U.K. Imposes Mandatory Covid Tests on All Incoming Travelers
Passengers wearing protective face masks push luggage trolleys in Stansted, U.K. (Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg)

U.K. Imposes Mandatory Covid Tests on All Incoming Travelers

All passengers arriving in the U.K. will be required to prove they do not have coronavirus, showing a negative test result taken within 72 hours of the start of their journey.

Under rules announced Friday, anyone failing to produce evidence they don’t have Covid-19 will be fined 500 pounds ($678). Travelers arriving from countries not on the government’s open travel corridor list will be required to isolate at home for 10 days, regardless of their test results.

U.K. Imposes Mandatory Covid Tests on All Incoming Travelers

The measures, set out by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, will come into force next week for passengers arriving in Britain by plane, boat or train. The plan is aimed at stopping new strains of Covid-19 coming into the U.K., such as one identified in South Africa, as the government accelerates the roll-out of vaccines, Shapps said.

“The South African variant is worrying the experts because it may be that the vaccine doesn’t respond in the same way,” Shapps told LBC radio on Friday. “If that was the case it would be a tragedy to allow that into the country.”

Entry to England will also be banned to those who have traveled from or through any southern African country in the previous 10 days, the government said, including Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

Ministers were criticized for taking too long to impose border restrictions during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring. This week Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the country into its third national lockdown as infection rates soared. The death toll from the coronavirus now stands at more than 78,000.

Airlines Hit

Governments across Europe are extending curbs on travel to and from the U.K. to protect against a fast-spreading strain that took hold last month. Taken together, the moves have forced the hard-hit airline industry to pare back schedules in the early part of 2021.

“U.K. aviation is, once again, effectively closed,” Airport Operators Association Chief Executive Officer Karen Dee said in a statement. “This has made a devastating situation for U.K. airports and communities relying on aviation worse.”

Industry lobby Airlines UK called for pre-departure testing to be a short-term measure and for travel to return to normal as quickly as possible once the vaccine roll-out accelerates.

Ministers should now focus on the creation of a common international standard, said Heathrow Airport chief John Holland-Kaye, who has been calling for the use of tests to boost passenger numbers. The call was echoed by the London-based World Travel & Tourism Council, which said there is still uncertainty around the type of tests which will be accepted. It called for wide access and affordability.

Ryanair Holdings Plc, EasyJet Plc and British Airways are among the carriers that slashed their schedules this week, with Ryanair saying it will offer few flights from Jan. 21 until curbs are lifted.

Complex Talks

Government officials have been in talks for several days on how to coordinate a border policy across all four nations of the U.K., which have control over their own transport policies. In a separate statement, the Scottish government said it has agreed to the plan and the measures will be brought in as soon as possible.

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford told the BBC on Friday he strongly supports the new rules and expects them to apply across the U.K.

Passengers will need to show their negative test results before boarding and will be stopped if necessary. There will be some exemptions from the new rules, including for haulers, children under the age of 11, and for travelers leaving countries without an adequate testing infrastructure in place.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out his blueprint for a mass vaccination program to protect about 15 million elderly and vulnerable people across the U.K., and their carers, by a self-imposed deadline of Feb. 15. After that, the government will look at whether to begin lifting some of the lockdown rules.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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