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International travellers to England and Scotland will require negative Covid-19 test
7 January 2021, 23:59 | Updated: 8 January 2021, 00:03
All travellers to England and Scotland from international destinations will have to test negative for coronavirus before they can enter the country, the Government has announced.
Under plans set out by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, from next week passengers arriving by boat, train or plane will have to take a test up to 72 hours before leaving the country of departure.
He said the move was designed to prevent new variants of the disease which have emerged in countries such as South Africa and Denmark.
Failure to comply with the new regulations will lead to an immediate £500 fine.
There will be a limited number of exemptions, including hauliers, children under 11, crews and for those travelling from countries without the infrastructure available to deliver tests.
Arrivals from the Common Travel Area with Ireland will also be exempt.
The move follows the decision to suspend all direct travel from South Africa following the emergence there of a new strain of coronavirus thought potentially to be even more virulent than the mutant variant which has led cases to surge in the UK.
Mr Shapps 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.
"Taken together with the existing mandatory self-isolation period for passengers returning from high-risk countries, pre-departure tests will provide a further line of defence - helping us control the virus as we roll out the vaccine at pace over the coming weeks."
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds backed it as a "necessary step" but said Labour had been calling for a strategy on testing for international travel since April, but the Government had instead been "lurching from one crisis to another".
He added: "In that time they have lost control of the virus and risked leaving the nation's doors unlocked against the possibility of different strains of the virus entering the country from across the world."
Scottish Transport Secretary Michael Matheson added: "The Scottish Government has been consistently clear about the risks associated with international travel and the importance of public health measures in helping to stop the spread of coronavirus.
"That is why we have been in regular dialogue with the UK Government and the other devolved administrations about what further measures can be put in place, including the introduction of pre-departure testing."
The announcement comes at a time when the latest lockdown restrictions across the four nations of the UK mean there is very little international travel.
The airline industry - which has been devastated by the pandemic - acknowledged the need for the restrictions but 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.
"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."
Under the new rules, passengers 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 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 will still be required to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their test result.
On Thursday, travellers arriving at Heathrow were warned "no one is above the law" amid concerns over a lack of Covid safety at the airport.
The Government has insisted that "anyone travelling from countries not on the travel corridor list must self-isolate for 10 days" upon arrival in the UK, adding that if passengers fail to fill out a locator form they now face a £100 fine.
People who have travelled through Heathrow recently have raised concerns about not having provide a negative test result, as well as a lack of mask wearing at the airport and poorly maintained sanitiser stations.
One person said they “felt quite vulnerable” the moment they landed, while another said “the contrast... with every other international airport is dismal”.
Freelance journalist Raphael Rashid, who is based in South Korea, told LBC’s Shelagh Fogarty: “I think I was experiencing coronavirus culture shock. It was a completely different thing to what I experienced in South Korea. So many people not wearing masks - indoors, outdoors - a general sense that people are not taking it seriously.
“When I arrived in London Heathrow from the start there were no temperature checks at the airport. We didn’t have to submit a negative PCR test, there was no screening, no health assessment and there’s no one to check whether you have a passenger locator form or not.
“Airport staff not wearing masks, or if they were they were wearing them under their noses or on their chins, which defies the reason for wearing a mask. No social distancing. I felt quite vulnerable the moment I landed in the UK.”