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COVID-19: All travellers arriving in UK to have to pay for £100 COVID tests while in quarantine

Written by on 9 February 2021

All travellers arriving in the UK are to face mandatory coronavirus tests – paid for by themselves – from next week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock is poised to announce to MPs.

In a Commons statement, Mr Hancock will say that from next Monday, 15 February, all passengers arriving in the UK will be required to take a PCR test, which currently cost around £100 per test, on days two and eight after they arrive.

The new rules, which will cause further dismay in the already-reeling airline industry, will apply to arrivals not just from 33 so-called Red Zone countries heading into hotel quarantine, but also those isolating at home.

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At present, people travelling to the UK are required to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test taken no more than 72 hours before they enter the country.

But scientists from the government’s SAGE group have advised ministers that this pre-departure testing can make only a limited contribution to stopping people with coronavirus entering the UK.

The testing crackdown, aimed at stopping the spread of deadly new variants into the UK, is part of the government’s long-awaited borders plan, including mandatory quarantine in hotels for Red Zone arrivals.

Under the new regime, the COVID-19 tests taken on day two will be sent for analysis to identify new strains of coronavirus. Anyone who fails to get tested will face fines, and travellers will have to pay for their tests.

It will bring the UK into line with countries including Italy, Canada and Dubai, where tests on arrival are mandatory. In most cases, testing takes place at the airport.

Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News that Mr Hancock “may be looking at this further today”.

“I don’t think a final decision has been made on that, but we do keep all of this under review,” he said.

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George Eustice on quarantine hotels

“We’ve stopped short of having a total closure of the border at this stage. We actually think that it causes a lot of disruption but doesn’t add a huge amount.”

He added: “There is a case for doing some testing during quarantine, we already have a provision so they can test to release during quarantine earlier.

“We’re obviously looking at this to see if we can strengthen these measures further.”

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Ahead of Mr Hancock’s Commons statement, a health department spokesperson told Sky News: “Throughout the pandemic, the government has put in place proportionate measures, informed by the advice of scientists, that have led to some of the toughest border regimes in the world.

“It is important the government continues to take the necessary steps to protect people and save lives.

“Enhancing our testing regime to cover all arrivals while they isolate will provide a further level of protection and enable us to better track any new cases which might be brought into the country, and give us even more opportunities to detect new variants.

“Further details of our mandatory quarantine and enhanced testing regime will be set out soon.”

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COVID-19: Assessing the UK’s response

But the government was criticised by Labour’s shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, who tweeted: “Yet again the UK government is lurching from one crisis to another, with no consistent strategy to secure our borders against COVID variants.”

He added: “21,000 people are entering the country every day. We need a comprehensive hotel quarantine system urgently.”

Mr Hancock is making the government announcement after Downing Street announced last Thursday that Boris Johnson had appointed him “to oversee cross-government efforts to deliver mandatory quarantine and enhanced testing which will help tackle the threats of new variants of COVID-19”.

In what looked like a side-lining of Home Secretary Priti Patel, Number 10 added: “A new cabinet sub-committee, led by the health and care secretary, will be attended by a number of senior cabinet ministers that will play a vital role in delivering the policy.

“The government is also working closely with the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as the changes come into effect.”

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But during Home Office questions in the Commons on the eve of Mr Hancock’s statement, Ms Patel told MPs: “The new health measures at the border are necessary to protect public health and our world-class vaccination programme.

“The government have been very clear about measures that will be announced – some in due course – because a lot of operational and logistical planning is taking place around these measures.

“At the same time, it is worth recognising that there are many people on the frontline looking at the implementation of this policy, which is based on the advice of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and other government advisers.

“It is important that we take time to absolutely make sure that these measures are put in place in the right way.”

Over three nights Sky News will host a series of special programmes examining the UK’s response to the pandemic.

Watch COVID Crisis: Learning the Lessons at 8pm on 9, 10 and 11 February.

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