Travellers arriving in England to be able to cut quarantine if they pay for coronavirus test
Travellers arriving in England will soon be able to cut the 14-day mandatory quarantine period by more than half if they take a coronavirus test five days after coming into the country and get a negative result.
Currently, people arriving in England from countries that aren't on the Government's travel corridor list have to self-isolate for 14 days. This includes those returning from popular holiday destinations such as France, Italy and Turkey.
But under a new "test to release" scheme that comes into force from Tuesday 15 December, people will have the option to take a private Covid-19 test after five days of self-isolation, with a negative result releasing them from quarantine.
However, as these tests must be done privately, and can't be undertaken for free on the NHS, it means you will incur a cost – and this can be as much as £120.
It's worth pointing out that under current lockdown rules in England, which apply until Wednesday 2 December, you can only travel abroad for work, education or other legally permitted reasons. And if you're coming into England from a country on the Government's travel corridor safe list, there's no need to self-isolate from Tuesday 15 December, as is the case now.
See Coronavirus Travel Rights for information on holiday refunds, insurance and more.
How will the scheme work?
Under the new rules, passengers who arrive from a foreign country that's not on the Government's travel corridor list will need to enter self-isolation on return to England for at least five days before they can be tested. This is because coronavirus can have an incubation period before it's detected.
The Government advises you book coronavirus tests before you travel to ensure you can take it on the fifth day after arrival. So if you arrive on a Sunday, for example, you can take your test on the following Friday.
You can book a test from a recommended provider, which will be listed on Gov.uk (it's not live yet). Do this prior to arrival and you need to state it on your passenger locator form and then go straight into self-isolation at home for at least the first five days. Opt in for the test after arrival and you will need to resubmit your passenger locator form detailing this and self-isolate until you get the test result.
Once you have the result, you can leave isolation as long as the result is negative. It typically takes 24 to 48 hours from taking the test to get the result, which means you'll likely halve your isolation period to around six to seven days.
If the result is positive, self-isolation will be needed. In line with NHS guidance, if you had coronavirus symptoms before you took your test and it's positive, you'll need to isolate for ten days from when they started. If you get symptoms after your test, self-isolate for ten days from when your symptoms started. If you don't show any symptoms but have a positive test (asymptomatic), you need to self-isolate for ten days from taking the test.
Tests can be booked privately from a range of retailers but can be expensive. An in-store test at Boots, for example, costs £120.
The rules take force from Tuesday 15 December, but you can benefit if you arrive before then as long as you take the test from Tuesday 15 December. For example, if you arrive on Thursday 10 December, you can take the test on Tuesday 15 December.
Do I have to pay for a test?
If you don't wish to pay for a test, you'll have to self-isolate for the full 14 days. In England, if you do not self-isolate, you can receive a fixed penalty notice of £1,000 for a first offence, increasing to £2,000 for any second offence. Further repeat offences will attract penalties of £4,000 and then £10,000 for each repeat offence.
These new rules are set to apply in England only, so if you live elsewhere in the UK, you'll also have to self-isolate for 14 days on your return, although bear in mind Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have established their own separate travel corridors to England.
You won't need a test if you come into England from a country on the Government's travel corridor safe list.
What does the Government say?
Transport Secretary Grant 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 now do 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."