Britons may be stranded abroad as ministers say travellers will be banned from entering the UK within days if they do not have proof they are clear of coronavirus.
Passengers will be banned from entering the UK next week if they do not have a negative test within 72 hours of departure.
But there are concerns in the travel industry some will be stuck on holiday because many destinations – such as Barbados – do not have testing facilities.
It is expected to cause a scramble for return flights as around 100,000 Brits are currently away in hotspots such as Dubai and the Maldives.
Ministers agreed the strict measures last night amid growing pressure to tighten borders – but have not confirmed a start date, although it is expected to be next week.
They will apply to Britons and foreign nationals in a bid to keep out infections and mutant strains such as the one in South Africa. The curbs could come in next week.
Travellers will be banned from entering the UK next week if they do not have a negative test within 72 hours of departure. Pictured: Heathrow
There are concerns in the travel industry some will be stuck on holiday because many destinations – such as Barbados – do not have facilities for carrying out tests. Pictured: A man being tested at Heathrow
It is expected to cause a scramble for return flights as around 100,000 Brits are currently away in hotspots such as Dubai and the Maldives. Pictured: Heathrow last month
WHICH LATERAL FLOW TESTS DOES THE UK GOVERNMENT USE?
There are currently three lateral flow test devices on the Government’s approved list.
SD Biosensor Standard Q Antigen Test
Manufacturer: SD Biosensor
When tested: August
Claimed accuracy: 95.5%
Real-world accuracy: Thought to be around 70% – source
SD Biosensor’s rapid coronavirus test
Innova Tried & Tested Antigen Test
Manufacturer: Innova Tried & Tested
When tested: August
Claimed accuracy: 99%
Real-world accuracy: ‘At least 50 per cent’, according to Dept Health
Price: £8.69 per test (bulk order)
Innova’s rapid coronavirus test
Healgen Rapid Covid-19 Antigen Test
When tested: September
Claimed accuracy: 97.3%
Real-world accuracy: Unknown
Healgen’s rapid coronavirus test
Every traveller coming into UK ports or airports should have a pre-flight negative test to enter or will face a £500 on-the-spot fine. It is not clear whether they will then forced into quarantine.
Airlines and other carriers should bar people from travelling without them but Border Force guards will carry out spot checks on arrivals.
It was unclear last night whether PCR tests will be demanded in all circumstances or if rapid ‘lateral flow’ tests, considered less accurate, might also be accepted.
However, the travel industry raised fears some Britons could be stranded as countries such as Barbados do not have the resources.
One holidaymaker on the Caribbean island told the Times there was ‘zero chance’ they could be tested before their flight to the UK tomorrow.
The new rules mean travellers will have to quarantine for ten days – even if they test negative – if arriving from a ‘red list’ country with high rates of Covid-19.
But they will be able to leave isolation if a second test, which can be taken from the fifth day, is negative.
All travellers will require a ‘passenger locator form’ and face a £500 fine if they fail to comply.
Children under 11 will be exempt as will hauliers.
Hauliers crossing the Channel to France will also still need a negative test before departure following a decision by the French government on Thursday.
Some people will also dodge the new rules if they are coming from ‘countries without the infrastructure available to deliver the tests’.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘With new strains of the virus developing internationally we must take further precautions.
‘Taken together with the existing mandatory self-isolation period for passengers returning from high-risk countries, pre-departure tests will provide a further line of defence.’
Britain’s airline industry said it recognised the need to act to introduce pre-departure testing but only as a short-term, emergency measure.
Chief Executive of Airlines UK Tim Alderslade said: ‘Once the roll-out of the vaccine accelerates, the focus must be on returning travel to normal as quickly as possible in order to support the UK’s economic recovery.’
But travel consultant Paul Charles raised concerns about how realistic it is to have a pre-arrival test policy.
He pointed to reports there is ‘zero’ chance of getting a test in Barbados because all resources are focused on test and trace.
He tweeted: ‘How I wonder is the government’s plan for everyone departing from overseas to take a test ever going to work?’
He also questioned what will happen if test results come back slowly, and whether the infrastructure is in place to handle the paperwork.
The government was working with the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to roll out similar measures.
Ministers agreed the strict measures last night amid growing pressure to tighten borders (file image)
The new rules mean travellers will have to quarantine for ten days – even if they test negative – if arriving from a ‘red list’ country with high rates of Covid-19. Pictured, passengers arriving in New York on a flight from London
Boris Johnson confirmed earlier this week a requirement for arrivals to have tested negative will be introduced, amid alarm at the spread of new variants around the world. Pictured, border control at Heathrow Airport
The new rule would not apply to the Common Travel Area which includes England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland as well as the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
Who doesn’t have to provide a negative test on arrival in the UK? HauliersChildren under 11 Air crews People travelling from countries where tests are not available
It comes after ministers extended the travel ban on arrivals from South Africa to its neighbouring countries to keep out the new strain.
It affects Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Eswatini, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique and Angola, plus the Seychelles and Mauritius.
The ban comes into effect from tomorrow at 4am.
The Department for Transport said the move was in response to data showing a steep rise in cases of the new variant in the region.
Last night Israel was also removed from the ‘safe’ list.
Lockdown restrictions which came into force on Wednesday mean holidays are banned.
All passengers arriving from countries not on the government’s travel corridor list will still be required to self-isolate for ten days, regardless of their Covid test result.
Scotland, which has devolved powers over transport policy, announced on Thursday travellers from Israel and Jerusalem, Botswana, Mauritius and the Seychelles were being removed from its travel corridor list and passengers arriving from those countries would still be required to self-isolate for 10 days.
Around 230 planes hit the tarmac at Britain’s six busiest airports on Wednesday, with 26 coming from the US which is being battered by the virus.
Thousands have arrived at Heathrow in the past few days, with full data not yet available but sources at the airport said the figure was be in the tens of thousands.
In November nearly 747,000 entered through the London hub airport.
Figures from Labour yesterday showed that just three in every 100 people arriving in the UK are being checked to see if they are complying with quarantine requirements.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer took aim at the PM (both pictured above) in the Commons today as politicians returned to vote on the new lockdown rules.
Zahawi says Covid tests at airports ‘pointless’ in clashes with Piers Morgan on ITV
Nadhim Zahawi engaged in brutal clashes with Piers Morgan yesterday over the government’s Covid border controls.
The vaccines minister was slammed on ITV’s Good Morning Britain as he insisted it would be ‘pointless’ to test people at UK airports.
In a vicious rebuke, Morgan said: ‘We have, for inexplicable reasons, to anyone with a brain… throughout this pandemic resolutely refused to test people when they arrive at our border, nor have we required anybody to have a test to be negative when they get here.
‘Do you know how many people we have tested at our border?’
Mr Zahawi said: ‘The answer is you don’t take a test on the border because it’s pointless.’
Morgan added: ‘So the answer is zero… we don’t test people, any of our borders when they come in.
‘Secondly, we have never required anybody to have a test, and to test negative before they get on a plane to our country, unlike almost every other country in the world.’
Mr Zahawi said: ‘If you ask the scientists – Chris Whitty and Jonathan Van-Tam – that test at the border is near pointless because that person may be showing no symptoms, may test negative and two days later be positive.’
Mr Thomas-Symonds has written to Priti Patel to demand ‘an urgent review and improvement plan of quarantine arrangements’.
Mr Thomas-Symonds said analysis of Government data suggested just three per cent of arrivals expected to quarantine in England and Northern Ireland were successfully contacted by compliance checkers in the summer.
He said the Government’s Isolation Assurance Service, tasked with ensuring quarantine compliance, did not contact more than 1.9 million of the two million passengers spot checked by Border Force between June and September.
In a letter to the Home Secretary, Mr Thomas-Symonds said the numbers were ‘deeply concerning’ and demonstrate that ‘efforts to track, trace and isolate cases coming into the UK have been completely undermined’.
He said: ‘The lack of a robust quarantine system as a result of shortcomings from the Government mean that it is virtually impossible to keep a grip on this spread or other variants that may come from overseas, leaving the UK defenceless, and completely exposed, with the nation’s doors unlocked to further COVID mutations.
The Labour frontbencher said there must be ‘an urgent review and improvement plan of quarantine arrangements’ rolled out as soon as possible.
The calls for action come amid growing concerns over a variant of the disease discovered in South Africa.
The Home Office has defended its ‘stringent measures’, and pointed to its move to stop direct flights from South Africa to the UK.
In the first lockdown, the Government argued against introducing border restrictions while the prevalence was so high in the UK, with experts arguing it would do little to bring down infection rates.
However, a quarantine period was introduced in June after the first peak and when cases were more under control.