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All international arrivals, including Britons, must present proof they have taken a test 72 hours before departure to gain entry to the UK. Passengers will be hit with a £500 on the spot fine if they fail to comply with the new rules. The changes will come into force next week for passengers arriving by boat, plane or train.
Truckers and children under 11 are among a limited number of exceptions.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said pre-departure testing will cut the risk of some travelling while they are infectious.
“We already have significant measures in place to prevent imported cases of Covid 19, but with new strains of the virus developing internationally we must take further precautions,” he said.
“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 – helping us control the virus as we roll out the vaccine at pace over the coming weeks.”
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Passengers arriving from countries not on the Government’s travel corridor list must still self-isolate for ten days even if their pre-departure test result is negative.
Travellers also need to fill in forms showing where they will be based during their quarantine and Border Force will conduct spot checks on arrival into England, the Department for Transport said.
It comes as a ban was imposed on almost every country in southern Africa last night amid fears of a highly contagious new strain of Covid-19.
South Africa is suffering a sharp spike in cases, driven by a new variant that may reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.
The UK Government initially banned all direct flights from South Africa – but many airlines were still selling connecting flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Ministers last night “responded swiftly” and barred anyone from Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Eswatini, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique, Angola, Seychelles and Mauritius from entering England.
British nationals and visa holders will still be able to come home, but must self-isolate for 10 days when they arrive.
The Department for Transport said last night: “The move, in addition to the travel ban imposed on South Africa on 23 December, follows new data on the steep rise in incidence of the new variant, that has vastly increased the risk of community transmission between nine other southern African countries as well as the Seychelles and Mauritius, which both have strong travel links with South Africa.
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“Any exemptions usually in place – including for those related to employment – will not apply”.
Antibodies may be at least 10 times less effective against the new variant, which is separate to the mutation that was originally identified in England.
Cases in South Africa have surged past 1.1 million, with 90 per cent now due to the new variant.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, the industry association representing UK-registered carriers, said: “We recognise the UK Government’s need to act now and support the introduction of pre-departure testing in order to keep the country safe and borders open.
“However, this should be a short-term, emergency measure only and 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.
“This includes removing the need to quarantine or test as the UK population is vaccinated and the virus is brought under control at home and abroad.
“Ultimately, cheaper and quicker testing is required to ensure travel can be accessible while testing is required but then needs to be unwound once vaccinations and the overall threat of Covid recedes.”
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