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U.K. Follows Canada in Requiring Travelers to Prove They Have Tested Negative for COVID-19

The U.K. announced on January 8 that all passengers arriving from all international destinations will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test result before departing for England to help protect against new strains of coronavirus circulating internationally. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland set their own pandemic regulations but some, if not all, are expected to follow suit. England legally entered its third national lockdown on January 6, meaning that tougher restrictions – and penalties for failing to adhere to these – have been imposed. 

The U.K.’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced that inbound passengers arriving by boat, plane or train will have to take a test up to 72 hours before departing the country they are in, to help protect against the new strains of coronavirus such as those seen in Denmark and South Africa.

The British government says pre-departure testing will protect travel and will provide an additional layer of safety from imported cases of coronavirus on top of the mandatory 10 day self-isolation for arrivals, helping identify people who may currently be infectious and preventing them from traveling to England.

A negative pre-departure test reduces the risk of someone traveling whilst infectious, acting as another safeguard to prevent imported infections. Passengers arriving from countries not on the government’s travel corridor list must self-isolate for 10 days regardless of their pre-departure test result to provide further robust protection from those traveling from high-risk countries.

Prior to departure passengers will need to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test result to carriers, as well as their passenger locator form

The U.K. Border Force will conduct spot checks on arrival into England to ensure that passengers are fully compliant. There will be a limited number of exemptions, including for hauliers (who currently have their own testing requirements between England and France), children under 11, crews and for those traveling from countries without the infrastructure available to deliver the tests. 

The U.K. government has yet to set out the standards that the pre-departure tests will need to meet and what proof passengers will need to present, posing a problem for those already overseas and due to return next week when the requirement comes into force.

In addition, passengers arriving into England who have successfully demonstrated a negative result prior to departure from a country not on the travel corridor list will still have the option to reduce the self-isolation period from 10 to as little as 5 days by paying for a test through the Test to Release scheme. The scheme requires a test to be taken on or after the fifth full day since leaving a country not on the travel corridor list.

The International Air Transport Association has so far not commented on the new English requirement for negative tests, after voicing criticism at Canada’s announcement that it would require negative tests from arriving passengers. 

The British government has also recently decided to temporarily suspend direct travel from South Africa to England after new evidence emerged from health authorities reporting an outbreak of a variant strain of coronavirus spreading to some local communities. Those who travel indirectly from South Africa must self-isolate for 10 days.

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Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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