Covid-19: NI to require travellers to take pre-departure test

England and Scotland to require negative tests, taken up to 72 hours before departure

A sign for Covid-19 test results at London Stansted Airport, UK, on Friday. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Northern Ireland is to require incoming travellers to undertake pre-departure testing for Covid-19.

British transport secretary Grant Shapps has already set out new rules which, from next week, will require passengers arriving in England by boat, train or plane — including UK nationals — to take a test up to 72 hours before leaving the country of departure.

Failure to comply will lead to an immediate £500 (€555)fine.

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Northern Ireland's Minister for Health Robin Swann said: "I have agreed in principle to the proposed pre-departure testing regime for Northern Ireland.


“Officials are currently working with colleagues across the UK to resolve policy and operational issues around an effective implementation.

“This will strengthen our response to the changes seen in the transmission of the virus both domestically and across the globe.

“Taken together with the existing mandatory self-isolation period for passengers returning from high-risk countries, pre-departure tests will provide a further line of defence — helping us control the virus as we roll out the vaccine at pace over the coming weeks.”

People entering England and Scotland will have to show a negative Covid-19 test result starting next week as authorities try to ramp up protection against new, more infectious strains of the coronavirus from other countries.

“We already have significant measures in place to prevent imported cases of Covid-19, but with new strains of the virus developing internationally we must take further precautions,” said Mr Shapps.

He said there were concerns that vaccines might not work properly against the highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus discovered in South Africa, echoing recent comments from other government officials.

On Thursday, Britain said it would extend a ban on travellers entering England from South Africa to include other southern African countries, and non-essential travel in and out of the United Kingdom is restricted.

Prime minister Boris Johnson ordered a new lockdown for England this week after a surge in cases linked to another variant of the virus believed to have originated in the country.

Scotland, which like the rest of the United Kingdom has tight Covid-19 restrictions in place, said it too would require travellers to show negative tests and the rule is also expected to be applied by Wales.

Passengers from many countries are currently required to self-isolate for 10 days, or five if they pay for a private test and test negative. Those requirements will remain in place after the new pre-departure testing rule comes into effect.

Britain’s airlines industry recognised the need to introduce pre-departure testing but said it should be only a short-term, emergency measure.

“Once the roll-out of the vaccine accelerates, the focus must be on returning travel to normal as quickly as possible in order to support the UK’s economic recovery,” said Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, an industry group.

“What we’d like to see is that testing before you take off becomes the standard as an alternative to quarantine,” said John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Britain’s biggest airport Heathrow.

Travel to and from Britain has been almost wiped out by Covid-19 and the quarantine requirements, leaving many airlines and airports fighting for survival.

Exemptions to the new testing requirement rule in England would be offered to hauliers, children under 11, crews and people travelling from countries where tests are not available. – PA/Reuters