The UK will introduce pre-departure Covid tests for all travellers over age 12 visiting the country from Tuesday 7 December, as part of its response to the new Omicron Covid variant.
From tomorrow, travellers will be required to provide submit evidence of a negative lateral flow test or PCR test before boarding flights to the UK, alongside a completed passenger locator form.
The new rules apply to flights travelling to all four nations of the UK, and must be adhered to by all travellers regardless of vaccine status.
The tests must be conducted within 48 hours of flight departure, however the government has advised that tests should be taken as close to departure as possible, due to the reduced incubation period of the Omicron variant.
The new measures are intended to reduce the ‘import of additional cases and slow the rise in cases within the UK’ according to a government statement released on 4 December, and will be reviewed alongside all other temporary measures on 20 December.
However, the measure has received criticism from travel industry, with industry association ABTA releasing a statement stating that: “The reintroduction of pre-departure tests will be a huge blow to travellers and an already devastated travel industry, which has been the hardest hit sector throughout the crisis and which is now fast approaching the key booking season for next summer.”
ABTA added: “The industry needs financial support, which recognises these measures will significantly weaken demand and the Chancellor must now consider the reintroduction of furlough for travel industry to avoid further job losses. Travellers must also be supported with measures taken to offset the cost of these additional tests by reducing the cost of PCR testing – including a price cap and the removal of VAT. It’s vitally important this decision is reversed as quickly as possible, in line with scientific and medical advice, as it is simply not possible for the travel industry to recover properly while this huge barrier to consumer confidence is in place.”
Nigeria added to the UK’s red list
Alongside the new pre-flight testing measure, the UK government also announced that Nigeria will be added to the country’s travel ‘red list’ of high-risk countries from 6 December.
Following that date, UK and Irish citizens and residents arriving from Nigeria must isolate in a government-approved quarantine facility for ten days and receive two negative PCR tests. Those transiting through Nigeria will not be required to meet these requirements.
Foreign nationals will no longer be able to travel to the UK via Nigeria.
British nationals currently in Nigeria have been recommended to check Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) travel advice and follow local guidance.
Nigeria is the latest country to be added to the list due to rising cases of the Omicron variant on the continent, with the government stating that it has traced the majority of UK cases to overseas travel from South Africa and Nigeria.
The UK government previously restricted travel to South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia on 26 November, with Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia also added to the red list on 27 November.
However, airline industry representatives have expressed concern that the new tests could financially impact passengers.
“We understand the cautious approach being taken to travel from Southern Africa in light of concerns over the new variant,” said Tim Alderslade, CEO of industry body Airlines UK. “The situation is developing rapidly, and hopefully as more data emerges emergency border restrictions can be reversed quickly, and applied only where they will make a material difference.
“In the meantime, we urge ministers to make mandatory PCR tests free of charge for impacted passengers, many of whom are now in the invidious position of having less than 48 hours to arrange extra testing whilst overseas. Many will struggle to do so which is why support from government, at no excessive cost to the exchequer, would be an appropriate gesture.”
Spain restricts travel from the UK due to Omicron concerns
Spain tightened travel restrictions to the UK on 1 December. Under the new rules, non-EU nationals, including all UK citizens travelling into Spain, must be fully vaccinated.
Previously, unvaccinated or partially vaccinated visitors from the UK could provide proof of a negative PCR test taken in the past 72 hours before arrival to enter Spain.
The new requirement does not apply to Spanish or EU citizens, their family members, or travellers under the age of 12.
The government has restricted travel from the UK due to concerns about the growing presence of the Omicron variant in the country, with official figures from the UK’s Health Security Agency reporting 246 confirmed cases.
In an interview by the BBC on 6 December, Professor Paul Hunter, an expert on infectious diseases from the University of East Anglia, said that Omicron ‘is spreading rather more quickly than the Delta variant,’ and that ‘how it’s likely to spread in the UK remains uncertain, but I think the early signs are that it will…probably start outcompeting Delta and become the dominant variant within the next weeks or month or so.
In addition, travellers from countries on the Spanish government’s high-risk list will be required to present proof of full vaccination or recent recovery from Covid-19, as well as provide a negative test result.
Currently seven countries are classified as high risk: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Travellers arriving in Spain from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe will also have to quarantine for up to 10 days, with a possibility of leaving after a week following a negative virus test. The restrictions are provisionally expected to run for two weeks, but may be extended following a government assessment of the situation.