Breaking: UK Mandates Self-Quarantine For All Arrivals

The UK will require a mandatory self-quarantine for all arrivals in light of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the new change in a press conference this evening, citing the high risk from incoming travelers. All passengers, including those fully vaccinated, will have to quarantine pending a Day 2 PCR test.

All arrivals regardless of origin must enter self-quarantine when landing in the UK until a negative PCR is returned. Photo: Getty Images

New fears

The UK’s new rules come after the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant. The Omicron variant first emerged in southern Africa in late November. However, given its genetic makeup, scientists globally have sounded the alarm that this new strain could evade immunity from vaccinations. This has led to a slew of travel bans issued in the last 72 hours.

With the cases of the variant popping up in countries across the globe, in Belgium, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, and more, the UK has taken swift action. All international arrivals, regardless of vaccination status, will need to self-quarantine before returning a negative Day 2 PCR test. This means all passengers need to take a PCR test within two days of arrival. 

Meanwhile, flights from southern Africa have been suspended until the UK can reinstate its hotel quarantine system. 10 countries are back on the red list, which will restrict travel to only UK residents and who must quarantine for 10 days to enter.

The UK is yet to announce a start date for the PCR testing, which will replace the current Lateral Flow testing rules. Photo: Heathrow Airport

It is yet to be announced when the mandatory self-quarantine will come into effect. In a statement, the Prime Minister’s Office said, “Targeted measures will be introduced from next week.” This means all arrivals this weekend can likely continue with their booked lateral flow tests instead.

Additional measures introduced include masks in shops and public transport to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant. At the time of writing, two cases of the variant have been detected in the UK, both of whom had a history of travel to southern Africa.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

High risk

While the UK has reinstated several restrictions in response to the new strain, there is a good reason behind this. Travel between South Africa and the UK has significantly increased since the former was removed from the red list in October. This has allowed tens of thousands of passengers to enter the country in recent weeks.

To prevent an unchecked spread of the new variant, the UK government has also asked all those who arrived from southern Africa in the last 10 days to take a PCR test and self-isolate. For now, the UK is hoping to avoid losing the gains it has made with its vaccine rollout.

Emirates Airbus A380
Thousands of passengers from South Africa have landed in the UK since it was removed from the red list. Photo: Getty Images

There are also many who have panned the UK’s decision as hasty and unnecessary. The Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA) is one such body, which has called for more research before a flight ban.

However, given the possibility of vaccine escape and greater virulence, the UK has put its foot down until more is known. Other countries have banned travel from southern Africa, with the US, EU, Singapore, and dozens of others taking similar actions.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated with more details in the coming hours. Check back here for further updates.