England Cuts Quarantine Requirement To 5 Days From Mid-December

England is set to reduce its quarantine period for arrivals from outside the country to just five days from December 15th. This will be permitted only if a test is taken and a negative result is obtained. Such improvements may be long overdue for the struggling travel industry but are still a welcome step forward.

UK Quarantine Heathrow
The quarantine period will be reduced from 14 to five days. Photo: Getty Images

Five days quarantine if combined with testing

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced changes to the quarantine system on November 24th. The so-called ‘test to release’ regime will be in place from December 15th. It will allow arriving passengers from anywhere not on the government’s quarantine free list to reduce their quarantine period from the current level of 14 days to five days. So far, this will only apply to arrivals in England. Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland will consider rules separately.

To reduce their quarantine, arriving passengers will take a COVID-19 test five days after arrival. They must still isolate for this five day period. But if the test returns a negative result, they can end quarantine immediately. With most tests currently taking 24 to 48 hours to return a result, the quarantine period is more likely to be slightly longer in practice.

UK Quarantine Heathrow
Arriving passengers will quarantine initially but can end this if they test negative. Photo: Getty Images

Passengers will have to pay for the tests and select from a private provider approved by the government (details on this are still be released). The government estimates the test price to be between £65 and £120 ($87 to $160).

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Helping to open up travel

There is no doubt that such testing will help the struggling travel industry. The threat of a 14 day quarantine period is deterring much travel, and the frequently changing inclusion on the government’s quarantine-free list of countries has not helped. Explaining the hopes for the new scheme, the Transport Secretary said,

“Our new testing strategy will allow us to travel more freely, see loved ones and drive international business. 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.”

Airlines have welcomed the announcement but are still pushing for a pre-departure testing regime to be introduced. There has also been discussion about testing on arrival, rather than five days later, to eliminate quarantine. Heathrow has a departure testing center ready for this (but is currently in use only for Hong Kong departures).

Heathrow testing center
Testing centers are operational at Heathrow, but so far only for Hong Kong departures. Photo: Heathrow Airport

The UK government has chosen to follow other countries in opting for delayed testing instead, citing examples of its use in Iceland and Germany. Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of Airlines UK, explained how more is needed (as reported by The Guardian):

“A test at day five does not get rid of quarantine and that’s why we look forward to working with government to move towards a pre-departure or domestic testing regime. But there is now light at the end of the tunnel.”

And the lockdown will end

The transport secretary’s announcement comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the current countrywide lockdown would end as planned on December 2nd. It will be replaced by a three-tier regional system. Tiers will be dependent on each area’s current cases and projected path.

It remains unclear what the rules will be for England residents wanting to travel abroad, though. Traveling out of a tier-three area for non-essential purposes will not be permitted, leaving travel to airports and overseas somewhat uncertain. Hopefully, some clarity will follow from the government.

What do you think about the shortening of quarantine when entering the UK? Is such testing the way to get the travel industry working again? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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