PCR test for travel: Covid test rules for entering UK, and will Day 2 PCR test be replaced with Lateral Flow?

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The travel shake-up has introduced new rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers, with different testing requirements

New simplified Covid travel rules are in place in the UK to make travelling abroad much easier and cheaper.

The complicated traffic light system has now been replaced with a more straightforward two-list system, which sees countries categorised as ‘red’ or ‘rest of the world’.

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The former green and amber lists have merged to form the ‘rest of the world’ category, while the red list remains in place for just seven destinations with a high Covid risk.

The travel shake-up has also introduced new rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers, with different testing and quarantine requirements for each.

Here’s everything you need to know about the changes.

What are the new rules for travelling abroad?

As of 4 October, countries are now only divided into two lists instead of three.

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Travellers arriving in the UK from a country on the ‘red list’ must take a pre-departure test in the three days before arrival and must quarantine for 11 nights in a government-designated hotel at a cost of £2,285 for solo travellers.

It is a requirement to take a Covid-19 test on day two and day eight of self-isolation and complete a passenger locator form.

These rules apply to both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers.

If you make a transit stop in a red list country on your return to the UK, you may also need to follow the red list rules when you arrive.

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The government is aiming to axe day two PCR tests in time for the school half-term holidays in England (Photo: Getty Images)The government is aiming to axe day two PCR tests in time for the school half-term holidays in England (Photo: Getty Images)
The government is aiming to axe day two PCR tests in time for the school half-term holidays in England (Photo: Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

Travellers arriving from countries on ‘the rest of the world list’ who are fully vaccinated against coronavirus - and unvaccinated under 18s - no longer need to take a Covid-19 test before travelling to the UK.

It is also no longer a requirement to take a day eight post-arrival PCR test, costing around £65, or to self-isolate at home.

Instead, just a single day two post-arrival test is needed.

Those who have not been fully vaccinated will still need to take a pre-departure test in the three days before returning to the UK.

Travellers will also need to book and pay for a day two and day eight post-arrival test, complete a passenger locator form in the 48 hours before arriving in the UK, and self-isolate at home for 10 days.

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It is possible to end the quarantine period early through the Test to Release scheme, but travellers will have to pay for a private test on day five. If the result is negative, and the result of the day two test was negative or inconclusive, you no longer need to self-isolate.

The scheme is voluntary and applies only to those quarantining in England and can only be taken after you have been back in the country for a full five days. Those who do not opt into the scheme will need to complete the full 10 day quarantine period.

When will day two PCR tests be scrapped?

Under current rules, fully vaccinated travellers must book and pay for a Covid-19 PCR test to be taken on day two of arrival in the UK from ‘rest of the world’ countries.

The details of the booking must be added to a passenger locator form which must be completed in the 48 hours before returning to the UK.

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However, this rule is set to be scrapped in favour of the much cheaper lateral flow tests.

Transport Secretar Grant Shapps has said it the goal to have made the switch from PCR testing to lateral flows by the school half-term holidays in England in late October.

Asked if he was referring to English schools’ half-terms around October 22, he told Times Radio: “Yes, that’s right, 22nd of October. That’s the goal and, as I say, the testing companies are gearing up to do that.

“I’ve spoken to the airports including Heathrow and they even have tests available as you walk through the airport so you could be done and dusted before you even get home with these things, which will be a massive improvement to having to send off PCR tests to labs and waiting for the results and all the costs involved.”

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People arriving in the UK who take a lateral flow test to check their Covid-19 status will have to take a photograph of it to prove the result.

(Graphic: Mark Hall / JPIMedia)(Graphic: Mark Hall / JPIMedia)
(Graphic: Mark Hall / JPIMedia) | Mark Hall / JPIMedia

Mr Shapps told BBC Breakfast: “If it’s positive, you’ll automatically receive a PCR test, you’ll be in the NHS system, as with the normal Test and Trace, so you’ll get the PCR without having to do anything further, and of course, be asked to isolate.

“If it’s negative, that’s it, you’re free to go, and the good thing is that can either be done, as I say, as soon as coming through the gates, potentially, at some airports where they might offer that, or you may have ordered a test to be at your home.

“You carry out that test, we’re going to ask people to take a photograph of it so that it’s actually your test. And that’s it, the job is done, there’s nothing further to do. So it’s going to be a much simplified, much cheaper system.”

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Asked how authorities could be sure the photographed test belonged to the right person, he added: “Well, look, you could always say this with any system, the PCR system that’s been in place up until now hasn’t required any monitoring at all. So you could always make that argument.

“We have throughout this crisis, though, I think relied on people’s common sense, I think most people wanted to do the right thing.”

Do I need to take a test before leaving the UK?

Evidence of a negative test is not mandatory to board a flight from the UK, so travellers will only need to take one if the country they are travelling to requires it.

Some countries may ask for evidence of vaccination or a negative test, while other destinations will only ask for proof of a negative test if you are not double jabbed.

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Countries that require travellers to take a test before entry may also only accept a PCR test, instead of the cheaper lateral flow (antigen) test, so it is worth checking this before you go.

The time scales often differ between the two test types so make sure you allow enough time before travelling.

You can check the entry requirements on the Foreign Office website before travelling to make sure you know what is expected.

What other rules could travellers face while abroad?

It is likely that travellers who are not fully vaccinated will face some restrictions while abroad.

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Many countries now require visitors to show a ‘Covid passport’ to enter indoor attractions and other venues, with travellers asked to present proof of their vaccinated status, or a recent negative test.

As such, unvaccinated travellers face having to take more regular tests while away to keep their Covid passport’s validity up to date.

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