As of 4am on Monday morning, everyone who wants to travel to the UK will have to provide a negative coronavirus test. Proof of the test, taken up to three days before traveling, must be shown on departure.
The rules also apply to British nationals, meaning any hoping to return home from abroad will not be able to if they test positive, unless they meet a very limited criteria for exemptions.
It is the first time a negative test has been required to enter the UK since the first coronavirus case was detected in the country on January 31, 2020.
A long list of countries, including Japan, Thailand, Iraq, Belgium, South Africa, Dubai and China, already require pre-departure testing as a requirement of entry for various groups of people.
All travel corridors, which allowed people to arrive in the UK from some countries without having to quarantine, have also been closed. This means people arriving in the UK from anywhere abroad, apart from Ireland, have to self-isolate for ten days.
The 10-day isolation period can be cut if someone pays for a private Covid-19 test five days after arrival in the UK and they receive a negative result.
Due to the discovery of new variants of the virus, a travel ban has been imposed on people coming from South Africa and Brazil as well as other countries seen to be high risk including Portugal.
British and Irish citizens and foreign nationals with residence rights will still be allowed into the UK, but have to quarantine for 10 days and will not be able to shorten this isolation by paying for a Covid test.
Boris Johnson told a Downing Street press conference on Friday the new strict travel rules were “vital” to prevent Covid spreading even quicker in the UK and that the government would be “stepping up” enforcement of the rules.
Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, on Sunday did not rule out bringing in further measures including requiring arrivals to quarantine in government run hotels or using GPS tracking to ensure people are complying with the rules.
But the UK has been much slower in introducing strict incoming travel rules than many other countries, having chopped and changed various restrictions since the first case was identified almost one year ago.
Professor John Edmunds, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told Times Radio on Sunday ministers had taken a “rather lax” approach to travel.
While Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow home secretary, accused the government of “chronic, systemic failures” on the border which have been “putting the public at risk”.
New Zealand, which confirmed its first case of Covid on February 28, closed its borders to all non-residents on March 19. Residents returning home were required to self-isolate. On April 10 the rules were tightened with the isolation having to take place in government run hotels.
Australia confirmed its first case on January 25 and its borders were closed to non-residents on March 20. From March 27 people returning home to Australia had to quarantine for two weeks in government run hotels.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, last week told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme because the UK is “an island” it was harder to impose travel restrictions than for some other countries.
“We have to have links with the outside world,” Shapps said. “We can’t bring in food, medicines, and sometimes people need to move around in order to ensure those essential supplies can be provided here. So we do need to have connectivity.”
Australia and New Zealand are also islands.
Defending the government’s past more relaxed travel policies, Shapps pointed to the United States having “among the worst, if not the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak” despite having “banned almost all international travel” on March 12.
The United States is not an island.