If you are planning a trip to the UK during the global COVID-19 pandemic, here’s what you’ll need to know about testing and vaccination rules

The UK has a lot of things to offer international travellers, with many cities providing architectural marvels to explore as well as a wide range of nightlife. London is the Capital of course, and so draws many international travellers, but there are lots of other places in the UK that are well worth a visit, including the beaches of Cornwall, the historic town of Oxford, the mountains of Scotland, or the beautiful landscape of Wales.

The current state of the COVID pandemic in the UK

The UK as a whole (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) has been one of the most highly affected countries during the COVID-19 pandemic, with over 176,000 deaths recorded with COVID-19 on the death certificate since the 5th of March 2020. This is one of the main reasons why it has seen so many lockdowns since then in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.

Restrictions have also remained in place regarding international travel, although these are now being eased.

It is important to remember that the four nations within the UK – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, don’t always have the same regulations – so you need to check what the regulations are for the exact area you are travelling to.

What are the current travel rules in the UK at the moment?

Travellers who are fully vaccinated and anyone under the age of 18, can now enter the UK without needing to take a pre-departure COVID test.

Fully vaccinated travellers have to take a lateral flow test on or before day two of their arrival in the UK. However, the UK’s Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, announced this week that this rule will be removed from 4 am on Feburay the 11th.

All travellers, regardless of their vaccination status, must complete a Passenger Locator Form on arrival into the UK.

Travellers to the UK who are unvaccinated must show a negative pre-departure test result, and must also book and pay for a day 2 and day 8 PCR test to be taken on day 2 and day 8 after arrival into the UK. They must also quarantine for 10 days – either at home or the place they are staying.

There is the option to end quarantine early in England through the use of the Test to Release Scheme – but this is not available in Northern Ireland, Scotland or the UK.

What are the rules changing to?

Fully vaccinated travellers to England will no longer need to take a day 2 test from February the 11th, and non-vaccinated travellers will no longer need to take a day 8 test.

What else do you need to know?

Domestic and international cruising recommenced last summer, with domestic cruise operators requiring all passengers to present a negative COVID test result before boarding.

If you are visiting the UK or returning to the UK on an international cruise, you need to complete a passenger locator form in the 48 hours before boarding the cruise ship.

Travellers to the UK do not currently need to show evidence of a booster vaccination.

If you come into contact with someone suffering from COVID-19 while you are staying in the UK, you need to take a lateral flow test on a daily basis for 5 days. You only need to self-isolate if your test returns a positive result, or if you are unvaccinated. If you are unvaccinated and come into contact with someone who has COVID-19 then you need to self-isolate for 10 days.

If you need to take daily lateral flow tests during your stay, you can get them for free from local pharmacies. These tests cannot be used for day 2 tests, however, these must be purchased from private providers such as Fit2FlyTest.

What can you expect when you arrive in England?

At the moment, England is under “Plan B” measures introduced by the Government in a bid to prevent the spread of the newest COVID variant Omicron. These measures include:

  • Wearing a face covering in enclosed settings, such as shops and public transport
  • Isolating and taking a PCR test as soon as possible if you identify symptoms of COVID-19 in yourself
  • Washing your hands or using hand sanitiser regularly throughout the day

Plan B measures are set to be removed on January 27th however, meaning face masks will no longer be mandatory in indoor settings.

There are no rules covering households mixing in England currently, and many indoor venues are open without restrictions.

What can you expect when you arrive in Northern Ireland?

The Northern Ireland Executive also recently removed some of the rules around COVID-19 that were put in place following the emergence of the new variation – Omicron.

At the moment, there are no rules on how many people can sit together in hospitality settings, although nightclubs remain closed, and there are rules on how many people can meet in a private home or stay overnight (30).

Many B&B’s and hotels are open, as are visitor attractions. Certain venues, such as cinemas or theatres, may ask for proof of vaccination – so you will need to be able to show a recent negative COVID test or a vaccine certificate.

Face coverings are also required in all indoor public settings and on public transport.

What can you expect when you arrive in Scotland?

Scotland also recently lifted some of their COVID-19 rules including rules around more than three households meeting in a home or indoor public place.

Most hospitality venues and tourists attractions are now open in Scotland, and face coverings remain mandatory in indoor public settings and on public transport.

People in Scotland now have to show proof of a booster jab to be considered fully vaccinated – if their last vaccine injection was more than 4 months ago.

What can you expect when you arrive in Wales?

At the moment, Wales is in “Alert Level 2” with rules including:

  • Wearing a face covering in all indoor public places
  • Meeting with no more than 5 people indoors
  • Working from home if you can

However, these rules are set to be removed from January the 28th, with rules around the number of people allowed in hospitality settings being removed, and nightclubs being allowed to reopen.

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