New Covid rules: Travel PCR tests and fine for not wearing mask return

What ARE the new Covid rules? Government says travellers can take PCR test on or BEFORE day two meaning they can take one at airport soon as they land in UK – as mask and self-isolation rules also start tomorrow

From face masks in shops to PCR tests for passengers, a series of new rules will come into force from tomorrow amid growing fears over the Omicron variant.  

Face coverings will be made compulsory on public transport and in shops, banks and hairdressers from 4am tomorrow in England – but not in pubs and restaurants.

All travellers entering the country from abroad will have to take a PCR test by the second day after their arrival and isolate until they receive a negative result. 

Previously fully-vaccinated travellers were only required to take a cheaper lateral flow test, and did not need to self-isolate unless they received a positive result.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the test must be taken ‘on or before day two’, while Government advice says it must be ‘taken before the end of day two’.

But this has led to concerns that people could be carrying the virus even if they tested negative because it will not have had to time to incubate.

To this end, Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon has urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to extend self-isolation rules for all UK arrivals from two to eight days.

This means that those paying £119 could feasibly take a PCR test upon landing at Heathrow and get the results within just three hours – ending their self-isolating.

Arrivals in England who are unvaccinated will continue to need one pre-departure test and two post-arrival PCR tests, and must quarantine for ten days. 

In another change in the rules, people identified as contacts of suspected Omicron cases will have to isolate for ten days regardless of their vaccination status.

The regulations will be laid in Parliament today before they come into force tomorrow – and MPs will get a retrospective vote within the next four weeks.   

Here, MailOnline looks at what the changes in the rules will mean for you: 

 

TRAVEL RULES

Fully-vaccinated people entering the UK will be required to self-isolate until they receive a negative result from a PCR test taken by the second day after they arrive. 

When do the travel rules on testing change?

The travel rules on testing will change in England at 4am tomorrow (Tuesday). The answers below are given for those arriving in the country after that time.

IF FULLY VACCINATED 

What must you do if you arrive in England and are fully vaccinated?

If you are fully vaccinated by 4am tomorrow, you must self-isolate, take a PCR test before the end of day two after you arrive and can only leave self-isolation once you have a negative result.

Can you book a test to take at the airport?

Yes, you can pre-book a PCR test to take at airports such as Heathrow in advance of landing, although these sites tend to be only open within specified periods rather than being 24-hour. You must still self-isolate until you get your negative result.

Can you take a PCR test at the airport and be free from isolation within hours? 

Yes. at Heathrow, you could book at ExpressTest with Cignpost from £59 for next-day results by 10pm; or a £119 test for results within three hours. 

You can end your self-isolation period once you have your negative result. 

Can you travel by train or bus to the place where you will self-isolate? 

Yes. Travellers must self-isolate at home until they get their result, although they can get to their quarantine location by public transport following their arrival. 

Air passengers queue to check in for flights at London Heathrow Airport this morning

Air passengers queue to check in for flights at London Heathrow Airport this morning

Can you use a lateral flow test?

No, lateral flow tests will not be accepted from 4am tomorrow – it must be a PCR test.

What must you do before you travel to England?

You have to book and pay for a PCR test to be taken before the end of day two in England, and complete a passenger locator form in the 48 hours before you arrive in England.

Does England ask for a ‘fit to fly’ certificate before flying back in?

No, you just need to have your PCR test booked and passenger locator form filled out. You do not need to have a negative test result before you fly into England.

Can you use an NHS test for your PCR?

No, you must use a private test provider – and you will have to enter your test booking reference number on your passenger locator form.

What if you are in England for less than two days?

It does not matter – you will still need to book and pay for a day two test.

What is the definition of day two?

Day two is the second day after you arrive. The day you arrive is day zero. So if you arrive in England on a Friday, day two is a Sunday.

Do you have to quarantine until you get the test result?

Yes. You must self-isolate in your home or the place you are staying until you receive the result.

What if the test results are delayed?

You must still self-isolate until your test result is known or until day 14 after arrival, whichever is sooner.

Passengers arrive at Heathrow Airport this morning as a testing centre sign is seen

Passengers arrive at Heathrow Airport this morning as a testing centre sign is seen

What if the test result is unclear?

If you took a PCR test and the result is unclear, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day you took the test is day zero. You can choose to take another private test – and, if the result is negative, you can stop self-isolating.

What if the test result is positive?

If you took a PCR test and the result is positive, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day of the test is day zero.

What if the test result is negative?

You can end your period of self-isolation.

How do you qualify as fully vaccinated?

You must have proof of full vaccination with a full course of an approved vaccine.

You must have had your final dose of the vaccine at least 14 days before you arrive in England. The day you had your final dose is day zero.

You do not need to have had a third ‘booster’ jab in order to be defined as fully vaccinated. 

Who can have issued proof of vaccination?

Proof can be issued by either a) the UK vaccination programme; b) the United Nations vaccine programme for staff and volunteers; or c) an overseas vaccination programme with an approved proof of vaccination for travel to the UK.

How can you check which vaccines are approved?

Check which vaccines are approved and the list of countries and territories with approved proof of vaccination by clicking here.

 

Are there non-vaccinated people who can follow fully vaccinated rules?

Yes. Even if you are not fully vaccinated, the fully vaccinated rules apply if you are 1) under 18; 2) taking part in an approved Covid-19 vaccine trial in the UK or the USA (US residents only for USA trials), or a phase 2 or 3 vaccine trial that is regulated by the EMA (European Medicines Agency) or SRA; or 3) unable to have a Covid-19 vaccination for a medical reason which has been approved by a clinician under the medical exemptions process, and you are resident in England.

How can you prove your vaccination status if you were jabbed in the UK?

If you are fully vaccinated under the UK vaccination programme, you can prove your vaccination status using either the NHS Covid Pass for England and Wales; the NHS Scotland COVID Status app; the COVIDCert NI in Northern Ireland; or an approved paper certificate.

How can you prove your vaccination status if you were jabbed outside the UK?

Check what proof is required for the country or territory where you were vaccinated by clicking here.

IF NOT FULLY VACCINATED 

What if you cannot prove you are fully vaccinated under the rules in England?

If you cannot prove that you qualify under the fully vaccinated rules, you must follow the rules for people who are not fully vaccinated.

What do you have to do before arriving in England if you are not fully vaccinated?

Before you travel to England you must take a Covid-19 lateral flow or PCR test in the three days before you arrive; and book and pay for day two and day eight PCR tests, to be taken after arrival in England. You must also complete a passenger locator form in the 48 hours before you arrive.

The Omicron variant has now been detected in 14 countries. It was initially identified in Botswana, South Africa, and Hong Kong before being spotted in Belgium on Friday. Over the weekend several other countries confirmed cases. It has now spread to four continents in the almost three weeks since the first case

The Omicron variant has now been detected in 14 countries. It was initially identified in Botswana, South Africa, and Hong Kong before being spotted in Belgium on Friday. Over the weekend several other countries confirmed cases. It has now spread to four continents in the almost three weeks since the first case

What do you have to do after you arrive in England if you are not fully vaccinated?

After you arrive in England you must quarantine at home or in the place you are staying for ten full days; take your Covid-19 PCR tests which must be booked before you travel; and take the first test on or before day two and the second test on or after day eight. The day you arrive is day zero.

What happens if you are not fully vaccinated and in England for less than ten days?

If you are in England for less than ten days, you need to quarantine for the time you are here – and you still need to book day two and day eight PCR tests, but only need to take these if you are still in England on those days.

What do you have to do if the day two test result is positive?

If your day two test is positive, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day you took the test is day zero. You do not need to take the day 8 test if your day 2 test is positive.

What do you have to do if the day eight test result is positive?

If your day eight test is positive, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day you took the day eight test is day zero.

What do you have to do if the day two test result is negative?

If your day two test is negative, you must continue to isolate and then take your day eight test.

What do you have to do if the day eight test result is negative?

If your day eight test is negative, you can stop quarantine on whichever is later – either 1) day ten, with day zero being the day you arrived in England; or 2) when you receive the day eight test result.

An example of this is that if you receive your day eight negative test result back on day nine, you must continue to quarantine until the end of day ten. But if you receive your day eight negative test result back on day 12, you must quarantine until the end of day 12.

B.1.1.529, or the Omicron variant, has some 50 mutations ¿ 30 of which are on its spike protein which the virus uses to invade cells. The current crop of vaccines triggers the body to attack the spike protein from older versions of the virus. But there are fears that the spike on B.1.1.529 may look so different that the body's immune system will struggle to recognise it and fight it off, leading to an infection

B.1.1.529, or the Omicron variant, has some 50 mutations — 30 of which are on its spike protein which the virus uses to invade cells. The current crop of vaccines triggers the body to attack the spike protein from older versions of the virus. But there are fears that the spike on B.1.1.529 may look so different that the body’s immune system will struggle to recognise it and fight it off, leading to an infection

What if the test results are unclear?

If the result of your day two test is unclear, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day you took the test is day zero.

If your day eight test is unclear, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day you took the day eight test is day zero.

You could also choose to take another private test. If that test result is a negative result, you can stop self-isolating on whichever is later – either 1) day 10, with day zero being the day you arrive in England; or 2) the day you received the negative replacement test result from the additional test.

Does the Test to Release scheme still apply?

Yes. If you need to quarantine, you may be able to end quarantine early if you pay for a private Covid-19 test through the Test to Release scheme.

Under the Test to Release scheme you can choose to pay for a private Covid-19 test on day five. If the result is negative – and the result of your day 2 test result was negative or inconclusive – you can end your quarantine.

CHILDREN 

Do children have to quarantine upon arrival in England?

No. Children aged 17 and under do not have to quarantine on arrival in England. This applies whether they are vaccinated or not.

Do children have to take a Covid test upon arrival in England?

Children aged four and under do not have to take any Covid-19 travel tests.

Those aged five to 17 do not have to take a Covid-19 test before travel to England.

However, those aged five to 17 they must take a test on arrival in England – before the end of day two at the latest (arrival day is day zero). 

From tomorrow, five to 17-year-olds must take a PCR test.

EXEMPTIONS

What if you are travelling from Ireland or other parts of the UK into England?

If you’re travelling to England from within the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, you do not need to complete a passenger locator form, take any Covid-19 tests or quarantine on arrival in England.

This only applies if you have not been outside of the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man in the ten days before the day you arrive in England. 

Are some people exempt from the restrictions because of their job?

Yes, if you do one of a series jobs listed here you may qualify for an exemption from one or more of the Covid-related travel restrictions.

These jobs include aircraft pilots and crew, BBC broadcasting transmission network and services roles, border security duties and coach drivers.

What if you are travelling abroad (outside the Common Travel Area) from England?

You should check foreign travel advice for all countries you will visit or travel through, to see if you will need to show proof of vaccination status or proof of a negative test and quarantine on arrival. The rules vary between countries.

For example, Switzerland has effectively ‘red listed’ Britain by subjecting arrivals to ten days of self-quarantine. Britons arriving in the country will have to show proof of full vaccination, a negative Covid test and then self-isolate. 

Spain also announced a ban on unvaccinated British tourists after Portugal said it would demand proof of a negative test even for double-jabbed visitors.

RED LIST 

Does the red list still apply?

Yes, there are different rules if you have been in a red list country or territory in the ten days before you arrive in England. Red list rules apply whether you are fully vaccinated or not.

The 10 red list countries

  • South Africa
  • Botswana
  • Eswatini
  • Lesotho
  • Namibia
  • Zimbabwe 
  • Angola
  • Malawi
  • Mozambique
  • Zambia
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What countries are on the red list?

Ten African countries have been added to the UK’s red list since Friday.

South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe moved onto the red list at 12pm last Friday (November 26). 

Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia moved onto the red list at 4am yesterday (November 28).

Can you travel into England from a red list country?

Yes, but if you have been in a country or territory on the red list in the 10 days before you arrive in England, you will only be allowed to enter the UK if you either are a British or Irish National, or have residence rights in the UK.

What must you do before you travel to England?

Take a Covid-19 lateral flow or PCR test in the three days before you travel to England; book a quarantine hotel package (see below), including two PCR tests and complete a passenger locator form.

What is the cost of a quarantine hotel package?

One adult in one room for ten days (11 nights) is £2,285. The additional rate for one adult (or child over 11) is £1,430, while the additional rate for a child aged 5 to 11 is £325. You do not have to pay for children under five, but they must also complete the quarantine. 

 

FACE MASKS 

Face coverings will be made compulsory on public transport and in shops, banks and hairdressers – but not in pubs and restaurants. 

What will the new rules on face coverings be?

From 4am tomorrow, face coverings will be compulsory in shops and other retail settings such as banks, post offices and hairdressers, as well as on public transport.

What are the current rules – before 4am tomorrow?

As it stands, there are no rules on wearing face coverings in shops although some retailers ask that you do. On transport, there are also no rules apart from on the Transport for London network where they are mandatory. 

However, it is not illegal to travel on London transport without a mask – but you can be asked to leave the network if you are not wearing one.

Passengers wear face masks on a London Underground train on the morning commute today

Passengers wear face masks on a London Underground train on the morning commute today 

What will the fine be for non-compliance from tomorrow?

British Transport Police are expected to advise passengers on the new rules, but breaches could feasibly see £200 fines.

London TravelWatch has said the requirement will have to be ‘properly enforced to give out the signal that the rules have changed’. 

Will exemptions on face coverings still apply?

Yes, all the normal exemptions for health and other reasons will still exist.

Will you have to wear a mask in pubs or restaurants?

No, the rules won’t be extended to hospitality venues in England. Health Minister Edward Argar said this was for practical reasons, because you cannot eat or drink while wearing a mask.

A woman wearing a face mask walks past a couple at a Sainsbury's in Kent earlier this year

A woman wearing a face mask walks past a couple at a Sainsbury’s in Kent earlier this year

What about in schools?

The Department for Education has told schools and colleges in England that students in year 7 and above should wear face masks in communal areas.

The new guidance – which came into force today, unlike the other guidance on shops and public transport which begins at 4am tomorrow – says staff, visitors and pupils are ‘strongly advised’ to wear a face covering in communal areas, unless they are exempt.

However there is no guidance on pupils having to wear face masks once seated in their classroom. 

And what about universities? 

Department for Education guidance also states that face coverings should be worn by university students and staff in communal spaces and corridors. 

 

SELF-ISOLATING

People identified as contacts of suspected Omicron cases will have to isolate for ten days regardless of their vaccination status. 

Who do the new self-isolation rules apply to? 

All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate, regardless of their vaccination status.

How will you know if you are a contact of a suspected Omnicron case?

You will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace.

What does self-isolation actually mean?

You must not go to work, school or public places – and work from home if you can. You must not go on public transport or use taxis, or go out to get food and medicine.

You must also not have visitors in your home, including friends and family – except for people providing essential care. And you should not go out to exercise. 

The NHS advises people to exercise at home or in your garden, if you have one.

Could we be heading for another Pingdemic?

The Pingdemic over the summer was caused by people’s NHS Covid-19 app ‘pinging’ them to say they had been in close contact with someone who has Covid-19.

This time, if Omicron causes a huge spike in numbers of cases, it could mean large numbers of people are again stuck at home in what may be branded ‘Pingdemic 2.0’.

 

WHAT NEXT? 

How long will the new rules last?

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said the measures will be reviewed in three weeks, which would be the last Saturday before Christmas.

Could the restrictions get tougher?

The first ministers of Scotland and Wales today called on Boris Johnson to extend self-isolation rules for all UK arrivals from two to eight days — as Scotland confirmed six cases of the Omicron variant including some with no links abroad.

Nicola Sturgeon said Scots should start working from home immediately to curb the spread of the virus in a warning sign that England could soon face more restrictions.

Surge testing will also be deployed in areas of Scotland where the super-strain has been detected amid fears it could already be transmitting in the community.

Ms Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford have asked for an emergency Cobra meeting to come up with a ‘tougher four nations approach’ to control the spread of the variant. 

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