Covid testing for people arriving in England delayed until Monday
The introduction of coronavirus testing for passengers arriving in England from abroad has been delayed to allow travellers more time to prepare for the new rules.
The new system was scheduled to come into force at 4am on Friday, but has been pushed back until Monday morning.
The Department for Transport only published details of which pre-departure tests it would accept late on Wednesday, raising concerns that passengers on long-haul flights would not have enough time to source and use the approved tests before their flights.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said the change was to “give international arrivals time to prepare”.
But Yvette Cooper, Labour chair of the House of Commons home affairs select committee, questioned the delay. “No guidance out with two days to go. And now delays. What on earth are they doing?” she posted on Twitter.
Ministers are also meeting on Thursday to discuss a ban on travellers from Brazil entering the UK amid concerns about a new variant of Covid-19 first identified in that country.
The government could announce before the end of the day a ban on direct flights not only from Brazil but also neighbouring countries in South America.
Arrivals into England will be asked to show proof of a negative test taken no more than 72 hours before they board planes, trains or boats destined for England, or face being denied travel, under rules set out last week. People caught arriving without a negative test result face a £500 fine.
Arrivals will still have to abide by the UK’s 10-day quarantine period, unless coming in from a small list of countries in the government’s “travel corridor”.
The pre-departure tests, which passengers must source themselves, need to meet specific sensitivity and specificity standards, and could include PCR, LAMP and antigen tests.
Anyone arriving before Monday is “under no legal obligation to get a test before you travel” but is still encouraged to be tested if possible, the DfT said.
Paul Charles, a travel industry consultant at The PC Agency, said the government was right to delay the introduction of the new rules as “more time is needed to put this into place”.
Similar testing requirements have been announced by the Scottish government and were due to come into force on Friday morning, while the government said last week it was in talks with Wales and Northern Ireland over introducing pre-departure testing for arriving passengers.
Airlines have already stopped direct flights between Brazil and the UK after the Brazilian government banned flights from the UK three weeks ago because it was worried about a new strain of coronavirus first identified in Kent.
Also under discussion is a ban on people coming into the UK from other countries if they have been to Brazil in the past 10 days. The decision will be taken by the “Covid O” (Covid-19 operations committee) chaired by Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office secretary.
The UK stopped travellers entering from South Africa three weeks ago because of concerns about a different strain from that country.