Pre-departure tests for anyone travelling to the UK are being reintroduced as the government continues to gather information on the new Omicron COVID variant.
The move coincides with Nigeria being placed on the red travel list – and represents the biggest change to the UK’s travel rules in quite some time.
What’s the latest?
All international arrivals to the UK, including children over the age of 12, will again be required to take pre-departure COVID-19 tests to tackle the spread of the new Omicron variant.
The rule applies to all travellers visiting the UK or returning from a holiday, regardless of vaccination status, and will come into force from 4am on Tuesday 7 December.
Tests must be taken a maximum of 48 hours before the departure time.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said it was because of an “increasing number of cases linked to travel”.
In addition, from 4am on Monday 6 December, Nigeria will be on the red travel list.
It joins several southern African nations which were put on it after the Omicron variant was first detected late last month.
It means that only UK citizens and residents will be able to enter the country from Nigeria, and they will have to pay to stay in a quarantine hotel for 10 days.
Nigeria is “second only to South Africa for cases linked to Omicron”, Mr Javid said.
Testing – more details
The Department of Health advises that people can get private PCR or lateral flow tests from pharmacies, or a lateral flow kit can be purchased in the UK before travelling.
The negative test will need to be registered, and the private provider will explain how to do this.
A lateral flow kit bought in the UK to take abroad should include instructions to register that you are fit to fly.
The kit cannot be one provided by the NHS.
This is because the test has to be registered to prove you are negative, and that is done by the private provider. It is not a service offered by the NHS.
Which countries are on the red list?
Nigeria – from 4am on Monday 6 December
You must have had a complete course of one of the following vaccines at least 14 days before you arrive:
• Pfizer BioNTech
• Janssen (single dose vaccine)
• Sinopharm Beijing
The day you have your final dose does not count as one of the 14 days.
Currently, the UK does not require you to have had a booster jab before arrival.
What happens if you come back from a red list country?
If you have been in a red list country in the 10 days before you arrive, you must:
• Quarantine for 10 full days in a managed quarantine hotel
• Take a coronavirus test on or before day two and on or after day eight of quarantining – these are included in the hotel package. The price for one adult in one room is £2,285
What happens if a traveller tests positive when returning to the UK?
Anyone who tests positive needs to isolate and take a free confirmatory PCR test.
This would then be genomically sequenced to help identify new variants.
Will the new rules apply to the whole of the UK?
Travel rules are a matter for the devolved administrations, but measures introduced by Downing Street are usually replicated elsewhere, and Scotland quickly announced the same testing requirements.
Scotland’s Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said: “We have always said it may be necessary to quickly implement fresh measures to protect public health in Scotland, particularly with regards to international travel, and these restrictions are proportionate and necessary to that aim.”
Are the rules the same for leaving the UK and returning from other countries?
The rules only apply to those flying back to the UK.
Passengers should continue to check GOV.UK travel guidance to keep up to date with entry requirements into the UK here.