From 04:00 GMT on Monday, most international passengers will have to test negative for coronavirus before leaving their home country to travel to the UK.
This will help protect the country against new strains of coronavirus, identified in countries such as South Africa, the government says.
Most passengers must still quarantine when they get to the UK.
What are the new rules on testing?
All international arrivals, including UK nationals, will have to present a negative Covid-19 test before they board a plane, train or boat bound for the UK, taken up to 72 hours before their journey began.
All forms of polymerise chain reaction or PCR tests will be accepted, the government says, as will other tests “with 97% sensitivity and 99% specificity”.
Transport Minister Grant Shapps told BBC Breakfast that acceptable tests included those that give a result “in 20 or 30 minutes”.
This suggests it will accept rapid lateral flow tests, which are generally cheaper and easier to obtain than the “gold standard” PCR tests, which must be developed in a lab.
The rule had been due to come into force on Friday, but the government said people needed time “to prepare”.
Those who don’t comply will face a fine of £500, with Border Force officials carrying out spot checks.
Passengers will also have to fill in a Passenger Locator Form and obey the national lockdown rules.
Arrivals from countries which aren’t on the government’s list of “travel corridors” with the UK, must self-isolate for ten days, regardless of their test result.
This extends to arrivals from the United Arab Emirates – including Dubai – after a spike in imported Covid cases prompted the UK government to remove the country’s travel corridor.
Who is exempt from testing?
Some travellers don’t have to provide evidence of a negative test:
- Children under 11
- Passengers from the Common Travel Area (the Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man)
- Travellers from the Falkland Islands, Ascension Islands and St Helena
- Hauliers, air, international rail and maritime crew.
Some countries will be temporarily exempted due to issues with local testing capacity. For example, it will not apply to travellers from St Lucia, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda arriving in the UK before 21 January.
Which countries are under a travel ban?
Since 9 January, anyone who has been in – or transited through – a number of African countries in the previous 10 days is not allowed to enter the UK. The countries affected are: South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Eswatini, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique and Angola, the Seychelles and Mauritius.
The rule will be in place for at least two weeks. It does not apply to British and Irish nationals, long-term visa holders or permanent residents – but they must self-isolate, even if they would normally be exempt. This is because of a coronavirus variant linked to South Africa, which may be more contagious.
What are the quarantine rules?
Most travellers arriving in the UK from the majority of countries – including British nationals – must self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of any test result.
Exceptions are made for people coming from the Common Travel Area and countries on the list of “travel corridors” with the UK.
All travellers must provide contact details and their UK address.
After arrival, people quarantining should not:
- Use taxis or public transport
- Go to work, school, or public areas
- Have visitors except for essential support
- Go out to buy food, or other essentials, if they can rely on others
Anyone who has to self-isolate after a trip may not get statutory sick pay unless they meet the required conditions – such as displaying coronavirus symptoms.
Who is exempt from quarantine?
Some business travellers no longer have to quarantine when re-entering the UK.
Performing arts professionals, TV production staff, journalists and recently signed sports professionals are also exempt.
A small number of other jobs are also exempt, including:
- Defence personnel, visiting forces and government contractors
- Border officials
- Bus, coach and goods vehicle drivers taking goods in and out of the UK
- Aircraft pilots and crew and certain rail workers
Can I pay for a test to shorten quarantine?
People arriving in England from some countries can reduce their quarantine period by paying for a private Covid test.
Passengers using the voluntary scheme must book their test before leaving for England through a private provider, and enter details on their passenger locator form.
The test cannot be taken before the fifth full day of self-isolation, either through a home kit or at a testing site. You can leave the house to visit the testing site or post back the test.
The tests cost between £65 and £120, with the results are normally received within 24 to 48 hours. People who test negative can stop self-isolating once they have their result. Those who test positive must quarantine for another 10 days from the date of the test.
The government has published a list of approved private testing companies.
Can you be fined for breaking the rules?
Breaking quarantine rules is a criminal offence, and people risk being fined and could end up with a criminal record.
Failure to self-isolate can mean a £1,000 fine in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or £480 in Scotland. Fines in England for persistent offenders have doubled to £10,000.
People can be fined up to £3,200 in England for providing inaccurate contact details, or £1,920 in Wales.
There is also a fine of £100 for not filling in the passenger locator form.
How is the quarantine list decided?
The Joint Biosecurity Centre – set up by the government to monitor coronavirus – advises on which destinations should be on the list.
It considers a range of factors including:
- infection rate per 100,000 people
- percentage of tests coming back positive
- the speed at which the situation is changing in a country
- Whether there is a significant risk on transmission through return journeys to the UK.
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