Tests to be allowed to reduce quarantine time in England

·4 min read

LONDON — In a boost to holiday travel that will be cheered by families and businesses, the British government has laid out a plan to reduce England's 14-day quarantine requirement for travellers from destinations not deemed safe to as little as five days if they test negative for COVID-19.

The change to the quarantine rules, which was announced Tuesday and takes effect on Dec. 15, has been long-awaited by the travel industry, one of the worst-hit sectors during the pandemic. The industry hopes it will spur British families to go on holiday over the Christmas break, especially if children won't have to miss school upon their return.

Under the new rules, passengers from places not on the government's travel corridor list can reduce the 14-day quarantine period by paying for a test from a private firm on or after Day 5 of their arrival at a potential cost of around 100 pounds ($133). Results normally take a day or two.

“Our new testing strategy will allow us to travel more freely, see loved ones and drive international business,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said. “By giving people the choice to test on Day 5, we are also supporting the travel industry as it continues to rebuild out of the pandemic.”

The change does not apply to the other parts of the United Kingdom. Travellers from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales must continue to self-isolate for 14 days.

Representatives from across the U.K. met Tuesday to come up with an all-encompassing framework over a relaxation of restrictions around the Christmas period. While stressing the need for caution, they are expected to sign off on allowing more mixing between family and friends and an easing of travel restrictions.

The Christmas decision comes amid further evidence that new coronavirus cases are falling in the wake of the reimposition of restrictions over the past few weeks, including a national lockdown in England that is due to end on Dec. 2 to be replaced with regional measures that involve three tiers of restrictions based on the scale of the outbreak in different areas.

Though daily numbers can fluctuate widely, the U.K. recorded another 11,299 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, the lowest level since early October. The hope is that less infections will soon lead to lower hospitalizations and the number of people dying from the coronavirus.

For now, though, virus-related deaths remain high and another 608 were reported on Tuesday. However, Tuesday's figures have invariably been higher during the pandemic because of weekend reporting lag effects.

The change in England's travel rules brings them more in line with other European countries, including Germany. Still, with a maze of travel and quarantine restrictions around the world, few industry experts anticipate a rapid rush for the skies before vaccinations become widely available.

“We still have a complex jigsaw puzzle of restrictions around the world that need tourists to have a high IQ to understand,” said Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency. “We need to see global consistency for travel to fully take off.”

Many popular holiday destinations, such as the United States or Canada, remain blocked off for English travellers , and trips to most of Europe require quarantining, except for isolated spots like Spain’s Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa.

British travellers have faced a chaotic, uncertain situation since travel was permitted again after the spring coronavirus lockdown. The Conservative government has taken countries off its safe list at very short notice, prompting many travellers to cut vacations short to Spain and France this summer and quickly return to the U.K. to avoid mandatory quarantines.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the industry association Airlines U.K., said the announcement on a shorter quarantine period provided “light at the end of the tunnel” for the aviation industry and people wanting to go on holiday.

The government also announced new financial support for English airports and ground handling firms beginning in 2021.

“This new package of support for airports, alongside a new testing regime for international arrivals, will help the sector take off once again as we build back better from the pandemic," said Treasury chief Rishi Sunak.

Sunak plans to unveil the government's spending plans for 2021 on Wednesday.

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Pan Pylas, The Associated Press