Current rules across the United Kingdom require all travelers to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, except for those traveling from exempt destinations (such as Australia and Germany) on the government’s travel corridors list. The regulations—which apply to both U.K. residents and visitors—include fines of up to £1,000 (approximately US$1,335) for people who fail to properly self-isolate after traveling from a nonexempt country, such as the United States. However, the British government recently announced that it will soon make a significant update to this COVID-19 travel mandate.
Beginning December 15, passengers who arrive to England from destinations not on the government’s travel corridors list can reduce their 14-day quarantine period by more than half if they test negative for the coronavirus. As part of the government’s new Test to Release strategy, travelers from nonexempt countries can opt to take a COVID-19 PCR test after 5 full days of self-isolation, and if the test comes back negative they’ll be allowed to skip the remainder of the 14-day quarantine.
All arriving passengers to England—even those from exempt travel corridor countries—currently have to complete a passenger locator form before passing through the U.K. border. After December 15, travelers to England will be able to indicate on this form whether they plan to use the Test to Release program and, if so, where they’ll take a PCR test after 5 days in quarantine.
It’s important to note that the Test to Release program requires COVID-19 testing to be provided through a government-approved private firm. (It’s currently unclear which private firms are considered “government-approved,” but the gov.uk website says it will publish a list of private test providers soon and notes that travelers should book their tests before arriving in England.) Typical prices for PCR tests range between £100–£150 (from US$135–$200). Test results will normally be issued in 24 to 48 hours, and travelers must remain in self-isolation as they wait for the negative results to come through.
For now, the Test to Release scheme will only apply to England; travelers arriving in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales must continue to self-isolate for 14 days. However, the U.K. government and administrations in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland recently struck a deal that will ease limits on travel and socializing over the holidays.
Between December 23 and 27, up to three households can form a “Christmas bubble” and members can move freely between them. The holiday plan will allow people to travel anywhere in the U.K. to meet with loved ones in private homes, outdoors, or in places of worship—though not in pubs and restaurants. Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the agreement “will offer hope for families and friends who have made many sacrifices over this difficult year.”
The decision to relax the rule comes amid evidence that new coronavirus infections have fallen by about 30 percent since restrictions were tightened across the U.K., including a second national lockdown in England, which transitions into a three tier system on December 2.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.