Q&A: Do I need to have proof of a negative Covid-19 test when I arrive in Britain – and what standards must it meet?
What are the new rules for UK arrivals?
All of the travel corridors were scrapped yesterday, so arrivals from every destination will need to self-isolate for ten days, or receive a negative result from a Covid-19 test taken at least five days after they enter the UK.
Do I need to get a negative test when I arrive in the UK?
Yes, all arrivals into England – including British citizens – must test negative for Covid-19 up to 72 hours before leaving the country of departure. Your test will also be checked by the airline before you board a plane abroad.
What will you have to present at the UK border?
Border Force officials are carrying out spot checks on those arriving by air, land or sea – but they have so far been checking all arrivals, according to passengers.
Your Covid-19 negative test results must be presented in either English, French or Spanish. Translations are not accepted, and you must provide the original certificate.
The test result must be provided either as a physical printed document or via email or text message, which can be shown on a mobile phone. This must include:
- your name, matching it on your travel documents
- your date of birth or age
- the result of the test
- the date the test sample was collected or received by the test provider
- the name of the test provider and their contact details
- the name of the test device
Anyone arriving without a test result that includes all of the above information will be committing a criminal offence which could see them receive a £500 fine.
What test must you have?
The test must meet standards of ≥97% specificity and ≥80% sensitivity at viral loads above 100,000 copies/ml. The Government says this could include tests such as:
- a nucleic acid test, including a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or derivative technologies, including loop-mediated isothermal amplification (Lamp) tests
- an antigen test, such as a test from a lateral flow device.
Will you have to prove your test meets requirements?
Yes. The Government says it is your responsibility to ensure a test meets minimum standards for sensitivity, specificity and viral load details – so you must check with your test provider that it meets those requirements.
You may need proof in the form of a letter from a test provider detailing its specificity and sensitivity levels.
What happens if I don’t have the correct documents?
New arrivals who flout the rules will face a minimum £500 fine while their flight operator will also be fined.
The passenger will then be let on their way without further action, but will still have to quarantine for ten days like everyone else arriving in the UK.
Separately, arrivals into England who do not self-isolate can face fines between £1,000 and £10,000.
What is the difference between the tests?
PCR tests, nasal and throat swab tests normally take between 12 and 48 hours to return results.
Lamp tests can return results in two hours, and lateral flow tests can generate results in less than 30 minutes.
Whichever test it is must meet the required performance standards listed by the Government.
Border Force agents will check that the information required is present on the notification. Provided the test meets the set criteria, then it will be accepted. If it does not, you could be fined – even with a negative test result.
What are the concerns over lateral flow tests?
There are fears that lateral flow tests might not be as reliable as PCR tests. But Innova makes a lateral flow test which has a sensitivity of more than 95 per cent for high viral loads – meeting UK Government requirements.
A trial of one lateral flow test used by the Government found that it detected 79 per cent of cases when administered by a trained professional but only 40 per cent if someone is self-swabbing. This is significantly lower than the more expensive but slower PCR tests which detect 70 to 99 per cent of positive cases.
Passengers are responsible for ensuring their test meets requirements and may be asked to provide proof.
Is there a specific list of accepted tests?
No. The Government does not provide a list of approved providers or tests worldwide. The passenger has to check that the test that they use meets the standards.
What are the exemptions?
It applies to arrivals who began their journeys in every country of the world, with the following exceptions:
- Northern Ireland
- Isle of Man
- Falkland Islands
- St Helena
There will also be an exemption until 4am on January 21 for people who began their journey in:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- St Lucia
There are also limited exemptions for the likes of hauliers, young children and train crew members.
Which countries are subject to travel bans?
Travel to and from all of South America, Portugal and Cape Verde was banned from 4am last Friday.
British and Irish nationals as well as people with residency rights will be exempt, but will have to self-isolate for ten days with their household on returning from any countries on the banned list.
A similar ban was put into place for South Africa on December 23 last year, after another new variant was identified by scientists. On January 9, the rules were also applied to Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Eswatini, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique, Angola, Seychelles and Mauritius.
What are the rules on travel from South Africa?
Anyone arriving into the UK who has been in or transited through South Africa in the previous ten days will not be permitted entry to the UK. But British people will still be able to enter via indirect routes from South Africa.
Are there any differences for the US?
There are no specific differences for travellers arriving from the US, although it is understood some airlines are placing their own requirements on passengers.
The US Embassy in the UK states: ‘The test must be a viral test (NAAT or antigen test) to determine if you are currently infected with Covid-19. Travellers should avoid the antibody tests which look for prior infection.’
More than 30 air passengers have been fined £500 each by Border Force officials upon arrival in Britain for not having a valid negative coronavirus test – before being let into the country and told to quarantine like all UK arrivals, after new rules were brought in yesterday.
The fines at London Heathrow Airport on the first day of the new policy came as travellers continued to face delays after landing in the UK this morning as officials checked each passenger arriving had a negative test – even though they will have all already been checked by their airline when boarding a flight in a foreign country.
Passengers can be fined a minimum of £500 for not complying with the rules, but the Home Office confirmed today that they are then let on their way – meaning dozens of people with Covid-19 could have been let into the UK since the rules were brought in.
However they must still follow the rules on quarantining for ten days like all arrivals into the UK – and those who breach those regulations can be fined up to £10,000.
The fines for not having a proper test are issued as fixed penalty notices and do not stay on a criminal record.
Passengers were also surprised by the long queues, after they had already been checked by their airlines when boarding flights abroad – with some saying the carriers were being the ‘strictest’ in enforcing the rules.
While official figures for arrivals at Heathrow are not yet available, tens of thousands of people are estimated to be coming in to the airport every day at the moment – after about 35,000 a day arrived last month.
Queues again built up today in Heathrow’s immigration hall with some travellers reporting having to wait up to an hour before their documentation was checked at Terminal Two, and up to 30 minutes at Terminal Five.
All the electronic passport gates were closed forcing overseas as well as British passport holders to undergo a face-to-face check. British and European Union passport holders were funnelled into one queue while other passport holders into another.
They had to present their passports, a negative test – in most cases a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) – and locator form listing where their mandatory ten-day quarantine will take place in Britain.
Staff instructed arrivals to keep a 6ft (2m) distance from each other but passengers said people ended up facing each other and cramming together.
Initially, only four officials were checking paperwork but as queues lengthened an additional four Border Force staff were brought in to help.
Molly Jarvis, who arrived on an overnight flight from Atlanta, Georgia, told MailOnline at Heathrow: ‘Lots of people ended up facing each other as they waited.
‘I was a bit concerned about the social distancing and glad to get out. All the e-gates were closed and when I arrived there were only four people at the passport checks. Another four came out.’
Ms Jarvis, a US citizen who lives in London, said the official looked at the time and date of her negative PCR test, adding: ‘They were very thorough and wanted to check what day I had taken the test.
Since yesterday at 4am, all arrivals into the UK have to have had negative PCR or antigen lateral flow test no more than 72 hours before boarding their flight.
All airlines ask to see the test and those whose results are out of the 72-hour time frame are denied entry.
Student Nitzan Levenberg, 32, arriving on a flight from Tel Aviv, said she had no complaints about a 20-minute wait to present her documents at Heathrow today.
She said: ‘They asked to see all my documents, including my right to stay in the UK. I was in the British and EU queue and it was moving quite quickly.’
Aviation expert Julian Bray told MailOnline today: ‘It’s been flagged up for ages that anybody coming into the country has got to have the right paperwork and has got to have the negative test. I understand the fines they are handing out are as a minimum because I heard earlier that it’s anything between £500 and £1,000.
‘They can come in but they’re going to have to isolate for ten days. They have been told to isolate for ten days so there’s no point (in having a test) then because the idea of the pre-flight test, which has to be done 72 hours in advance of the flight, is that it’ll give the airline an idea of whether they’ve had the test or not.
‘But it’s surprising the airlines didn’t pick up on the deficiencies. The ground crews, quite often they’re a separate company, and they’re hired in. They’re not actually airline employees.
‘If they’re tasked with checking the paperwork, it sounds like there’s a deficiency in the paperwork, so they might have had the test but they weren’t given the right paperwork, which comes back to the fact that the Department for Transport directions are not that clear. The whole situation has been very shoddy, the way it’s been rolled out.’
With far fewer flights arriving at Terminal Five, passengers faced a 30 minute wait to have their documents checked.
Marissa Leo, a student arriving from Chicago, said she spent 30 minutes queuing to show her documents to immigration officials.
She said: ‘I had to show the PCR test and locator form but it was all very smooth. Fortunately there were not many flights so the queue was not to long.’
Joan Davenport, who flew in from Toronto, said her wait to show her documents was less than 30 minutes.
She said: ‘There were only about 45 people on the flight, so only a short wait which was fine. It was all good.’
The UK Government has said a PCR, lateral flow and antigen test were acceptable for entry into the UK.
On the five flights from the US passengers interviewed said they had taken a PCR test as this was widely available in America.
Meanwhile, Cristina Torrance said she took a £40 Antigen test before leaving Seville and arriving on a British Airways flight. But to make sure she could guarantee entry to the UK she also took a PCR test.
Ms Torrance, a Spanish national who works at the Natural History Museum in London, said: ‘I decided to get the PCR as that is the most accepted and I wanted to make sure I would get into the country and go back to work.
Ms Torrance, who arrived with her friend Noelis Moreno, said they waited 30 minutes to present their paperwork to Border Force officials.
Sally Amoki, who flew into Terminal Two from Ghana, said: ‘I didn’t mind showing all the paperwork. I had a PCR test and the airline check in asked to see that. At passport control they looked over the papers. It makes sense as you have to be careful. You have to follow the rules.’
Another traveller who gave her name as Debbie was reassured that documents were double checked.
She has had four PCR tests while on an extended holiday to see family in Mumbai, India, and said: ‘It is reassuring that everything is being checked and checked again. The airline made sure everyone had a negative test before they could board. It made the flight much safer as you know no one is carrying the virus.’
But Debbie, who lives in London, was less happy with a two-hour wait to clear immigration this afternoon.
Her Air India flight landed at 12.30pm and she emerged with her bags at 2.40pm. She said: ‘There were only two people manning the desks to check passports. It was ridiculous to queue up for over two hours .Most of the desks were empty yet there long queues.’
Anne Lammel, arriving on a flight from Bahrain, was happy to have her documentation for entry into the UK checked twice.
She said: ‘You have to show passports when boarding and when you land. It does slow things up a bit, but the flight was pretty much empty so there are less people which means things move quicker.’
Student Nitzan Levenberg, 32, arriving at London Heathrow Airport on a flight from Tel Aviv this morning, said: ‘They asked to see all my documents, including my right to stay in the UK. I was in the British and EU queue and it was moving quite quickly’
Noelia Moreno (left) and Cristina Torrance (right) both arrived at London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Five on a flight this morning. Ms Torrance said she took a £40 Antigen test before leaving Seville and arriving on a British Airways flight. But to make sure she could guarantee entry to the UK she also took a PCR test
Marissa Leo, a student arriving at London Heathrow’s Terminal Five from Chicago this morning, said she spent 30 minutes queuing to show her documents to immigration officials. She said: ‘I had to show the PCR test and locator form but it was all very smooth’
Passengers arrive at London Heathrow Airport this morning one day after the new rules on Covid-19 tests were brought in
All arrivals must show proof of a PCR test and a completed locator form which lists the address where travellers will quarantine for ten days. Few passengers said they would join the test to release scheme which cuts self isolation from ten days to five.
Yesterday, passengers told MailOnline on the first day of the new policy that they had faced queues of 90 minutes at the border, but Heathrow Airport denied this was the case.
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘People should not be travelling unless absolutely necessary and it is an offence to arrive into England without proof of a negative Covid test or a completed Passenger Locator Form.
‘We have also increased Border Force spot checks on arrival, with passengers subject to an immediate fine of £500 for failing to comply with the new rules. Despite these measures, the vast majority of passengers have been moving through the UK border in good time.’
New rules came into force at 4am yesterday meaning all arrivals had to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours of travel.
Passengers are required to show it to check-in staff before boarding their UK-bound flight, and to Border Force guards after landing.
A passenger leaves Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Two this morning with all arrivals having to present negative Covid-19 test
Passengers wear face masks as they walk through the international arrivals hall at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Two today
But some travellers found themselves being turned away by their airline and stranded while those allowed to board complained of long, non Covid-secure queues after landing.
NHS worker Ellie Walton, 19, from Moreton-in-Marsh in Gloucestershire, was supposed to fly from Madrid to London on Sunday afternoon.
But she missed the connection because her first flight from Cuba to the Spanish capital had been delayed by nearly two hours.
She was told the next flight to London wasn’t until yesterday morning and was given a hotel voucher.
However, when she tried to leave the Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suarez Airport she was told she couldn’t by Spanish border guards ‘because of Brexit’. It meant having to bed down in the airport on Sunday night.
To make matters worse, when she tried to board her new flight yesterday morning she was barred.
This was because she didn’t have a negative Covid test, having thought she’d be returning on Sunday before the UK’s new pre-departure testing rules kicked-in yesterday at 4am.
Air passengers push their luggage trolleys through the arrivals hall at London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Two this morning
An air passenger walks out of Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Two this morning as people continue to arrive in Britain
Air passengers wait for a lift in the international arrivals hall at London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Two this morning
Miss Walton, a healthcare worker, travelled to Cuba in December when the second lockdown had ended and the tier system was in place.
She went there to spend time with her Cuban boyfriend, Lovany Sanchez, a circus acrobat who had lived in Britain with a visa until the pandemic broke out.
Her mother, Tracey Walton, said: ‘It’s awful, she was crying down the phone. I even looked at flights to go out to Madrid and sort it out myself but you can’t get there.
‘She had a lateral flow test on her because she is a healthcare worker, but the airline said the UK wouldn’t accept it. They were trying to wash their hands of it but they have a duty of care to their passengers.
‘I’m very angry because the government has made it clear they can board and the British embassy were phoning the airline to say she could.’
Government guidance states that UK citizens are allowed to be boarded on planes if they cannot get a test at their transit airport and are being blocked from entering the country it is in.
A mostly empty London Heathrow Airport Terminal Five departures hall is pictured this morning
A woman walks out of London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Five this morning as air passengers continue to arrive
A mostly empty international arrivals hall at London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Five this morning as people arrive in the UK
Hardly anyone is to be seen in the arrivals hall at London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Five this morning
London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Five is quiet today with air travel having plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic
Mrs Walton said her daughter told her three other Britons were also barred from boarding.
Concerns grow over Eurostar as head of France’s state rail firm sounds alarm over future of cross-Channel train
The head of France’s state rail company has sounded the alarm over the future of Eurostar.
The cross-Channel train service has been hurt badly by a lack of travel during the coronavirus pandemic as well as Brexit. Jean-Pierre Farandou, the CEO of SNCF, which owns 55 per cent of Eurostar, told France Inter radio that ‘the situation is very critical for Eurostar’.
Passenger numbers on the service that reaches the UK, France, Belgium and Holland have been down by 95 per cent since March and are currently believed to be less than 1 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
The warning comes days after UK business leaders called for a Government rescue of the Channel Tunnel rail operator as border closures enforced to stop a highly contagious virus variant threatened to push the service towards the brink of collapse.
Signage is seen at the departure area of the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras International train station in London yesterday
Mr Farandou said: ‘Today, there is one round trip that runs between London and Paris, and one other that runs between London and Brussels-Amsterdam. And these trains are 10 per cent full.’
Mr Farandou is counting on government aid, which was provided for airlines, but is aware of how difficult it will be because there are multiple governments involved.
He said: ‘We have to see how we manage to help this company in the way that airlines have been helped. It would not be unusual for Eurostar to receive aid to get through this bad patch.’
He added that SNCF has ‘already put money back into Eurostar’s capital to help’ and the company is in discussions with the French and UK governments.
Eurostar has asked for access to the same secured loans as airlines and a temporary reduction on track access charges it pays to use the UK’s only stretch of high-speed rail line.
It said in a statement that its situation was ‘very serious’. It said: ‘Without additional funding from government there is a real risk to the survival of Eurostar, the green gateway to Europe.’
Eurostar CEO Jacques Damas has also said the company hopes the four countries it serves will co-ordinate regarding virus-linked restrictions on travel.
In November, Mr Damas wrote to Chancellor Rishi Sunak asking for assistance after the Treasury announced it would help struggling airports. British businesses have appealed to the Government to prop up Eurostar.
London First, which represents scores of large property, retail and tourism businesses in the capital, wrote to the Government over the weekend urging it not to let Eurostar ‘fall between the cracks of support’ offered to airlines and domestic railways.
The letter said: ‘Maintaining this international high-speed rail connection into the heart of London has never been more important. Having left the European Union, we need to actively set out our stall as an attractive destination for people to live, work and play.
‘Safeguarding the future of this connection to the continent should be a symbol of both our desire to build back better and our new co-operative relationship with our European neighbours.’
The Department for Transport said it recognised ‘the significant financial challenges’ Eurostar faced because of the pandemic. It said: ‘We will continue to work closely with them as we support the safe restart and recovery of international travel.’
However, after several calls to the British embassy in Spain Mrs Walton said her daughter had finally been allowed on an Iberia plane back to Heathrow last night.
In another case, Hannah Holland, 23, from Sheffield, was due to land at Heathrow yesterday but was barred by check-in staff in the US.
She was booked to travel on an American Airlines flight from Philadelphia via Chicago’s O’Hare airport, which was due to land in London at 8.20am.
But Chicago check-in staff said her rapid ‘lateral flow’ test and accompanying health certificate were not acceptable.
Miss Holland, a dual British-American citizen, had been helping her mother care for her grandfather in Philadelphia.
She said: ‘I just couldn’t believe it… it was a test I had to pay for at a local, well-respected health clinic in Philadelphia and was specifically for people who had flights that needed more urgent results.’ She added: ‘I was getting really weepy.’
Miss Holland, a volunteer in Africa with the Peace Corps until the pandemic began, managed to get a flight back to Philadelphia and is now considering whether to seek another test to return to the UK or stay there.
An American Airlines spokesman said: ‘The certificate did not specify the name of the test device as required, and therefore travel to the UK could not be permitted as per government guidelines.’
A Department for Transport spokesman said: ‘Passengers travelling to the UK must provide proof of a negative coronavirus test which meets the performance standards set out by the Government in the guidance published on gov.uk.
‘The type of test could include a PCR test or antigen test, including a lateral flow test.
‘Anyone who cannot provide the necessary documentation may not be allowed to board their flight.’
As part of the new measures, announced by Boris Johnson on Friday, Border Force have ramped up checks on arrivals at airports and ports.
Arrivals complained that checking all passengers’ negative test health certificates was taking too long. The certificate now has to be checked along with a locator form stating where they will be self-isolating for ten days.
Gabrielle Rivers, 31, a research fellow at Oxford University, flew from Washington to London and was stuck in a queue at border control for two hours before showing proof of her negative result and passenger locator form.
She said: ‘I was pretty surprised at the length of the queue. I don’t know how they would expect old people to cope. They are crowding people together in tight spaces, if we didn’t have Covid then, we will now.
‘It was very rammed. It was pretty heavily regulated. The airlines are being the strictest.’
Eric Campbell, 23, who arrived in London yesterday from Kampala, Uganda, said hordes of people were cramped together at border control.
His £50 PCR coronavirus test was checked as well as his locator form after an hour’s wait. ‘It was chaotic, the line was far too long and there were kids running around everywhere,’ he said.
‘There were only a few people at each desk which is why the border was rammed as they spent a great deal going through each person’s document. It defeats the purpose, but I am glad it’s being done.’
Avis Agustin, 36, a nurse from Singapore, arrived at Heathrow yesterday and was shocked by the large queues, spending an hour in line before border checks.
She said: ‘I was confused at people in the queue not social distancing. They are too easy on people here. In Singapore, if you come, you must stay in a hotel for two weeks which the government tells you to.’
Passengers complained that the closure of the self-scan ePassport gates contributed to delays as some said people were pulled out of the queue and fined over incorrect paperwork.
In Terminal Two, suitcases stacked up by carousels as travellers were stuck at border control but by yesterday afternoon the queues had gone.
New rules scrapping 63 ‘travel corridors’ with countries with low infection rates also came into effect at 4am yesterday, meaning all arrivals from those countries now have to quarantine. The policy will be reviewed on February 15.
On Sunday it emerged the government is considering a further crackdown after ministers asked officials to draw up plans which would see travellers forced to quarantine in hotels upon arrival.