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New UK travel rules explained after Omicron spreads around globe

Pre-departure tests will be required for all people arriving in the UK, as Sajid Javid announced Nigeria would be added to the travel Red List

Changes were also made last week to day two tests

The spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant has prompted the UK Government to make changes to travel rules again.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said new analysis by the UK Health and Security Agency (HSA) suggested the window between infection and infectiousness may be shorter for the Omicron variant, increasing the efficacy of pre-departure testing as it is more likely to identify positive cases before travel.

Changes were also made last week to day two tests, requiring people to complete a PCR and isolate until they have a negative result back.

The HSA said that as of Saturday a further 26 cases of the Omicron variant have been reported across the UK – 25 of them in England.

It takes the total number of confirmed cases of the variant in the UK to 160.

The Mirror has explained the latest changes to the travel rules.

New travel rules have been implemented again (file photo)
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Pre departure tests

From 4am on Tuesday, anyone travelling to the UK from countries not on the red list will be required to take a pre-departure test a maximum of 48 hours before leaving, regardless of their vaccination status.

Ministers said it was intended to be a temporary measure following new data showing an increase in the number of cases of the new strain linked to foreign travel.

The move, which will be introduced on Tuesday, was welcomed by Labour which has been pressing for the return of pre-departure tests since the variant was first identified in South Africa. But the party criticised the Government for not acting sooner.

It means passengers travelling to the UK will have to take either a PCR or a lateral flow test up to a maximum of 48 hours before they depart regardless of their vaccination status.

Pre departure tests are back (file photo)
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“We have always said we would act swiftly if we need to if the changing data requires it,” Mr Javid said. “These are temporary measures we want to remove them as soon as we possibly can, but before we learn more about Omicron it is right that we have these measures in place.”

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it had acted in part because said new analysis by the UK Health and Security Agency (HSA) suggested the window between infection and infectiousness may be shorter for the Omicron variant.

Day two tests upon arrival to the UK

Last week, the introduction of compulsory PCR tests for Covid-19 for everyone arriving in the UK was announced.

It was announced that all vaccinated passengers arriving in the UK must take a day 2 PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.

The test can be taken on or before day two.

Travellers arriving at Heathrow Airport (file photo)
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Under the previous rules, vaccinated arrivals simply needed a PCR or lateral flow test on day two.

Under the new rules which have come into force, you will need to self-isolate for the first two days back in the UK. On day two, you will need to take a PCR test – and if the result is negative, you will be allowed to end your self-isolation.

As for travellers who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, existing rules continue to apply.

This means that if you are returning from non-red list country, then you will need to take a pre-departure test and self-isolate at home for 10 days during which you need to take PCR tests on days two and eight.

Countries on the red list

Last week it was announced that the following countries have been added to the red list: Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Nigeria was also added to the Government’s travel red list. From 4am on Monday, only British and Irish nationals travelling from the country will be allowed into the UK and must isolate in a Government-managed quarantine hotel for 10 days.

UK arrivals returning from red list countries are required to stay in a quarantine hotel for 10 nights, with costs of up to £2,285 per adult.

The developing situation is unsurprisingly causing some concern amongst Brits who have booked holidays in the coming weeks.

The travel industry has reacted (file photo)
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Industry reaction

The travel sector said the return of pre-departure tests was another “hammer blow” for an industry which was just beginning to pick up again after the devastation wrought by the pandemic.

Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, said it directly contradicted assurances given by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and he called on the Government to step in and support the sector.

“The introduction of pre-departure testing with little warning is a hammer blow to the business travel industry,” he said.

“Public safety is a priority, but businesses will fail, travellers will be stranded and livelihoods devastated by the lack of coherent plans from Government.”

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the industry body Airlines UK, said the rapidly changing measures meant planning was becoming impossible.

“It is premature to hit millions of passengers and industry before we see the full data. We don’t have the clinical evidence,” he said.

“These measures must be removed as quickly as possible in line with the speed of the booster programme.”

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