The United Kingdom has become the latest to tighten its travel rules in a bid to control the spread of the newly-discovered Omicron COVID-19 variant.
On Saturday (Dec. 4), Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid announced that all travellers entering the U.K., regardless of their vaccine status, will be required to show a negative LFD or PCR COVID-19 test taken not more than 48 hours before departure.
Travellers, currently, only need to self-isolate until they test negative within two days of arrival.
The tightened restriction will come into force from 4 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 7, according to a news release issued by the U.K. government, and will apply to vaccinated passengers aged 12 and above flying from non-red list countries.
“We knew this winter would be challenging but the arrival of a new variant means we must further strengthen our defences,” Secretary Javid stated. “As our world-leading scientists continue to understand more about the Omicron variant we are taking decisive action to protect public health and the progress of our COVID-19 vaccination programme.”
The Scottish and Welsh governments have also confirmed that people arriving in Scotland and Wales from abroad will also need to take a pre-departure COVID test.
Airlines will be required to check for pre-departure tests alongside a completed passenger locator form, and passengers will not be allowed to board a flight without providing a negative test result, officials said.
“Given the reduced incubation period of the Omicron variant, passengers are advised to take the pre-departure test as close as possible to their scheduled departure to the UK and no earlier than 48 hours before travelling,” the U.K. government advised.
The government says all temporary measures “will be reviewed after three weeks to ensure that they remain necessary and proportionate,” which means the latest protocol will be examined on Dec. 20.
The move is already facing some criticism.
“The blanket re-introduction of testing to enter the U.K., on top of the current regime of isolation and PCR testing on arrival is completely out of step with the rest of the world,” British Airways said in a statement Saturday.
But Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab is defending the enhanced rules.
“We will always get the Goldilocks criticism of too much or too little, and I think we’ve taken the right approach,” Raab said on the Trevor Phillips Sunday program on Sky News. “We’ve focused on the vaccines and boosters and we’ve got a third of the populations over 12 with a third vaccine injection.”
Nigeria added to “red list”
Nigeria has also been added to the U.K.’s travel “red list,” a change that went into effect early this morning (Dec. 6) at 4 a.m.
The U.K. government says 21 cases of the Omicron variant reported in England are linked to travel from this country, with 134 U.K. cases now reported in total.
As a precautionary measure, starting Dec. 6, U.K. and Irish citizens and residents arriving from Nigeria must isolate in a government-approved managed quarantine facility for 10 days, and receive two negative PCR tests.
A temporary travel ban will also be introduced for all non-U.K. and non-Irish citizens and residents who have been in Nigeria in the last 10 days (they will be refused entry into the U.K.)
“This does not apply to those who have stayed airside and only transited through Nigeria while changing flights,” the U.K. government clarified on its website.
Last weekend, 10 countries were added to the U.K.’s red list and it was announced that all vaccinated passengers arriving in the U.K. must take a day two PCR tests and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.
Since then, the spread of Omicron has increased “considerably” in the U.K., the government notes, with 37 countries around the world now reporting Omicron cases and over 134 cases identified in the region.