Beginning Dec. 15, travelers arriving in England will be able to cut their self-isolation period from 14 to five days if they test negative for the coronavirus, according to an announcement from the British government.
The new rules, announced by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, state that passengers arriving into England will have the option to pay privately for a COVID-19 test after five days of self-isolation. If the results are negative, they are no longer required to quarantine.
The procedure is part of a new strategy the government launching for testing international arrivals, and applies to visitors to the UK, or UK citizens returning after travel from countries not on the government’s travel corridor list.
Passengers have to book and pay for a COVID-19 test from a private provider on a government list, which has yet to be published, to ensure that NHS facilities are not used. Test results could take up to 48 hours and could cost between £65 ($86) and £120 ($160), according to the BBC.
“Our new testing strategy will allow us to travel more freely, see loved ones and drive international business,” Shapps said. “By giving people the choice to test on day 5, we are also supporting the travel industry as it continues to rebuild out of the pandemic.”
The new rules can be read on the UK Government’s website here.
The ‘Test to release for international travel’ means that passengers arriving into England by plane, ferry or train should book their test before they travel; must complete a passenger locator form; and will still need to self-isolate for 5 days before taking a test – rather than taking it at their port of arrival.
The so-called ‘test and release’ strategy, which research has shown can lead to shorter quarantine periods, has been lobbied for by the travel industry for several months.
Meanwhile, the airline industry is launching more trials of pre-departure testing to mitigate the need for blanket quarantines and further limit the spread of the virus. United Airlines is already running a pre-flight testing program on transatlantic flights between New York and London.
And American Airlines and British Airways, in coordination with the Oneworld alliance, are launching COVID-19 testing trial on selected flights from three US gateways to London Heathrow beginning this week.
“The introduction of air passenger testing on day five is a vital first step to reopening the skies in the run up to Christmas,” said Shai Weiss, CEO, Virgin Atlantic. However, Weiss added even the five day quarantine would be “a significant deterrent” especially for business travelers.
“Moving to a pre-departure regime, supported by latest independent evidence, would be twice as effective as quarantine. Passengers should be able to take a test from up to 72 hours before departure, including a rapid test at the airport on the day of departure.