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UK travel quarantine cut in half

The government has reduced the number of days returning UK travellers are expected to quarantine from 14 days to 5 days. However, international travel is still restricted from England until 2nd December, except in limited circumstances, such as for work or study. Different rules apply for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Latest announcement: UK travel quarantine reduced to five days

From 15 December, the 14-day UK travel quarantine period for holidaymakers returning from high-risk countries (i.e. those not on the travel corridors list) will reduce to just five days – provided that you test negative for COVID-19 five days after arriving back.

Travellers arriving to the UK from ‘red list’ countries will need to quarantine for five days and then pay to take a PCR test, either at home or a testing centre. Available from private firms, the tests cost between £65 and £120 and results come back within 24-48 hours.

It’s a welcome move for the travel industry, although the UK will remain in a tiered lockdown system until the spring.

“As we’ve seen with the vaccine news and the positive impact it’s had on travel bookings, there is a real appetite for post lockdown holidaymakers to get out and explore, as soon as they can and it’s safe to do so,” says Jo McClintock, Senior Director Global Marketing & Brand at Skyscanner.

“Now that the amount of time travellers are expected to quarantine on return to the UK is significantly reduced, we expect to see a direct impact on traveller confidence resulting in an uptick in searches and bookings on Skyscanner.” 

Meanwhile, Heathrow Airport has been offering a one-hour rapid test to passengers flying from the airport to Italy and Hong Kong since 20 October.

Passengers flying from Heathrow Airport to Italy and Hong Kong are now eligible for a rapid COVID test at check-in. Costing £80, the LAMP (Loop-mediated isothermal amplification) test produces results within one hour and caters to countries that require a pre-departure negative result. It’s a different test to the PCR test which takes between 24 and 48 hours, and are required for reducing the quarantine period.

It’s important to note that travel restrictions in Hong Kong and Italy still apply. Hong Kong is currently only open to residents, and Italy is not on the UK’s safe travel list, meaning that quarantine on return applies. 

Similar test-on-arrival systems are being trialled around the world. Rome Fiumicino airport offers 30-minute pre-departure tests, while New York’s JFK and Newark airports go one better with 15-minute test booths. At Heathrow, the hope is that the service will expand as more countries require negative COVID-19 tests for arrivals.

Rapid COVID tests are beginning to be offered around the world to simplify travel in the age of COVID-19 restrictions

What are LAMP tests? 

Despite the name, the LAMP test has nothing to do with electricals. It stands for ‘Loop-medicated Isothermal Amplification’, a fast, low-cost method of collecting and analysing DNA using a nose and throat swab. LAMP tests are conducted by nurses at new facilities in Heathrow Terminals 2 and 5 and processed on site. Heathrow’s rapid COVID tests mark the first time that airport testing has been available in the UK. 

LAMP tests differ from the NHS’s PCR tests, which need to be sent to a laboratory and take a lot longer, and are compulsory for cutting the quarantine period in half. It’s worth noting that PCR tests are deemed to be more reliable than LAMP tests, and some countries (including the Bahamas, Bermuda and Cyprus) only accept PCR results for incoming passengers. But the LAMP test is considered to be more effective than an antigen test, another rapid COVID test option.

How do I get a Heathrow rapid COVID test?

If you’re taking a flight to Hong Kong or Italy from Heathrow, you can book a LAMP test online using Collinson’s website where you can also pay the £80 fee. You’ll need to get to the airport an hour earlier than normal in order to do the test and get the results before boarding. As long as you’ve got a negative result, you can continue to your destination on a COVID-free flight and immediately begin your holiday or business trip.

Airports are trying to simplify travel in the age of COVID-19 restrictions, with measures such as rapid COVID tests

Could rapid COVID tests on arrival eliminate UK travel quarantines?

Although this is a positive step forward for the recovery of international travel from the UK, it’s important to note that the UK government doesn’t plan on replacing quarantine on arrival in the UK with rapid COVID tests anytime soon. 

According to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, rapid COVID tests don’t catch asymptomatic COVID-19 cases. Dido Harding, the head of NHS Track and Trace, warns that airport testing is unlikely to eliminate self-isolation requirements as there’s a chance that symptoms could show a few days after you’ve returned home. 

However, the reduced quarantine period from 15 December will make travel easier. According to research from a new Skyscanner poll of 1,000 UK travellers, 78% of travellers would be more likely to travel abroad to certain countries if the quarantine time is halved from 14 to seven days (that’s five days in quarantine, plus waiting for test results).

“It’s clear from our latest consumer research that the majority of our travellers would positively welcome a shorter quarantine time on return from countries currently not on the UK travel corridor list,” says Hugh Aitken, VP of Flights at Skyscanner. “If the amount of days UK travellers are expected to quarantine is halved, we expect to see a highly responsive travel community for destinations where this is introduced.”

Italy has recently announced that it requires a negative coronavirus test taken under 48 hours before arrival

Could rapid COVID tests on arrival eliminate quarantine on arrival in your destination?

In some countries (like Italy, Germany and the Canary Islands) a negative COVID-19 test on arrival is enough for quarantine-free entry. However, some airports require PCP tests over LAMP tests, and every country has its own set of requirements that should be checked carefully via the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in advance of travel.

Our recent survey shows that 69% of UK travellers surveyed said that they would be prepared to pay for a test in order to be able to travel and avoid quarantine on return. 

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