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UK reintroduces compulsory PCR tests for arrivals – must isolate until results arrive

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Boris Johnson has announced new measures for anyone returning to the UK from a trip to any destination.

Everyone arriving in the UK will need to take a PCR test within two days of their return.

It is not clear when this will come into effect, as it presumably requires the publication of a Statutory Instrument which will appear here. Monday is probably the best bet. Whilst technically the announcement only applied to England, Scotland and Wales have already confirmed that they will follow suit.

EDIT: As this later article explains, it comes into effect at 4am on Tuesday.

UK reintroduces compulsory PCR tests for arrivals

In a major change from how the policy worked during the Summer, it will be compulsory to self-isolate until the result is known.

There will also be a return to mask wearing in shops and on public transport, although not in hospitality venues. This is effective from next week.

Anyone who has been in contact with anyone diagnosed with the new Omicron covid variant will have to self-isolate for 10 days irrespective of their vaccination status.

UK reintroduces compulsory PCR tests for arrivals

These rules will be introduced for a temporary period of three weeks and will be reviewed at that point.

In a separate announcement earlier on Saturday, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia were added to the ‘Red List’ of countries which will require hotel quarantine for anyone who has visited them within 10 days of returning to the UK. South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini were placed on the list on Friday.

We will update this article as more details emerge. The official Government press release is here.

Comments (433)

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  • Matty says:

    Sounds a bit serious. I thought the 20% dip in the IAG share price on Friday morning was the best BF deal that BA offered. Bought in the dip and sold a little later. They could be sub £1.00 by next week.

  • Roger says:

    Not looking good.
    Have to source PCR test having ordered LFT for my arrival next Friday

    • Lou says:

      Ditto, so glad I ordered those LFTs for the arrival back on Saturday

      • AllyCat says:

        Yes us too grrr. Maybe Chronomics will allow us to switch them to a Pcr test, if we could contact them …

        • Nicky says:

          Yep O (being really organised) ordered 2 lateral flow tests. Now going to have to shell out more money for PCR’s

          • Nicky says:

            If we have to self isolate until the result comes through….does this mean I have to keep my dogs in kennels for at least an extra 48hrs (more flipping money) and then collect them?

    • ChrisD says:

      Who’s going to know what type of test you’ve already ordered? The PLF just asks for the test reference number…?

      I’m in the same boat, LFT ordered and sitting at home ready for our return.

  • stevenhp1987 says:

    If we’re going to add new restrictions every time we find a variant then we’ll never stop this nonsense.

    Should we not be treating it like flu now? That mutates every year but vaccines have always been effective. Why would this be why different?!

    • Ian says:

      I think I’m happy to take the advice of Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance.

      • Char Char says:

        Who said this variant is even less lethal than Delta and not to focus on it?

        • Roy says:

          He certainly didn’t say that. No one has any data yet one way or the other regarding disease severity, as there’s really no way to get that data without looking at the disease outcomes in actual patients. Hopefully we’ll start to get some data coming out of South Africa over the coming days and weeks.

      • Daniel says:

        Gullible Ian…

    • Alan says:

      Because (sadly) COVID has a much higher chance of causing serious illness than flu…

      • Char Char says:

        Yes if your over 80 and have underlying health conditions

        • John says:

          Younger healthy people will mostly get over it, but it’s still worse than flu in all ages.

          • voiceofreason says:

            It’s about the same death rate as flu, currently Covid-19 is on 125 deaths a day in old and vulnerable people – which is lower than the number of old and vulnerable people who die daily of flu each and every year in the 6 wintery months.

            Already we can say Covid-19 is just another flu. Old and vulnerable people have to die of something, especially of respiritory diseases, they don’t live forever and most Covid-19 deaths are not premature deaths – but expected and normal deaths.

          • Graeme says:

            voiceofreason – it’s not just about deaths and never has been. It’s also about keeping people out of hospital so there are beds for other people who need them. It’s amazing that there’s still a grown-up who doesn’t know this.

          • Track says:

            Except that hospitals stopped offering any services ANYWAY, except emergency hospitalisation perhaps. Depending on where you are more or less

            Those extra beds are not used for treatment of other illnesses.

          • patrick C says:

            Plus a lot more long term damages (neurological)
            Also a huge amount of below 80 year olds need hospital treatment

          • Margaret says:

            Living in London and working in a school I personally know dozens of people who have had covid, and a few who died. The youngest I know who died was 26. I also know many double vaxxed people with covid, some just recovered from it but including one in hospital. Most double vaxxed are just unwell for a few weeks, but two are currently still off work 3-4 weeks later. It’s endemic in schools. I work with all groups but mostly Y12. We currently have three Y12’s with active covid and four unwell. My 18 y.o. daughter caught it last December and still has long covid (as do I). She has messed up periods, brain fog, insomnia, joint pain and sometimes headaches. I have a loud ticking and ringing in ears, joint pain, insomnia and bad GI issues including kidney damage and GERD. We had ‘mild to moderate’ covid, but our lives are forever changed for the worst. One of my friends can barely walk along a school corridor without becoming out of breath now, a year later. We have a science teacher who was anti-vax as was her husband. She’s been off work with covid 6 weeks so far and her husband has been in hospital for 4 weeks. Lots of people die from covid after the 4 weeks, especially younger patients. Another science teacher in his 30’s was off work for 3 weeks, said it became ugly, and when he returned was gaunt, having lost a a lot of weight.

            I get so angry seeing unmasked people on public transport but just wear an FFP2 mask now. There are millions of people in the UK with long covid. What what will that do to their health and the NHS going forward? Do they not realise as potential carriers they could literally kill people and never know it? I know a lot of people who died in the first wave that way. My neighbour had to find a new childminder during the first pandemic because a parent gave covid to the childminder’s mother who died. One of the receptionists at my surgery died. The owner of the local fish and chip shop died. One of our teaching assistant’s brothers (a bus driver) died. My uncle in Scotland died this February from catching it from his carer. I could go on but I’m just saying that covid is like nothing else. My doctor and his partner (a paramedic) both had covid in the first wave. He said that he struggled to walk to the front door after 2 weeks and has long covid. He’s in his 30’s and used to cycle everywhere.
            Take care out there…

        • Daniel says:


    • will says:

      Because this virus is not flu and we don’t understand the way it is mutating yet.

      If 1000+ people a day were to die of Omicron, and the hospitals were full of people with it, would you be OK with that?

      Surely the lesson from the last 2 years is a relatively small inconvenience early can prevent a lot of deaths a few months down the line.

      • Char Char says:

        How would deaths be prevented?

        • John says:

          More accurate to say deaths would be delayed

          • Roy says:

            If disease can be delayed, better therapeutics becoming available will almost certainly significantly reduce deaths.

      • Tariq says:

        Absolutely fine with that. We have over 67 million people in this country so that’s a drop in the ocean. And the 52% reckon we’re overpopulated anyway…

    • Bill Barton says:

      The point is we don’t know to what extent this variant evades existing immunity. So it may be like a seasonal variation of the flu, or it may be worse. Just *hoping* everything will be fine isn’t an effective strategy. With another 5 – 10 years of data say, and seeing new variants arise, we will likely be in a much more comfortable position.

    • SammyJ says:

      I’m with you, this is getting ridiculous now

      • Anuj says:

        It’s easy for us to put our fingers in our ears and call it ridiculous because we don’t have to deal with the people who will invariably end up in hospital. If the world had actually distributed vaccines more equally we may not be in this mess. The strategy the world is on will never work long term. The fact that over 2 years on there still isn’t a genuine worldwide effort led by rich countries is part of the issue.

        • voiceofreason says:

          I won’t comment on virtue-signalling, that’s your lookout.

          But you can hardly expect governments to do anything except protect the health as best they can of the people they represent. Job no.1 – protect our citizens.

          So if (say) giving our citizens booster jabs saves (say) 5000 UK lives, when if all those millions of jabs could have saved 1 million poor country citizens’ lives getting their first and second jabs, I say the UK has got it right.

          That’s the way of the world and charity begins at home.

          Having said that, I wish we had gone for 7.5% contribution and used all that international aid to pay for AZ jabs for poor countries instead of the nonsense ways they currently use our money. UK alone could almost have vaxxed the poor world (@ AZ prices) with its GBP15billion aid.

          • Lady London says:

            +1 need to share quicker but as with plane oxygen masks, put your own on first before assisting others.

          • Paul Pogba says:

            Assuming every country “we” offered sufficient vaccines too has the capability to deliver the shot into peoples arms AND the local population were willing to take it. It’s more complicated than just manufacturing and delivering vaccines (which itself is complex).

            It’s possible with the best will in the world we’ll never be able to vaccinate everyone at a sufficient pace to keep ahead of mutations – we’ve never been able to squash the flu so why would coronavirus be any different?

          • David says:

            Tell us what you know about foreign aid use beyond the half truths the Daily Mail tell you?

          • Bazza says:

            Here you go. If you don’t like the daily mail. Never see this sort or story in the guardian though, doesn’t fit the agenda?


        • Track says:

          I understand that South Africa has stockplies of vaccines (different types) and they are not being used?

          • Paul Pogba says:

            Dr Andrew Croxford has been quoted in the Mail as saying there are high levels of hesitancy in the developing world. I’m sure David won’t believe it but it’s possible, it’s also possible they don’t have the healthcare professionals to inject it. According to the World Bank South Africa has 0.9 doctors per 100,000, the UK 2.8 – and it took us about a year to get where we are with 88% first dose, 80% two doses.

        • Bazza says:

          Where there was a very low number of people with the virus while other countries were rife? Right’o that’ll work!

    • Harry T says:

      It’s a good thing people who understand public health and virology are the ones advising governments 😂

      • Track says:

        They are no more alchemists than any other undegrad who comes hey I computed a regression. They preach 7-day average/100,000 criterion to make decisions on close/open traffic between countries, which should tell enough.

    • jek says:

      There have been many variants since Delta – there is quite a gap between Delta and Omicron in the Greek alphabet.

      Omicron scares the shit out of the virologists! Changing the testing requirements immediately? It seems it scares the politicians, too!

      • John says:

        It only scares virologists because of the large number of changes compared to delta. And it only scares the politicians because they don’t want to be the ones who do nothing and then it turns out to be bad.

        But several health professionals in southern Africa are saying it’s not actually that bad. Well we will find out in a week or so

    • Cranzle says:

      Stick to FaceBook

    • John T says:

      They’re kinda damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The Gov was criticized for waiting too long to put India on the red list when Delta appeared.
      I think it’s fair they immediately introduce some restrictions while they understand what this new variant means.

    • Char Char says:

      Cos they wasted so much money on it they need to be dramatic at giving up on it

    • Can says:

      Death rates are higher and there is no yet herd immunity. There will be at some point. But, it seems it may require 2-3 rounds of vacc years.

    • David says:

      What nonessential, Stephen. There have been plenty of other mutations which weren’t a variant of concern. This, from the little that is fully known about it, is more concerning given the number of mutations it’s made.
      For once the government is approaching this on the front foot rather than wait weeks to take any action.

  • NvT1115 says:

    Returning from Malta tomorrow afternoon and was safe in the knowledge my Day 2 lateral flow test had arrived. Assuming I need to order a PCR this evening. Has anyone got a recommendation for who to use?

    • James says:

      At the moment Randox are £30 for next day results at a number of airports

    • David says:

      BBC suggests this will be effective from Monday as requires publishing stat imstrument?
      You may be okay with current tests for tomorrow (in same boat and leaving things as they are for now… PLF completed yesterday).

  • Alan says:

    No change on masks for Scotland – being mandatory in shops and on public transport has continued throughout anyway. Given the need to detect this new variant it does make sense they’re looking for a PCR rather than lateral flow.

    • BlueThroughCrimp says:

      It might be mandatory, but it’s not enforced, and wearers are 50% if that.

      • Alan says:

        Much higher than that IME – 80%+ I’d say on buses/shops I’ve been in for Edinburgh/Dundee/Perth

        • BlueThroughCrimp says:

          No way is it 80% in Dundee from what I’ve seen.
          Glasgow was considerably less when through last week.

          • Alan says:

            Maybe depends on the shop – I mainly go to M&S Food when there and definite high compliance there and in Morrisons in Perth!

          • BlueThroughCrimp says:

            Think age is a greater difference.
            Tesco Riverside u21s rarely wear coverings.
            Sainsbury’s local, mostly.
            Trains, 50% wearing.

          • Alan S says:

            Everywhere I’ve been in Scotland it’s very well adhered to. At least 80% and I’d have said 95%+.

          • Alan Todd says:

            First off, who knew there was such a HfP representation in the City of Discovery?! Second, from a quick straw poll of wife, myself and MIL, all working in the Dee, we’re putting mask compliance at 75% minimum. It’s science.

    • Harry T says:

      I suspect there is a strong relationship between M&S shopping, socioeconomic status, and likelihood of wearing a mask in Scotland…

      • Roy says:

        I was in the Heathrow Sofitel last week. Lots of mask wearing despite no actual requirement, just a (not particularly high profile) recommendation from the hotel.

        The vast majority of people would wear a mask whenever moving about the hotel. Even in the bar, most people only removed their mask when sitting at a table and put it back on when getting up.

        I was wondering how much of that was due to people being used to such rules in other countries they may be travelling to or from, and how much was down to the demographics of Sofitel’s customer base…

        • TGLoyalty says:

          Yeah it’s common knowledge you only become an aerosol emitting asymptomatic covid super spreader when you’re standing up.

      • BlueThroughCrimp says:


      • John says:

        I haven’t noticed any correlation between socioeconomic status (as perceived by me), age, gender or location/activity and mask wearing in England in my extensive travels since July. The only thing I’ve noticed is a steady decline, but I suppose people will start wearing them again now.

      • JeffJ says:

        Very very very true. I at an evening event at the weekend in Glasgow area. 2000+ there. Mask compliance was about 2%.

    • Anna says:

      But has it made any difference to infection rates?

      • JeffJ says:

        No difference whatsoever. I downloaded the data since July and infection rates in England and Scotland are very similar despite the different mask rules.

    • NvT1115 says:

      Definitely noticed the difference on mask wearing over in Malta the last few days. Everyone is wearing them on public transport and in every shop. Marked difference on my last couple of trips on the London Tube where they appear to be almost extinct despite being a condition of travel.

    • JeffJ says:

      Might be compulsory but plenty of people not complying. Glasgow compliance is definitely under 50%. If you go to a posher shop eg M&S or posher bar you are maybe around 80% but some other places you are lucky to be hitting 10%. Certainly the places I go it ranges from 2% to 30% on a good day.

  • WearyTraveller says:

    I watched the conference and it didn’t sound like they were actually making masks COMPULSORY. It sounded more like they would start recommending them more – basically no change 🤣

    • Ian says:

      No, they will be made compulsory but not with immediate effect. The Health Secretary will provide details tomorrow.

    • Roy says:

      In the Q&A he clarified that the Health Secretary will make an announcement shortly, and that masks will be made compulsory in shops and on public transport.

  • Andrew says:

    The face coverings policy is not effective immediately the Health Secretary will set out more details “in the coming days”.

  • Roberto says:

    Boris says in one breath we don’t know if the vaccines work against this new variant but in the next breath tells everyone to get the booster to get protected against it.

    • Bill Barton says:

      It’s likely the vaccine provides some protection, and we want the maximum protection possible, at least to reduce the growth of the hospitalisation rate.

    • pauldb says:

      Hospitalisations in SA are disproportionately the unvaccinated, but more data is required to be definitive. Clearly good reason not to dither with the booster programme.

      • Roy says:

        Lots of single-vaxxed, too, AIUI. But would be fair to say the hospitalisations are disproportionately amongst those who are not fully vaccinated, I think.

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