UK to bring in airport Covid tests for arrivals

MPs call for stricter border measures as South African variant of coronavirus spreads

Heathrow Airport departure lounge
(Image credit: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty)

Overseas travellers will have to present a negative Covid-19 test to enter the UK under government plans aimed at curbing the spread of new variants of the virus.

The Times reports that passengers will be required to show a negative test result obtained no more than 72 hours before departure.

However, according to The Independent, only foreigners will have to prove they don’t have Covid “before being allowed to board trains, ferries or planes to the UK”, with British nationals and residents to be exempt from the rule.

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Until now, arrivals to the UK have been required only to complete a passenger locator form and undergo quarantine if travelling from a country not on the government’s “travel corridor” list. But amid growing concern about new strains of the virus, “senior Conservative MPs had demanded immediate action to prevent further importation of new strains such as that identified in South Africa”, says The Times.

The issue has caused divisions in Boris Johnson’s cabinet, with Home Secretary Priti Patel calling for greater restrictions on entry for those travelling from high-risk areas, while Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has opposed the move.

“A former Downing Street official said that Mr Shapps had prevailed after being lobbied by the airline industry for a lighter touch regime,” the paper reports.

Amid the growing row, Tory MP Neil O’Brien, who heads the party’s Policy Board, tweeted yesterday that procedures needed to “toughen up at the border”. O’Brien pointed to South Korea’s strict measures as an example for the UK could follow.

His warning came as Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted being “incredibly worried” about the new South African variant, which he described as a “very, very significant problem”.

Rules for international arrivals to other countries vary significant, with nations including Greece, France and Germany requiring a negative test obtained no more than 72 hours before arrival to avoid quarantine.

Some other countries have stricter rules, however, with requirements for tests to be taken both before departure and after arrival, plus mandatory quarantines of up to 14 days.

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