How will the new border rules work?
Matt Hancock has announced details of the tougher border measures to MPs.
RULES FOR RED LIST TRAVELLERS
People will be required to test negative for coronavirus 72 hours before departure, using a kit that meets UK government standards.
On arrival they will be taken to a ‘quarantine hotel’ for a 10-day stay that will leave them with a £1,750 bill – although the government pays up front.
They will be tested again on day two and day eight of quarantine, with costs included in the wider charge.
RULES FOR NON-RED LIST
The same requirement for a negative test result 72 hours before departure applies.
Once in the UK, they must isolate for 10 days at home or in private accommodation, with the authorities able to check that they are obeying the rules.
Tests will be required on day two and day eight of isolation, and must be booked through a government portal in advance of travel. The portal will be launched on Thursday.
The costs are not yet known but PCR tests typically cost around £120 a time.
It is thought many people will opt for the test and release scheme – which means they can escape restrictions after testing negative on day five.
However, Mr Hancock suggested they will still be required to take tests on day two and day eight – meaning they could be screened four times in total.
Travellers who lie about whether they have been to mutant coronavirus hotspots face up to ten years in prison, under a brutal crackdown unveiled by Matt Hancock today.
The Health Secretary said he made ‘no apologies’ for incredibly harsh measures, warning that protecting the UK from variant strains that can potentially evade vaccines is ‘mission critical’ – and hinting they might need to be in place until the Autumn.
He revealed the government is creating a new criminal offence of hiding from the authorities that you have visited one of the countries on the UK’s ‘red list’.
The draconian step came as he confirmed that from Monday all arrivals will have to take three gold-standard PCR coronavirus tests – one pre-departure and two during their isolation period. Those who fail to get the checks could be hit with thousands of pounds in fines.
Mr Hancock also declared that 4,600 rooms have now been secured by the government from 16 hotels so the ‘quarantine hotel’ system can get up and running as planned on Monday, although the Department of Health refused to name them.
All incomers from ‘red list’ countries must stay in the rooms for 10 days, costing £1,750 each including food and drink and their testing bill.
Arrivals from dozens of high-risk countries on the ‘red list’ will have to test negative 72 hours before travelling, and then be screened again twice, on day two and day eight.
Failure to stick to the hotel quarantine will be punishable with a fine of up to £10,000, Mr Hancock said.
Meanwhile, all other travellers will also have to show a negative result before coming to the UK, and then face two more tests while isolating at home or in other private accommodation. The government has not said how much that will cost although typically it is around £120 per test.
The existing ‘test and release’ scheme will stay in place so people can escape restrictions five days after arrival – but they will still have to be tested on day two and day eight regardless.
Mr Hancock said failure to get the screening – which must be booked in advance through a government portal – will be punishable with a £1,000 fine on the first occasion, and £2,000 on the second.
And he said people who lie about whether they have been to ‘red list’ countries could be hit with a jail sentence of up to 10 years under a new law.
The maximum punishment puts the offence in a category with some of the most serious, alongside things such as carrying a firearm with intent. Sentences for rape can be shorter than 10 years, although the maximum for that level of crime is life.
The tests required are the PCR variety rather than the quicker and cheaper lateral flow.
Travellers from all countries are already obliged to prove they have tested negative in the previous 72 hours, and isolate for 10 days, but there are concerns about low compliance.
Setting out the new health measures at the border – which will come into force on Monday – Mr Hancock said: ‘The new measures build on the tough action that we’ve already taken.’
He added: ‘Every passenger must demonstrate a negative test result 72 hours before they travel to the UK and every passenger must quarantine for 10 days.
‘Arriving in this country involves a two-week process for all.’
On the 33 red list countries, Mr Hancock continued: ‘But even with these tough measures in place we must strengthen our defences yet further.
‘I appreciate what a significant challenge this is.’
Travellers who lie about whether they have been to mutant coronavirus hotspots face up to ten years in prison, under a brutal crackdown unveiled by Matt Hancock today
All international arrivals into the UK will be forced to take two tests as the government is set to implement stricter measures to stop new strains of Covid arriving in the country
A deserted Terminal 5 as the aviation industry continues to be badly hit by the Covid crisis
A poll for MailOnline last week suggested the public is heavily in favour of a tough border crackdown amid fears over variant strains
How much will the coronavirus tests cost travellers?
Under the new arrangements, all arrivals in the UK are expected to take three tests – potentially costing hundreds of pounds.
It is thought everyone will have to pay for their own screening.
Those from ‘red lists’ will be tested in ‘quarantine hotels’, where they are already expected to fund their own stay.
Arrivals from other places will have to obtain their own tests and provide results to the authorities.
A ‘gold standard’ PCR test at boots costs £120.
However, it is not clear whether the tests will have to be PCR or the quicker lateral flow kits, which are far cheaper.
Spelling out the extraordinary new system, Mr Hancock said he made ‘no apologies’ for how tough they are.
‘People who flout these rules are putting us all at risk,’ he said.
‘Passenger carriers will have a duty in law to make sure that passengers have signed up for these new arrangements before they travel, and will be fined if they don’t, and we will be putting in place tough fines for people who don’t comply.
‘This includes a £1,000 penalty for any international arrival who fails to take a mandatory test, a £2,000 penalty for any international arrival who fails to take the second mandatory test, as well as automatically extending their quarantine period to 14 days, and a £5,000 fixed penalty notice – rising to £10,000 – for arrivals who fail to quarantine in a designated hotel.’
He added: ‘Anyone who lies on the passenger locator form and tries to conceal that they’ve been in a country on the red list in the 10 days before arrival here will face a prison sentence of up to 10 years.’
Mr Hancock said the measures will be put into law this week and more resources will be available to enforce them, adding: ‘I make no apologies for the strength of these measures because we’re dealing with one of the strongest threats to our public health that we’ve faced as a nation.’
Mr Hancock said: ‘From Monday, all international arrivals, whether under home quarantine or hotel quarantine, will be required by law to take further PCR tests on day two and day eight of that quarantine.
‘Passengers will have to book these tests through our online booking portal before they travel. Anyone planning to travel to the UK from Monday needs to book these tests and the online portal will go live on Thursday.
‘If either of these post-arrival tests comes back positive, they’ll have to quarantine for a further 10 days from the date of the test and will of course be offered any NHS treatment that’s necessary.
‘Any positive test will automatically undergo genomic sequencing to confirm whether they have a variant of concern.’
Mr Hancock said responding to new variants is ‘mission critical’.
He told the Commons: ‘Coronavirus, just like flu and all other viruses, mutates over time and so responding to new variants as soon as they arise is mission critical to protect ourselves for the long term.’
Outlining the Government’s four-part strategy to do this, Mr Hancock said: ‘First, the lower the case numbers here, the fewer new variants we get – so the work to lower case numbers domestically is crucial.
‘Second, as I set out to the House last week, is enhanced contact tracing, surge testing and genomic sequencing.
‘Third is the work on vaccines to tackle variants as set out yesterday by Professor Van-Tam.
‘And fourth, health protection at the border to increase our security against new variants of concern arriving from abroad.’
Travel from ‘red list’ countries to the UK is already banned for everyone apart from Britons and a few other exceptions.
And Mr Hancock said that those arriving from those 33 countries – and potentially more in future if the roster expands – will now have to quarantine in an assigned hotel room.
He told the Commons: ‘We’re setting up a new system of hotel quarantine for UK and Irish residents who’ve been in red list countries in the last 10 days. In short, this means that any returning residents from these countries will have to quarantine in an assigned hotel room for 10 days from the time of arrival.
‘Before they travel, they’ll have to book through an online platform and pay for a quarantine package costing £1,750 for an individual travelling alone which includes the hotel, transport and testing. This booking system will go live on Thursday when we’ll also publish the full detailed guidance.
‘Passengers will only be able to enter the UK through a small number of ports that currently account for the vast majority of passenger arrivals. When they arrive, they’ll be escorted to a designated hotel which will be closed to guests who aren’t quarantining, for 10 days or for longer if they test positive for Covid-19 during their stay.
‘We’ve contracted 16 hotels for an initial 4,600 rooms and we will secure more as they are needed. People will need to remain in their rooms and of course will not be allowed to mix with other guests and there will be visible security in place to ensure compliance alongside necessary support, so even as we protect public health we can look after the people in our care.’
How rapid lateral flow tests are different to lab-based PCR swabs
Lateral flow tests are an alternative to the gold standard PCR test – known scientifically as polymerase chain reaction testing – which is more expensive and more labour-intensive but more accurate.
PCR tests also use a swab but this is then processed using high-tech laboratory equipment to analyse the genetic sequence of the sample to see if any of it matches the genes of coronavirus.
This is a much more long-winded and expensive process, involving multiple types of trained staff, and the analysis process can take hours, with the whole process from swab to someone receiving their result taking days.
It is significantly more accurate, however. In ideal conditions the tests are almost 100 per cent accurate at spotting the virus, although this may be more like 70 per cent in the real world.
Travel experts and MPs welcomed the testing plans – but said it should replace hotel quarantine, and warned that there needs to be an end date.
Conservative Huw Merriman, chairman of the Transport Select Committee, questioned how long the new testing and quarantine measures will last, given the impact it could have on the summer travel industry.
Mr Merriman asked: ‘Summer travel is so important to the aviation industry. Is this just to last until we’ve vaccinated 99% of the mortality risk, which should be by May, or is it until we tweak the vaccination – in which case this could really, really have an impact on the aviation industry?’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock replied in the Commons: ‘We want to exit from this into a system of safe international travel as soon as practicable and as soon as is safe.’
Mr Hancock said work is ongoing to assess the current vaccines against variants of the virus, adding: ‘If that isn’t forthcoming then we will need to vaccinate with a further booster jab in the autumn, which we’re working with the vaccine industry.
‘These are the uncertainties within which we are operating and hence, for now, my judgment is the package we’ve announced today is the right one.’
Business chiefs called for extra help for the aviation sector.
The Confederation of British Industry’s chief UK policy director Matthew Fell said: ‘Business understands the priority is to protect the health of the population, and supports measures to reduce infections and hasten the return to a normal way of life.
‘Yet these new quarantine rules and testing requirements are a further reminder of just how challenging the situation is for the international travel sector right now.
‘Further, immediate support is now essential to protect companies and jobs in the aviation sector and its supply chains in the difficult months ahead. The Government should also be clear on a road map to relaxing restrictions when health data permits.
‘The UK’s world-class aviation sector – which underpins so much of our economic activity – must be supported so that it can play its full part in the country’s recovery.’
Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultants The PC Agency, said: ‘Mass traveller testing alone is to be welcomed as it enables Government to stay one step ahead of possible new variants, but adding several layers of complexity to travel will stall any economic recovery.
‘The Government needs to signal that it is looking to loosen border restrictions again from April, when there will be much less pressure on the NHS and infection/mortality rates will be lower.
‘What is the exit route out of this? Travel cannot work on the short-term whim of Government.’
He added: ‘When infection and mortality rates are much lower and the NHS is not under pressure due to vaccines taking effect, then there is no reason for such measures to be in place.
‘So, I would still expect travel to short-haul Europe to be likely from 1st May onwards and that’s when consumers should be booking for.
‘Some countries will still no doubt insist on negative test proof but travel should very much open up further. This will enable people to visit family again and travel on business, as well as for holidays.’
Mr Charles said the government needed to signal that restrictions will be diluted from the start of April, or the travel sector could go over a ‘cliff-edge’ with ‘hundreds of thousands of job losses and business failures’.
Derek Jones, chief executive of luxury travel company Kuoni, welcomed the plan to test arriving travellers but called for it to coincide with an easing of mandatory self-isolation requirements.
What countries are on the ‘red list’ for hotel quarantine rules?
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores)
United Arab Emirates (UAE)
He said: ‘A robust testing regime is the way to open up travel again but it has to replace or at least shorten quarantine.
‘That’s the way to get travel moving again.’
The testing changes follow the announcement last week that from February 15, UK nationals returning from high risk ‘red list’ destinations will have to quarantine in Government-approved hotels where they will have to take two tests.
A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘Enhancing our testing regime to cover all arrivals while they isolate will provide a further level of protection and enable us to better track any new cases which might be brought into the country, and give us even more opportunities to detect new variants.’
Earlier, Environment Secretary George Eustice gave a grim indication that tough border measures will need to be in place until vaccines have been tweaked to deal with variant strains – which scientists say will take many months.
In a round of interviews this morning, Mr Eustice said: ‘There is a case for doing some testing during quarantine, we already have a provision so they can test to release from quarantine earlier.
‘We’re obviously looking at this to see whether we can strengthen these measures further.’
The move comes as officials sought to reassure the public that vaccines should provide effective protection against people falling seriously ill from the new South African variant.
South Africa has suspended use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine after a preliminary trial suggested it offered a reduced level of protection against infection and mild illness from the variant.
However the deputy chief medical officer for England said that, unlike the variant which emerged last year in Kent, there was no evidence it enjoyed a ‘transmissibility advantage’ so was unlikely to become the dominant strain in the UK in the coming months.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said he believed it was ‘likely’ the AstraZeneca jab – like the other vaccines – would give ‘substantial’ protection against serious illness from the South Africa variant.
He said that it was possible people would need annual or biennial booster jabs as the vaccines were updated to deal with new variants, and that there were ‘a lot of steps behind the scenes’ to ensure that could happen.
Leading epidemiologist Professor David Heymann warned today that borders ‘cannot stop infectious diseases’.
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, he said: ‘We know that borders cannot stop infectious diseases no matter how rigid your controls are, there will always be some that comes through.’
He said most nations believe the best strategy is to deal with infections in-country, and to ensure there is a flow of travel and trade.
Asked if he believed closing borders would have an immediate impact, Prof Heymann said: ‘We’ve seen that countries that have closed their borders, such as New Zealand, have kept the virus out, but now their problem is what do they when they begin to open their borders?
‘So I think the best way forward is to live understanding that viruses and bacteria, any infection, can cross borders and we have to have the defences in our own countries to deal with them.’
It came as airlines fear any lack of rooms under the quarantine hotels scheme could force them to leave travellers stuck abroad.
It is understood ministers are considering adding a section to passenger locator forms, which all must fill out before departure. It could ask them if they have booked into a quarantine hotel in the UK.
It is understood ministers are considering adding a section to passenger locator forms, which all must fill out before departure. It could ask them if they have booked into a quarantine hotel in the UK
Boris Johnson is urged to toughen border controls after traveller from South Africa reveals she walked through Heathrow in 10 minutes with NO checks
Sharon Feinstein, from Islington, north London, claims she walked through Heathrow following a trip to Johannesburg
The Prime Minister has been urged to toughen border controls after a passenger arriving from South Africa revealed she walked through Heathrow unchecked.
Sharon Feinstein, who lives in Islington, north London, claims she walked through the terminal following a trip to Johannesburg, where the mutant strain is rife.
Ms Feinstein landed yesterday after visiting her mother, and had documents to prove she’d had a negative test result – but claims she was ushered through passport control.
This comes as it emerged travellers are going to be tested a few days after they land in the UK, or face a £500 fine.
Ms Feinstein told the Daily Express: ‘I was in tears. I just couldn’t believe what happened. I could have had Covid, they don’t know where I am staying, they didn’t ask. As a country we’re messing up.’
But it is unclear whether carriers will be expected to bar travellers who answer no, leaving them stranded.
Mr Hancock will reveal today that the Government has struck its first deals with hotel chains to accommodate those quarantining.
Ministers are expected to unveil a booking system for travellers this week.
But an aviation source said yesterday: ‘We’re completely in the dark. We don’t know yet whether the Government will want us to deny boarding.’
Airlines are legally required to check passenger locator forms have been completed. They also have to check that a passenger has a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours of travel.
Ministers have been accused of being too slow to bring in quarantine hotels. The policy was announced in the Commons on January 27 but does not come into force until Monday.
Under the rules, hotels will have to provide three meals a day for guests for 11 nights. Travellers will be tested twice, on the second and eighth day of their stay.
Security guards will be stationed on each floor and by entrances and exits, with police on standby if passengers try to abscond.
However, Heathrow airport has raised concerns about how the new scheme will work at borders.
A spokesman said: ‘Now that the Government has set a date, ministers need to work with industry to establish how this policy will actually be implemented at the border.
‘Our offer to support remains, but time is ticking and this very complex initiative requires airports, airlines and the Government to work closely together for it to be workable.’
Lucy Moreton, professional officer at the Immigration Services Union, which represents border staff, said border guards were yet to receive any fresh guidance about how the policy will work.
She said: ‘We’ve heard absolutely nothing yet. You can’t rule out that the airlines would be asked to enforce it, but it would require a change to legislation and that isn’t easy.
‘From a Border Force perspective it would be magnificent if the airlines were responsible for that because it would reduce the checks we’re having to do at the border.
‘This is all likely to be honesty-based though. Short of us physically getting off the arrivals desks and phoning the hotels to check that those individuals have booked into them, we have no way of confirming.’
Some 10,000 extra coronavirus tests will be rolled out in Manchester from Tuesday, after four people from two unconnected households were found to be infected with the E484K mutation linked to the Kent variant, Manchester City Council said.