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Few major national governments have done more to deserve the “acting after the horse has bolted” award than the British government and, in what I presume is a final push to make sure that no other country comes up on the rails and steals the award at the last minute, the British Government has now said that will require proof of a negative COVID test for anyone wishing to visit England from next week.
Negative COVID Test Required To Enter England
The British Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, has announced that starting from next week, travelers arriving into England by boat, plane, or train will be required to show evidence of a negative COVID-19 test that was taken no more than 72 hours before the traveler left the last country they visited.
Prior to departure, travelers will be required to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test to their carrier, as well as recording details of their test on England’s passenger locator form. Airlines, train operators, and all other carriers will be required to deny boarding to anyone commencing travel to the UK without a negative COVID test unless they fall into an exempt category*.
*The government has said that there will be a limited number of exemptions (e.g. for hauliers, for children under 11, for crews, and for people traveling from countries without the infrastructure available to deliver the tests) but it is yet to publish a list of these exemptions.
Crucially, a negative COVID test is not a pass to avoid England’s quarantine rules and, to that end, the government has confirmed the following:
- Evidence of a negative COVID test will be required even if a traveler is arriving from a country that is on England’s travel corridor list.
- Passengers arriving into England from a country not on the travel corridor list will continue to have self-isolate for 10 days even if they provided evidence of a negative COVID before they departed their country of origin.
- Passengers arriving into England who have provided evidence of a negative result prior to departure from a country not on the travel corridor list will continue to have the option to reduce the self-isolation period from 10 to as little as 5 days by paying for a test through the Test to Release scheme.
The government has also said that the UK Border Force will conduct spot checks on arrival into England to ensure that passengers are fully compliant. Anyone caught breaking the rules will be subject to an immediate fine of £500 (~$675).
At this moment in time, the rule only applies to travelers wishing to visit or return to England (yes, I know the headline mentions the UK) but as it’s highly unlikely that the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland won’t follow along pretty quickly, we may as well assume that you’ll need evidence of a negative COVID test to enter any part of the UK from next week.
Once again this is a move that comes far too late. The UK government waited too long to introduce quarantine rules last summer (it also failed to enforce its own rules), it waited too long to introduce stricter social distancing rules last November, it waited too long to lock London down in December, it waited too long to tell everyone that they shouldn’t mix households at Christmas, it waited too long to tell parents not to send their kids back to school last Monday, and now it’s flapping around (like one of those inflatable wind dancers you often see at garages and car dealerships) desperately trying to make up for its never-ending failings.
Requiring all people visiting or returning to the UK to offer evidence of a negative COVID test was something that should have been in place in the first half of last year and not something that’s clearly being used as a desperate last resort while the nation goes into yet another full lockdown. Negative COVID tests may not be a cast-iron guarantee that a traveler is COVID-free, but they’re considerably more useful than the unenforced joke of a quarantine requirement that has been in place since July last year (and that has almost certainly done very little to stem the flow of the virus).
It’s interesting to note that while the UK government says that it will require all carriers to check that their passengers have the necessary documentation required to enter the UK before they board, and while it says that UK Border Force will be fining any passengers who are found breaking the rules upon arrival, there’s no mention (that I’ve seen) of the measures that will be taken against the carriers. What will the punishment be for them if they transport a customer that doesn’t have the right paperwork?
If the carriers are meant to be checking that all their non-exempt customers have evidence of a negative COVID test before they travel, there should be a colossal (share price altering) fine waiting for any carrier that permits a non-exempt customer to board without proof of a negative COVID test. That’s the only way to make this rule as watertight as possible.
Idiots will be idiots so there will always be those who, for whatever reason, will try to travel without evidence of a negative COVID test even though they’ve been reminded over and over again that one will be required. It’s also likely that these are exactly the same people who take a very “relaxed” approach to social distancing, to mask-wearing, and to observing the key health and safety rules the rest of us are doing our best to abide by.
These are the very people we don’t want to see traveling so any airline (or other travel operator) that actually allows them to travel should be hit with a penalty that’s painful to the extreme.
If you’re visiting or returning to England next week, be prepared to have to show evidence of a negative COVID test before you travel. If you’re traveling to one of the other counties in the United Kingdom you may as well expect the same as it’s unlikely that the devolved governments won’t introduce the same rule in the next few hours (or days).