The government has announced travel measures to tackle the new Omicron coronavirus variant. From 4am on November 30, anyone who enters the UK must take a PCR test by the end of the second day after arrival and self-isolate until they have received a negative result.
Prime minister, Boris Johnson, announced the measures at a press conference at the weekend, just weeks after international travel rules were eased to allow cheaper lateral flow tests.
There have also been changes to the red list, with 10 countries now included, which means arrivals from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia will have to quarantine for 10 days.
These are the key questions and answers for travellers:
What should you do if you arrive in England after 4am on 30 November? (See separate section for red list country arrivals)
If you are fully vaccinated you must:
complete a passenger locator form – to be completed in the 48 hours before you arrive in England
take a PCR test before the end of day 2 after you arrive (lateral flow tests will not be accepted). You cannot use an NHS test for this. You must use a private test provider.
It is worth noting that the PCR tests don’t need to be taken on the second day after your return from overseas – they can be taken at the airport immediately after you land. The period of self-isolation ends if your PCR test result is negative.
What are the rules if you’re not fully vaccinated?
If unvaccinated, you will also need to take a pre-departure test up to 72 hours before travelling home. Furthermore, you must still take a PCR test for your day two test, and another on day eight, and self-isolate for 10 days.
How do I get a PCR test for my ‘day two’?
There is a government list of approved providers; prices for these tests range from £20 to £399. Book your test in advance while on your trip to avoid a longer quarantine period and remember to put your confirmation code when the test is booked on your Passenger Locator Form in order to travel back to the UK.
What happens once you have taken your test?
Arrivals to the UK must self-isolate until they receive the result of their day two PCR test. If negative, fully vaccinated travellers can end their self-isolation. If positive, they must isolate for 10 days and register their result with the NHS.
Red list countries
Different rules apply if you have been in a red list country in the 10 days before you arrive in England.
Regardless of your vaccination status, if you’re returning to the UK from a red list country, you will need to:
Take a Covid-19 test (antigen test, LAMP test or PCR test) in the three days before you return. If your test result is positive, you must not travel. You must follow local rules and guidance for positive coronavirus cases.
Complete a Passenger Locator Form in the 48 hours before you return.
Pre-book a mandatory 11-night quarantine hotel package, which will include two PCR tests, taken on day two and day eight, and add the details to your Passenger Locator Form.
Travelling with children
For those travelling with children, the testing requirements are:
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, children aged four and under do not need to take any tests on their return to the UK. Children aged 5-17 only need to take a day two test (lateral flow or PCR).
In Scotland: children aged 10 and under do not need to take any tests on their return. Children aged 11-17 only need to take a day two test (lateral flow or PCR).
Have any other countries imposed new rules?
From Saturday night, Switzerland mandated 10 days of quarantine for all new arrivals, in effect ruining skiing holidays in the Swiss Alps until further notice.
Travel firms are also wrestling with Spain’s ban on non-vaccinated arrivals that will affect British holidaymakers from Wednesday 1 December. This will apply until at least 31 December, and is a change from the previous requirement that allowed unvaccinated travellers to show proof of a negative Covid test result.
Israel was also expected to announce a ban on foreign visitors for a fortnight, which could come into effect from Monday.
Portugal has reimposed restrictions, meaning that anyone who enters the country must show a negative test certificate on arrival. This will come into effect on December 1.