Pre-departure tests to return from Tuesday

Travellers heading to the UK will need evidence of a negative lateral flow or PCR Covid-19 test result, taken up to 48 hours before getting on an aircraft, ferry or Eurostar/Eurotunnel.

The requirement will come into force from Tuesday (December 7) in response to worries about the new Omicron variant of Covid-19.

Nigeria will be added to the red list, from 4am on Monday (December 6), becoming the 11th African country to be on the list.

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Health secretary Sajid Javid announced the tightening of restrictions on Saturday afternoon, saying: “Since we learned of this new variant our strategy has been to buy time…time to assess it but also to put in place protective measures. We always said  that we would act swiftly if new data required it.

“Over the recent days we have learned of significant number of growing cases linked to travel with Nigeria.

“Nigeria is second only to South Africa in terms of linked cases to Omicron.”

The government announcement stated Nigeria was to be added to the red list “following 21 cases of Omicron reported in England which are linked to travel from this country, with 134 UK cases now reported in total”.

Moving onto the red list means that only UK citizens can enter the UK from Nigeria, from 4am on Monday (December 6), and they will have to quarantine in a government mandated hotel for 10 days.

Currently, travellers only need to self-isolate until they test negative within two days of arrival.

The government said that new analysis by the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) indicated that the window between infection and infectiousness may be shorter for the Omicron variant “which increases the efficacy of pre-departure testing as it is more likely to identify positive cases before travel”.

It added: “Passengers are advised to take the pre-departure test as close as possible to their scheduled departure to the UK and no earlier than 48 hours before travelling.”

The measures will be reviewed on December 20.

The announcement comes a day after transport secretary Grant Shapps ruled out pre-arrival Covid tests for travellers entering the UK.

Shapps said on Twitter after Javid’s announcement: “As the scientists work to understand new Omicron variant we need to apply additional caution until picture is clearer. We appreciate this will be difficult for the travel sector as we prioritise public health & protect the progress of our world-leading vax & booster programme.”

Aviation and maritime minister Robert Courts also tweeted about the new rules, saying: “These new measures are to protect public health & guard against importation of the new #Omicron variant.”

The government said it was working “at pace” to expand Managed Quarantine Service capacity, for those needing to quarantine in a hotel, but advised passengers that “hotel bookings may be limited as new hotels are onboarded”.

It warned: “Travellers should not attempt to travel to the UK from a red list country without a Managed Quarantine Service (MQS) booking, as they will not be able to board a flight and could be subject to a fixed penalty notice at the UK border. The government’s advice is to keep checking the CTM website as there are significant number of cancellations happening which will free up rooms.

“The MQS has contracted several new hotels to enter service this week, in response to the likely numbers of UK residents who will want to travel from Nigeria before Christmas.”

Travel agents, operators, airlines and travel industry bodies reacted with dismay and anger at the announcement, calling for government support as many again had to deal with cancellations, rearranged travel and weakened consumer confidence.

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Picture by Viacheslav Lopatin/Shutterstock

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