Covid tests for travel to UK: new rules on pre-departure PCR or lateral flow test explained amid Omicron rise

Anyone travelling to the UK from a country not on the red list must show proof of a negative pre-departure Covid-19 test

The new coronavirus strain has now been detected in at least 38 countries, with 160 reported in the UK so far, although no deaths have been linked to the strain.

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New analysis by the UK Health and Security Agency (HSA) suggests the window between infection and infectiousness may be shorter for the Omicron variant, prompting the government to introduce stricter travel measures to try and prevent further spread.

What are the new travel testing rules?

From 4am on Tuesday (7 December), anyone travelling to the UK from a country or territory not on the red list must show proof of a negative pre-departure Covid-19 test.

This rule applies to all travellers, including those who are fully vaccinated, who are aged 12 and above.

The pre-departure test is in addition to the PCR test which must be taken on or before day two after arrival in the UK.

Which test do I need to do to return to the UK?

Travellers show proof of a negative PCR or lateral flow (LFD) Covid-19 test before departure.

This must be taken no earlier than 48 hours before travel, regardless of their vaccination status.

Due to the reduced incubation period of the Omicron variant, travellers are advised to take a pre-departure test as close as possible to their scheduled departure to the UK.

Airlines will be required to check for proof of a pre-departure test, as well as a completed passenger locator form before boarding.

Passengers will not be allowed to board a flight unless they have proof of a negative test result.

When will rules be reviewed?

The government has said the new measures are temporary and precautionary, and are vital to delaying the import of additional Covid-19 cases and slow the rise in infections in the UK.

However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the measures will be reviewed after three weeks to ensure they remain necessary and proportionate.

This review is due to take place on 20 December.

‘A devastating blow’

The change in testing rules has been met with anger and dismay by the travel sector, with the rapid shake-up of rules making it impossible for people to plan without disruption.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the industry body Airlines UK, said: “It is premature to hit millions of passengers and industry before we see the full data. We don’t have the clinical evidence.

“They’ve now changed their travel advice twice within a week and it’s just impossible for anyone to plan.

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

The Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee described the changes as a “devastating blow” for aviation and tourism, and said the government needs to step up to support the industry.

She said: “Pre-departure tests acts as a major deterrent to travel and most of the limited remaining demand following the reintroduction of self-isolation will now fall away, just as airports were hoping for a small uplift over the Christmas holiday.

“The UK and devolved governments should have done the right thing and, alongside the restrictions, announced support for our businesses and our staff to get through another period of shutdown.”

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