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COVID-19 RULES

UPDATE: What travellers from Europe to UK need to know about new Covid test rules

With the worsening Covid-19 situation across Europe and the spread of the new Omicron variant, the UK has announced yet more new testing rules for arrivals. Here's what you need to know about the new requirement for pre-departure tests.

Britain's Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty (L), Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (C) and Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance (R)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (C) announces the new requirements for entry to the UK at a press conference alongside Britain's Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty (L) and Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance (R) on November 27th, 2021. Hollie Adams / POOL / AFP

Pre-departure tests

On Saturday December 4th the British government announced it would demand pre-departure tests for all arrivals from 4am on December 7th onwards.

These tests, which were scrapped only weeks ago, must be taken within two days of travel to the UK. They can be PCR or antigen tests and must be carried out by all travellers regardless of their vaccination status.

The requirement applies for those arriving in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Day 2 PCR tests

On November 27th the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that PCR tests and self-isolation for UK arrivals would be reintroduced amid concerns of the new Omicron variant that was first identified in South Africa and has now been found in several people in mainland Europe and the UK.

READ ALSO: Germany confirms two cases of new Covid strain: regional ministry

The requirements came into force at 4am on Tuesday, November 30th.

This means that if you’re arriving in the UK after 4am on Tuesday, November 30th, you need to book and take PCR tests instead of lateral flow tests, which will no longer be accepted.

You’ll need to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after arriving in the UK and self-isolate until you get a negative test result.

Quarantine requirements

This means you can only leave home if you need to buy essential supplies, such as food or medication (but only if no-one else can buy them for you), to take a test or for urgent medical care.

The potential problem with this change is that the UK testing system has been beset with problems.

For example, at least one private testing company is being investigated for failure to deliver PCR test results on time – or in some cases at all – meaning people could be stuck in quarantine for a long time.

And another is being looked into for providing thousands of incorrect negative results.

And Which? travel editor Rory Boland expressed concern about the testing companies and how they would cope with the additional demand, as he details in the below tweet, meaning people could be stuck in quarantine for days.

Forms to fill in

If you’re due to arrive before 4am on November 30th, you can complete the required Passenger Locator Form now, but if you’re arriving after that time, you’ll need to return to the website after 4am on Monday, November 29th as the system is being updated.

You need to fill one of these forms in, even if you’re just passing through the UK, and it needs to be completed 48 hours or less before you start your journey.

Lack of clarity

However, a few things remain unclear, including what the requirements are for people who are entering the UK for less than two days, and whether these could rule out short business trips. 

The government is expected to reveal further details this week and we will be update this article as soon as further information is available.

Other restrictions

Wearing face masks on public transport and in shops will also be mandatory again in England from Tuesday. 

They are still required in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on public transport and many indoor spaces.

 
 
 

 

Member comments

  1. A good tip for people arriving at London Stansted airport – you can book a PCR test on arrival at the airport and get the result within 24 hours so you won’t have to isolate for too long

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COVID-19 ALERT

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.

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