Travellers arriving in England will be able to end their quarantine period early, provided they can produce a negative Covid-19 test.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced the new rules on 23 November, stating that, from 15 December 2020, passengers arriving in England from countries not included on the government’s travel corridor list will have the option to take a test after five days of isolation, with a negative result allowing them to exit quarantine.
‘Test to Release’ scheme
A statement released by the government explained that the new testing strategy would give passengers the “confidence to book international trips in the knowledge that they can return home and isolate for a shorter period if they have received a negative test.”
Shapps said, “We have a plan in place to ensure that our route out of this pandemic is careful and balanced, allowing us to focus on what we can do now to bolster international travel while keeping the public safe.
“Our new testing strategy will allow us to travel more freely, see loved ones and drive international business.
“By giving people the choice to test on day five, we are also supporting the travel industry as it continues to rebuild out of the pandemic.”
Previously, a study conducted by consultants Edge Health and Oxera, found that testing air passengers after five days in quarantine in Iceland was between 83 per cent and 90 per cent effective.
Testing after seven days in Toronto and Paris was also between 84 per cent and 90 per cent effective.
“Real world evidence supports a significant reduction in the current UK 14 day quarantine police,” the report said.
Travellers will have to pay for test
Those who want to take advantage of the Test to Release scheme will have to pay for a test from an accredited private firm from the government website, as the government is not offering free testing in this situation.
The government says that this is to ensure that the NHS Test and Trace testing capacity is “protected.”
You’ll need to purchase a test on or after day five of your arrival in England, with costs ranging from £65 to £120. Results are usually issued between 24 and 48 hours, meaning that people can be released from quarantine six days after their arrival.
Travellers will be able to book a test from a provider on the government website before arriving in England. If they do choose to book a test, they will need to state this on their passenger locator form prior to arrival, and then go straight into self-isolation at home.
If, instead, a traveller chooses to opt into the Test to Release scheme after their arrival, they will need to resubmit their passenger locator form. If the test comes back negative, then that person can finish their period of self-isolation and go on to follow the normal domestic Covid-19 rules.
If a traveller chooses not to pay for a test when arriving from a non-exempt country, then they must continue to follow the current self-isolation requirement of two weeks.
Does it affect the rest of the UK?
The change does not apply to people arriving in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.
People arriving anywhere else in the rest of the UK will need to continue to self-isolate for 14 days, as usual.
‘Long overdue step forward’
Talking about the Test to Release scheme announcement, Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said, “It’s a much-needed and long overdue step forward to helping the travel sector recover further.
“But we still have a complex jigsaw puzzle of restrictions around the world that need tourists to have a high IQ to understand. We need to see global consistency for travel to fully take off.”
The move comes after the government has introduced new financial support for English airports and ground handlers serving them. The support is capped at £8 million per site, and is subject to certain conditions, with the scheme opening in the new year.
Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, said, “The aviation industry is vital to our economy - creating jobs and driving growth - which is why we have supported them throughout this crisis through the job retention scheme, loans and tax deferrals.
“This new package of support for airports, alongside a new testing regime for international arrivals, will help the sector take off once again as we build back better from the pandemic.”