People Will Now Need A Negative Covid Test To Enter The UK After Huge Criticism Over Travel Rules
Anyone arriving into the UK from next week will need to provide a negative coronavirus test before they can enter, the government has announced.
The transport secretary Grant Shapps said the policy was being introduced now, 10 months after the country first went into lockdown, because the new more virulent Covid-19 strains made the situation “much more urgent”.
But ministers have been accused of being “too slow” and of not going far enough by introducing testing on arrival for passengers.
The new measures, which are expected to come into force across the UK next week, and "as soon as possible" in Scotland, will apply to anyone coming in the country by plane, train or boat, including UK nationals.
They will have to take a test up to 72 hours before leaving the country they are in, with passengers subject to an immediate fine of £500 if they fail to comply.
The test requirement is on top of the existing quarantine policy, so people coming from a country not on the current travel corridor will still having to self-isolate for 10 days when they arrive.
Exemptions are in place for hauliers, children under 11, and for those who travelling from countries without the infrastructure available to deliver the tests, but not those people whose jobs mean they don't have to abide by the quarantine rules.
Explaining why the government was moving now, Mr Shapps told Sky News: "This is an extra check and we're doing this now because there are these variants that we're very keen to keep out of the country, like the South African variant, for example.
"There are the concerns about the South African one in particular about how effective the vaccine would be against it so we simply cannot take chances.
"So today because of that variant it has become much more urgent."
And he defended the government against criticism the UK’s border should have been closed earlier, saying its status as an island makes it harder as we rely on the movement of goods and people.
"Look what happened in the United States, for example, where they did last March entirely closed the border," he added.
"It hasn't helped them at all, not one iota."
But in response to the announcement Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds tweeted: "The Government decision to introduce mandatory testing before UK entry has been too slow given the risk of Covid-19 variants entering the country, including the strain that emerged in South Africa.
"Too often, ministers have gone from one crisis to another, lacking strategy and grip.”
And the chair of the home affairs committee Yvette Cooper said there are still "many gaps" in the UK approach.
"Currently the UK still has no testing on arrival and very patchy self-isolation arrangements for arriving travellers in contrast to the strong arrival testing and quarantine arrangements that other countries have," she said.
"Given that arriving travellers could still have contracted the virus in the last 72 hours, or on their journey, the government needs to explain why they aren't also introducing testing on arrival and clearer quarantine and enforcement measures to prevent new variants taking hold or threatening the vaccine programme.”
She added: "The UK's Covid border measures were too weak last spring and, as our home affairs committee report made clear last year, the first wave of the pandemic was worse as a result.
"In the face of the South Africa or other new variants that we need to prevent taking hold in the UK, the Government should be learning from other countries so it doesn't make the same mistakes again."
Heathrow Airport’s chief executive John Holland-Kaye welcomed the plans, but said the differences between countries' travel and testing rules are "very confusing" for travellers,.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme he said: "We have had testing facilities at Heathrow for months, because some other countries have required it.
"But quite often, people will be uncertain as to exactly what kind of tests they need and that's why we've been calling for a common international standard for testing so that there is some consistency between countries of what tests need to be taken, how you need to demonstrate that you've taken those tests, and when you need to take them.
"And that will allow us to get back to some kind of normal travel while keeping people safe and I think the UK Government can take a real global lead in doing this as they set out their stall for global Britain.”