What do the Government changes mean for going abroad for half term?
After the long-awaited Government announcement last month, travel operators, airlines, and vacationers alike can all breathe a sigh of relief. Unless you were planning to go on holiday to La Palma, in which case, bad luck. The tourist hotspot in the Canary Islands may be a little too hot at the moment, with residents being evacuated due to the eruption of La Palma volcano. For holiday makers half-terming elsewhere however, it’s good news. Covid testing rules are set to relax, making travel a whole world easier.
So, what are the new Government guidelines?
The old traffic light system of branding countries as Red, Amber, or Green has been scrapped. Now there are only Red-list countries, and the rest of the world. From Monday 4th October, fully vaccinated travellers will no longer need to take a pre-departure test when travelling to England. The even more exciting news is that people returning from a select list of countries will also be given the ‘non-red’ light to use the much cheaper antigen tests instead of the Day 2 PCR tests. The exact date this switch will occur has yet to be confirmed, but government officials have said they hope it will be in place by the time people are returning from half term holidays.
Okay, so which tests do I need for my half-term holiday?
Still confused? Don’t blame you. With all the changes, covid travel test requirements are hard to keep track of. Let’s break it down.
It doesn’t matter if you’re double vaccinated, unvaccinated, patient X, or Freddie Mercury reincarnated; if you’re coming from a Red List country there’s no way to avoid the hotel quarantine package. The UK is currently only allowing British citizens in from red list countries. Anyone coming from these countries, or who have been in one in the 10 days prior to their arrival in the UK will need to take a predeparture test, then check in to their government approved quarantine hotel. The good news is the price of the quarantine package - £2285 - includes your Day 2 and Day 8 PCR tests, transport to and from the hotel, and all your food and drink for the duration of your stay. The bad news is there’s no option for Test to Release early.
If you’re coming from a Non-Red List country, your vaccination status is much more significant. Unvaccinated travellers will need to take a predeparture test, Day 2 and Day 8 PCR tests, and self-isolate for 10 days. There will be the option to Test to Release early if you get a negative result on Day 5 after your return to the UK.
Vaccinated travellers returning from a Non-Red List country will no longer require a predeparture test and won’t have to self-isolate unless their Day 2 PCR result is positive. If returning from the select list of countries indicated by the government, the traveller might even be able to swap the expensive Day 2 PCR test for the much cheaper antigen – or lateral flow – test. But not until the end of October at the earliest. This select list has yet to be confirmed.
These guidelines apply for UK citizens travelling abroad and returning home. You will also need to check with the country you’re travelling to, as they may require different tests.
How will they know if I’m vaccinated?
You’ll be asked to prove that you’ve had both doses of an approved vaccine. Your second does needs to have been at least 14 days before you intend to travel, so it has time to become effective. You’ll need a document – paper or digital – which includes your full name, date of birth, vaccine brand and manufacturer, date of vaccine doses, and country the vaccine was issued in. The vaccine manufacturers accepted are Oxford AstraZeneca, Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna, and Janssen. If you received your vaccine via the NHS you will be able to download the NHS app – not the covid test and trace app, the normal one. There, you’ll be able to view and download your Covid Passport, which will produce a QR code that you can add to your apple wallet app. The QR code will only be valid for one month from download, then you’ll have to do it again, so don’t do it too early before your holiday!
Which countries can I use antigen for instead of PCR?
The government have yet to confirm which countries will be on their select list they deem safe enough to only require an antigen from. So, the short answer is: We don’t know yet. France, Italy, and Greece are all popular speculated answers, as are a few others that were originally on the old Green List.
Can I use a free NHS lateral flow test when the switch from PCR to antigen tests happens?
No. All travel covid tests must be privately provided and CE marked. Affinity Health’s antigen test kit is no bigger than your toiletry bag, so you can easily slip it in your case and take it with you on holiday. Even if you’re not sure if you need one, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Especially as the NHS is due to phase out the free version in the coming months, but antigen testing will be required well into the New Year.
Hopefully this has helped clarify how the new government guidelines around covid travel testing will affect you and your half term holiday. With Halloween falling over half-term be sure to check back for some Spooktacular deals on Affinity Health’s covid tests!