible in order to support the UK’s economic recovery.

Arrivals at Heathrow

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“This includes removing the need to quarantine or test as the UK population is vaccinated and the virus is brought under control at home and abroad,” he added.

The boss of Heathrow, John Holland-Kaye, pointed out that while he welcomed pre-departure testing, his firm has been calling for it to be introduced since last April.

He added that under current lockdown restrictions: “Aviation has effectively been grounded for a third time.

“The government must make good on its promise to support this vital sector with the full business rates relief which has been extended to other industries.”

Quarantine requirements

The testing announcement comes at a time when international travel is already restricted under the latest lockdowns across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Under the new rules, inbound travellers will need to present proof of a negative test result to their carrier on departure and may be denied boarding if they fail to do so.

On arrival in England, the UK Border Force will also conduct spot checks to ensure passengers are fully compliant.

Ministers said they will set out the standards the tests will need to meet and what proof passengers will need to present.

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.

Meanwhile, travellers from from countries near South Africa are to be banned completely from entering England to stop the spread of the South African Covid variant.

Arrivals from Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Botswana, as well as island nations Mauritius and Seychelles, will be affected. A ban by visitors to the UK from South Africa had already started on 24 December.

The new rule for surrounding countries will take effect on 9 January but there will be an exemption for British and Irish nationals. They will still need to follow existing quarantine procedures.

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