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COVID-19 RULES

UPDATE: What travellers from Europe to UK need to know about new Covid test rules

With the worsening Covid-19 situation across Europe and the spread of the new Omicron variant, the UK has announced yet more new testing rules for arrivals. Here's what you need to know about the new requirement for pre-departure tests.

Britain's Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty (L), Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (C) and Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance (R)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (C) announces the new requirements for entry to the UK at a press conference alongside Britain's Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty (L) and Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance (R) on November 27th, 2021. Hollie Adams / POOL / AFP

Pre-departure tests

On Saturday December 4th the British government announced it would demand pre-departure tests for all arrivals from 4am on December 7th onwards.

These tests, which were scrapped only weeks ago, must be taken within two days of travel to the UK. They can be PCR or antigen tests and must be carried out by all travellers regardless of their vaccination status.

The requirement applies for those arriving in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Day 2 PCR tests

On November 27th the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that PCR tests and self-isolation for UK arrivals would be reintroduced amid concerns of the new Omicron variant that was first identified in South Africa and has now been found in several people in mainland Europe and the UK.

READ ALSO: Germany confirms two cases of new Covid strain: regional ministry

The requirements came into force at 4am on Tuesday, November 30th.

This means that if you’re arriving in the UK after 4am on Tuesday, November 30th, you need to book and take PCR tests instead of lateral flow tests, which will no longer be accepted.

You’ll need to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after arriving in the UK and self-isolate until you get a negative test result.

Quarantine requirements

This means you can only leave home if you need to buy essential supplies, such as food or medication (but only if no-one else can buy them for you), to take a test or for urgent medical care.

The potential problem with this change is that the UK testing system has been beset with problems.

For example, at least one private testing company is being investigated for failure to deliver PCR test results on time – or in some cases at all – meaning people could be stuck in quarantine for a long time.

And another is being looked into for providing thousands of incorrect negative results.

And Which? travel editor Rory Boland expressed concern about the testing companies and how they would cope with the additional demand, as he details in the below tweet, meaning people could be stuck in quarantine for days.

Forms to fill in

If you’re due to arrive before 4am on November 30th, you can complete the required Passenger Locator Form now, but if you’re arriving after that time, you’ll need to return to the website after 4am on Monday, November 29th as the system is being updated.

You need to fill one of these forms in, even if you’re just passing through the UK, and it needs to be completed 48 hours or less before you start your journey.

Lack of clarity

However, a few things remain unclear, including what the requirements are for people who are entering the UK for less than two days, and whether these could rule out short business trips. 

The government is expected to reveal further details this week and we will be update this article as soon as further information is available.

Other restrictions

Wearing face masks on public transport and in shops will also be mandatory again in England from Tuesday. 

They are still required in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on public transport and many indoor spaces.

 
 
 

 

Member comments

  1. A good tip for people arriving at London Stansted airport – you can book a PCR test on arrival at the airport and get the result within 24 hours so you won’t have to isolate for too long

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COVID-19 RULES

Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder (CSU) has announced plans for a "prompt" end to mandatory masks on buses and trains.

Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

If infection levels and hospitalisations remain low, the end of the mask-wearing rule could come as soon as December or January.

“We are convinced that the mask requirement in public transport could also be phased out either in mid-December or early next year, if the numbers remain reasonably stable and there are no new mutations,” Söder explained on Monday, following a meeting with the CSU executive committee. 

A decision on when to end the measure would be made “promptly”, he added.

The CSU politician had said last week that the sinking infection rates meant that compulsory masks were no longer appropriate and that the mandate could be changed to a recommendation. 

No set date for change

The latest version of Bavaria’s Infection Protection Act – which lays out an obligation to wear masks on public transport as one of the few remaining Covid rules – is currently due to expire on December 9th.

State ministers could decide whether to let obligatory masks on buses and trains lapse on this date as early as next week, or they could decide to initially extend the legislation and set an alternative date for ending the rule.

Regardless of their decision, FFP2 masks will continue to be mandatory on long-distance public transport until at least April next year, when the nationwide Infection Protection Act is due to expire.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

Speaking to Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday after the meeting of the Council of Ministers, Florian Herrmann (CSU), head of the State Chancellery, confirmed that Covid-19 had been discussed in passing.

However, no decisions or discussions were made on how to proceed after the expiry of the regulation, he said.

According to Herrmann, the fact that Covid was no longer the “dominant topic” in the cabinet under “enormous tension” shows “that we are returning to normality” in a gradual transition from pandemic to endemic. 

As of Wednesday, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people stood at 108 in Bavaria, down from 111 the previous day. However, experts have cast doubt on how meaningful the incidence is in light of the fact that fewer people are taking tests.

Nevertheless, the 133 hospital beds occupied by Covid patients in the Free State falls well below the 600 threshold for a ‘red alert’. With Omicron causing less severe courses of illness than previous variants, politicians have increasingly focussed on hospitalisation statistics to gauge the severity of the situation.

‘A risk-benefit trade-off’

Bavaria is the second federal state to announce plans to relax its mask-wearing rules in recent weeks.

On November 14th, the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein announced that it would be ending obligatory FFP2 masks on public transport and urged other states to do the same. From January 2023, masks on public transport will only be recommended rather than mandated for passengers on local buses and trains. 

However, the Federal Ministry of Health has urged states not to loosen their rules too quickly.

Given that infection rates are likely to spike again in winter, “there’s no basis for loosening restrictions”, said Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD).

Physicians are also split on whether an end to masks on public transport is appropriate.

READ ALSO: Will Germany get rid of masks on public transport?

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) speaks at the German Hospital Day in Düsseldorf on November 14th. Lauterbach is against the lifting of the mask-wearing rule. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

Christoph Spinner, a virologist at the University Hospital in Munich, told Süddeutsche Zeitung he believed it was time to put the decision on mask-wearing back into the hands of individuals.

“Why not? The incidences are low, the danger of Covid-19 has dropped significantly and mortality has also decreased,” he said. 

But the Bavarian General Practitioners’ Association spoke out against the move, arguing that – unlike a trip to a restaurant or cinema – people often have no choice but to travel on public transport.

“If the obligation to wear a mask in public transport is maintained, this will help to protect against a Covid infection on the way to work by bus or train – especially in view of the discontinuation of the obligation to isolate in the event of a Covid infection,” they explained.

Bavaria is one of four states to have recently ended mandatory isolation for people who test positive for Covid. Baden-Württemberg and Schleswig-Holstein both scrapped their isolation mandate last week, while Hesse removed its obligation on Tuesday. 

READ ALSO: Four German states call for end to mandatory Covid isolation

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