British officials are considering changes to the country's travel corridors that could mean travellers flying from the UAE and a number of other countries to Britain face a Covid-19 PCR test requirement.
Ahead of a Thursday meeting of the committee summit, consideration was being given to changing the corridor rules to include a negative test result up to 72 hours before departure, The National can disclose.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Israel and Qatar are among more than 50 nations exempt from having travellers tested or being required to self-isolate for 10 days upon arrival in the UK.
The introduction of the corridors allowed thousands to take breaks outside the UK over the Christmas and New Year period.
“It is clear that the government is going to introduce pre-testing up to 72 hours before travel, likely to be the PCR [polymerase chain reaction] test,” said a senior Whitehall source.
“There’s a strong demand for it and it will be brought in.” Travellers arriving in Britain will now have to prove that they’ve had the test.
A ‘Covid-O’ summit chaired by Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet to sign off new requirements for people wishing to enter the UK.
A decision is expected to be finalised by Thursday afternoon setting out the restrictions and any exemptions, such as for diplomats, scientists, trade delegates and critical workers.
There will also be a decision on whether all or any of the 50 countries within the UK travel corridor will be excused.
“It could either be a blanket restriction on countries on the list or a few could still be exempted,” said the source.
“That’s the decision that has to be made at the highest level on whether people in these countries will have to take the test and potentially then quarantine on arrival.”
It will also be decided if the rules apply to foreign nationals and British citizens.
Concerns over new variant permeate
The British government has been criticised for having no enforcement system for self-isolation rules and no pre-flight test requirements.
The country is currently in full lockdown with new cases of coronavirus infections running at more than 60,000 a day.
Mr Johnson indicated that tightened restrictions were likely. “We will be bringing in measures to ensure that we test people coming into this country and prevent the virus being readmitted,” he said on Tuesday.
It is understood that travellers currently in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and elsewhere will be given a few days’ notice in order to change their flights if they want to get to back to Britain before the new rules come into force.
While pre-testing before air travel may not prevent the spread of the virus significantly, it is expected to catch a number of travellers with Covid-19 before they enter an aircraft and potentially pass it on to passengers.
The rule has been in force in many countries including the US, European Union nations, China and most Gulf States for several months.
Labour’s shadow home secretary has written to the Home Secretary calling for an “urgent review and improvement plan” over concerns on infections from abroad.
“It is especially worrying given the concerns regarding mutation of the virus that emerged in South Africa,” wrote Nick Thomas-Symonds to Priti Patel.
“However, the lack of a robust quarantine system as a result of shortcomings from the government mean that it is virtually impossible to keep a grip on this spread or other variants that may come from overseas, leaving the UK defenceless, and completely exposed, with the nation's doors unlocked to further Covid mutations.”