Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced that travellers arriving in England from destinations not on the Government’s travel corridors list will be able to end their quarantine period with a negative coronavirus test after five days from 15 December.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said travellers taking a test on day five of the 14-day self-isolation period will identify positive coronavirus cases and allow those who test negative to “return to work and see their loved ones while abiding by domestic coronavirus restrictions.”
The change does not apply to people arriving in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, who must continue to self-isolate for 14 days.
Here is everything you need to know.
How do the new rules work?
From Tuesday 15 December, passengers who arrive from a destination not on the Government’s travel corridors list will still need to enter self-isolation for at least five days, but could be released from quarantine six days after arrival.
To do this, they will need to pay for a test from a private firm on or after day five at a cost of between £65 and £120; tests from the NHS Test and Trace programme are not applicable.
Results of the private tests will normally be issued within 24 to 48 hours.
Why are the tests so expensive?
The news has been welcomed by many, including the transport industry, which described the new policy as “long overdue”.
But the high cost of the private tests required to ‘release’ oneself from isolation will be beyond reach for many travellers, who may have just returned from an already costly holiday.
Mr Shapps has reiterated that the new tests to reduce the quarantine period are “for anybody who travels” and not just business travellers, despite their high price range, and said he hoped the cost of the test could eventually come down.
He told BBC Breakfast: “I expect what will happen as this market gets going is we’ll see the cost of tests being driven down.
“It’s up to companies to innovate if they can produce a test for much less money, or indeed much faster turnaround, then they’re welcome to do that as long as it meets the very exacting standards.”
How can I get a private test?
Passengers will be able to book a test from a provider on a gov.uk list before arriving in England.
They can then take a test on or after day five of the isolation period either at home or at a private provider’s testing site, and on receipt of a negative result, can immediately finish self-isolating and return to following domestic rules.
Those choosing not to take a test when arriving from a non-exempt country must continue to follow the current self-isolation requirements for 14 days.
Why does it have to be a private test?
Health Secretary Matt Hancock explained the reasoning for not allowing negative test results from NHS Test and Trace to cut short the isolation period.
Will I be able to travel this December?
Despite the positive news of the potential for much shorter self-isolation periods on return from a region not on the Government’s travel corridors list, international travel is likely to remain advised against for the foreseeable future.
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, called the move “a much-needed and long overdue step forward to helping the travel sector recover further,” but said “we still have a complex jigsaw puzzle of restrictions around the world that need tourists to have a high IQ to understand.
"We need to see global consistency for travel to fully take off.”
Mr Shapps said the introduction of the new policy is designed to ”bolster international travel while keeping the public safe.”
“Our new testing strategy will allow us to travel more freely, see loved ones and drive international business,” he added. “By giving people the choice to test on day five, we are also supporting the travel industry as it continues to rebuild out of the pandemic.”