Pre-departure Covid tests reintroduced for travellers to UK amid Omicron fears

4 December 2021, 18:12 | Updated: 5 December 2021, 16:11

Arrivals to the UK will need to take a Covid test before they embark on their journey
Arrivals to the UK will need to take a Covid test before they embark on their journey. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Pre-departure Covid tests will be reintroduced for international arrivals to the UK in response to the Omicron variant, the health secretary has confirmed.

Sajid Javid confirmed the tests will be a necessity from 4am on Tuesday.

He also said Nigeria has been added to the Government's red list, meaning people arriving in England from that country will have to isolate for 10 nights in a managed quarantine hotel, from 4am on Monday.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have since followed suit.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps confirmed the need for pre-departure tests applied to everyone over the age of 12, regardless of vaccination status.

He added the tests could either be PCR tests or the cheaper lateral flow ones.

It follows new research that suggests the incubation period for the Omicron variant may be slightly shorter than the Delta strain, meaning pre-departure testing may be more effective in identifying positive cases.

"New analysis conducted by the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) indicates that the window between infection and infectiousness may be shorter for the Omicron variant, which increases the efficacy of pre-departure testing as it is more likely to identify positive cases before travel," said the Department of Health and Social Care.

Read more: Omicron: 75 more cases found in England as targeted testing introduced in affected areas

Read more: Tube strike set to cause 'severe disruption' to passengers this weekend

"Since we learned of this new variant our strategy has been to buy time, buy time to assess it but also to put in place protective measures and we've always said that we would act swiftly should new data require it," Mr Javid told broadcasters.

"Over the recent days we have learned of a significant number of growing cases linked to travel with Nigeria."

He said the country was "second only to South Africa in terms of linked cases to Omicron".

"So today the Government has decided to add Nigeria to the travel red list and that will be effective from 4am on Monday which will mean only UK citizens or residents of the UK can enter the UK from Nigeria from that point onwards, and they will have to quarantine in one of the relevant hotels."

"We have also decided to require a pre-departure test, that's for all inward travellers," he said.

"That will be effective from 4am on Tuesday and it will require a maximum of 48 hours before the departure time."

He said the Government had been "clear" that it would "take action if it is necessary", but added that vaccinations were the "first line of defence" and encouraged people to get their booster jabs when they are called, urging them to "roll up their sleeves and get protected".

The new travel rules will be reviewed on December 20.

The new measures have been criticised by travel bosses who say the sudden changes make it "impossible" for the industry to plan ahead.

"It is premature to hit millions of passengers and industry before we see the full data," said Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK.

"We don't have the clinical evidence. The red list extension made complete sense - that's what it's there for - but we know from experience that blanket restrictions do not stop the importation of variants.

"It's already here. They've now changed their travel advice twice within a week and it's just impossible for anyone to plan. These measures must be removed as quickly as possible in line with the speed of the booster programme."

Read more: LBC Views: No10 must be hoping their major Omicron gamble will pay off

Read more: Mums share harrowing stories of Covid pregnancies to encourage people to get jab

Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, said the move was a "devastating blow" for the industry and said Government support was needed alongside the new measures.

"This is a devastating blow for aviation and tourism," she said.

"Pre-departure tests act as a major deterrent to travel and most of the limited remaining demand following the reintroduction of self-isolation will now fall away, just as airports were hoping for a small uplift over the Christmas holiday.

"Travel and aviation are the only sectors hit with any operating restrictions in response to the Omicron variant. The UK and devolved governments should have done the right thing and, alongside the restrictions, announced support for our businesses and our staff to get through another period of shutdown."