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UK Requires Pre-departure Testing for International Travelers

The new rules take effect on Friday, Jan 15, but quarantine requirements remain in place

January 13, 2021

The UK’s Department for Transport has announced that, effective Friday, Jan. 15, all international travelers to England must present proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to departure. Travelers will be required to show a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours prior to departure.

The results must be obtained with “a diagnostic-standard test” such as a PCR, although LAMP and lateral flow tests could be included “within certain limits,” according to a DfT statement.

Airlines and other transport operators will be required to confirm that passengers had proof of a negative test before boarding their flight, train or ferry. DfT said there will also be additional checks on arrival. Fines for failure to comply would start at £500 pounds ($677.40) issued to both passengers and transport operators.

A number of global airlines have already instituted their own pre-departure testing regimes, including a trial of a three-test protocol on selected American Airlines and British Airways flights from the US to London Heathrow that involves both pre-departure and post-arrival testing.

The UK’s new pre-departure test requirement is in addition to the current quarantine protocols which require international arrivals into the UK to self-isolate for ten days. However under the Test and Release program, the quarantine period can be cut to five days if the traveler takes a COVID-19 test that returns a negative result.

There are a limited number of exemptions from the pre-departure test, including children under 11 and flight crews, international rail crews and truckers. Until Jan. 21 travelers from St Lucia, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda will also be exempt because of a lack of testing facilities on the Caribbean islands.

The move currently applies to arrivals into England, and is set to take effect “as soon as possible” for Scotland. Similar measures are said to be in the works for Wales and Northern Ireland, according to the BBC.

“We already have significant measures in place to prevent imported cases of COVID-19, but with new strains of the virus developing internationally we must take further precautions,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.

“Taken together with the existing mandatory self-isolation period for passengers returning from high-risk countries, pre-departure tests will provide a further line of defense – helping us control the virus as we roll out the vaccine at pace over the coming weeks.”

Generally the response from the travel industry has been supportive, but leaders in the industry are urging governments to continue to look for more accommodative solutions to help travel recover.

“We recognize the UK Government’s need to act now and support the introduction of pre-departure testing in order to keep the country safe and borders open,” said Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK.

“However, this should be a short-term, emergency measure only, and once the roll-out of the vaccine accelerates, the focus must be on returning travel to normal as quickly as possible in order to support the UK’s economic recovery. This includes removing the need to quarantine or test as the UK population is vaccinated and the virus is brought under control at home and abroad.”

UK Department for Transport