The government have done a massive u-turn on testing despite saying on Thursday to the media that they would not be introducing pre departure testing again as it would be hugely detrimental to the travel industry. In the last couple of days, some countries have started to reduce restrictions whereas we will now have one of the strictest regimes of most Western countries yet again.
Here are the changes:
Nigeria to be added to the travel red list from 4am Monday 6 December following 21 cases of Omicron reported in England which are linked to travel from this country, with 134 UK cases now reported in total
From 4am on Tuesday 7 December anyone aged 12 and above wishing to travel to the UK will need to show a negative pre-departure test (LFD or PCR) as close as possible to departure and not more than 48 hours.
The government says that these are temporary measures that have been introduced to prevent further Omicron cases from entering the UK, and will be examined at the three-week review point on 20 December
From 4am on Monday 6 December, UK and Irish citizens and residents arriving from Nigeria must isolate in a government-approved managed quarantine facility for 10 days, and receive two negative PCR tests, as further precautionary action is taken against the Omicron variant.
A temporary travel ban will be introduced for all non-UK and non-Irish citizens and residents who have been in Nigeria in the last 10 days, meaning they will be refused entry into the UK. This does not apply to those who have stayed airside and only transited through Nigeria while changing flights.
Last weekend, 10 countries were added to the red list and it was announced that all vaccinated passengers arriving in the UK must take a day two PCR tests and self-isolate until they receive a negative result. Since then, the geographical spread of Omicron has increased considerably, with 37 countries around the world now reporting Omicron cases and over 134 cases identified in the UK
In light of this emerging evidence and the changing global picture with regards to the spread of Omicron, from 4am on Tuesday, anyone wishing to travel to the UK from countries and territories not on the red list must also show proof of a negative PCR or lateral flow (LFD) pre-departure test, taken no earlier than 48 hours before departure. This applies to vaccinated passengers and children aged 12 and above.
Airlines will be required to check for pre-departure tests alongside a completed passenger locator form, and passengers will not be allowed to board a flight without providing evidence of a negative test result. Given the reduced incubation period of the Omicron variant, passengers are advised to take the pre-departure test as close as possible to their scheduled departure to the UK and no earlier than 48 hours before travelling.
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid, said:
We knew this winter would be challenging but the arrival of a new variant means we must further strengthen our defences.
As our world-leading scientists continue to understand more about the Omicron variant we are taking decisive action to protect public health and the progress of our COVID-19 vaccination programme.
I urge everyone to do their bit to slow the spread by following the new travel rules, wearing masks where mandatory and most importantly getting the booster jab when called.
Anyone arriving from Nigeria before 4am Monday [6 December] will be advised and strongly encouraged to isolate at home, and their household should also self-isolate for 10 days starting with their arrival in England.
Affected individuals will be contacted and offered free PCR tests to be taken on day 8 after their arrival.
Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said:
Following developments in the past week, the science shows that we must be cautious in guarding against this new variant and so, while we appreciate this will be difficult for the travel sector, it’s important we prioritise public health.
As we learn more about the Omicron variant, we will review these temporary measures to ensure they continue to be proportionate and necessary to protect public health.
Understandably there was a negative reaction from the airlines.
British Airways’ Chairman and CEO Sean Doyle said:
“The blanket re-introduction of testing to enter the UK, on top of the current regime of isolation and PCR testing on arrival is completely out of step with the rest of the world, with every other country taking a measured approach based on the science. Our customers will now be faced with uncertainty and chaos and yet again this a devasting blow for everyone who works in the travel industry.”
How long before I return to the UK do I need to test?
Despite the government statement saying no more than 48 hours before departure for the UK, the actual amendment to the official page says
“From 4am, Tuesday 7 December all people aged 12 years and over must take a PCR or LFD COVID-19 test before they travel to England from abroad.
You must take the test within the 2 days before you travel to England. This will apply whether you qualify as fully vaccinated or not.”
Obviously, 2 days and 48 hours are different periods of time. I would personally err on the side of caution and go for 48 hours at the moment just in case it gets changed back to 48 hours when they realise they have said two different things (honestly, you can’t make this up!).
Does it have to be a PCR like a day 2 test?
No, it can be rapid antigen/lateral flow as is the case for unvaccinated travellers currently.
Does it have to be supervised or specifically by video link?
No, it does not need to be supervised in any way currently, but you can’t use an NHS lateral flow or something that will not give you a certificate that has all the elements requested by the government.
Your test result can be provided as:
- a printed document
- an email or text message you can show on your phone – make sure your device is charged
It must include the following information:
- your name, which should match the name on your travel documents
- your date of birth or age
- the result of the test
- the date the test sample was collected or received by the test provider
- the name of the test provider and their contact details
- confirmation of the device used for the test, or that the test was a PCR test
Do I need a reference number for the passenger locator form?
No, you only need this for the day 2 (or day 2 and 8) test. You will need to show your negative test result at check-in or before if using something like Verifly or IATA travel pass or you will not be able to board the aircraft.
Can I buy a test kit in the UK to take with me?
Yes, so far none of the major test companies are selling vaccinated return to the UK tests but I’d expect them to be labelled correctly in the next 24 hours. However, if you need one urgently, Prenetics by Project Screen have either the departing the UK lateral flow test which is the same and does have an option to select the UK as the country you are traveling to. Or you could also buy the unvaccinated kit which is exactly the same test too. These were the tests I was using before they stopped the pre-departure tests. They are all done via photos by mobile phone and the certificates come through very quickly. You can buy them from £17. You then pop it in your case and do the test while you are away. I usually buy a spare one just in case there was an issue with the test.