UK government introduces pre-departure testing for travellers leaving A&B

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By Elesha George

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British travellers leaving Antigua and Barbuda will be subject to a new rule before entering the United Kingdom, as England seeks to prevent the further transmission of Covid-19.

From January 21all inbound passengers to England will require mandatory pre-departure testing and must present a negative Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test valid up to three days.

“All arrivals must show proof of a negative Covid-19 test result from a test taken no more than three days prior to departure”, the UK government said in a statement on Tuesday.

Operators have been given the right to refuse boarding for passengers without a negative result and completed passenger locator form in the coming weeks – and those found travelling without the right documents risk being fined £500 (EC$1846).

The release explained that, “Prior to departure, passengers will be required to present proof of a negative Covid-19 test result to transport operators, as well as their passenger locator form.

“Carriers may deny boarding to those who do not have a negative test result. The UK Border Force will conduct spot checks on arrival into England, with passengers who arrive at the border without proof of a negative result subject to an immediate £500 fine.”

The rule applies to most countries in the world some of which will be subject to this policy as early as 4am this Friday.

However, for arrivals from Antigua and Barbuda, this will come into force for all passengers arriving from 4am UK time on Thursday, January 21.

According to the British Commissioner, Lindsy Thompson, the rule “applies to all arrivals to England, regardless of their point of departure/transit. Those whose original departure point is outside of Antigua/Barbados/St Lucia will need to ensure they comply with the rule that they have negative tests beforeJanuary 15.”

The UK government said the measure is meant to safeguard public health and will bolster existing measures already in place to guard against a concerning increase in new variants of Covid-19 circulating internationally.

Thompson told Observer that the countries where this new rule will apply are those with high numbers of British tourists. She said that the additional notice period will give time for each country’s testing infrastructures to make necessary plans.

Prior to Tuesday, there was previously no requirement for any travellers from any country to provide evidence of a negative test for travel to or entry into England.

“Airlines will be fined for carrying passengers without a negative test, so they will be checking for that at some point before boarding. You must have a negative test taken no more than three days before departure: no test results, no flight.

“If travellers are unable to provide evidence of a negative test to UK Border Force staff on arrival they will be fined £500 as it is a criminal offence to arrive without a test result. 

“This fine must be paid. The traveller must then follow the instructions of the Border Force and/or health authorities,” the Commissioner explained.

However travellers like Nicola Morrish and her husband Dave who flew into Antigua on December 5to spend Christmas with family living here have hit a logistical hurdle with returning to the UK.

When England introduced new lockdowns a week ago, Nicola and her husband, who were due to leave the island on January 11, changed their flight to give them enough time to get the Covid test before returning.

This new policy has, however, put them at a disadvantage, as they are currently scheduled to fly out on January 25.

The problem is that the laboratory at Mount St John’s Medical Laboratory (MSJMC) does not normally analyse Covid-19 tests on the weekend, but taking the test sooner would mean that the couple’s Covid-19 certificate would have already expired before their flight.

“They can come out to your boat, but the labs do not open at the weekend; it’s Monday to Friday. Well, our 72 hours would start on a Friday night at 9.30 because our flight is the 25th at 9.30 on a Monday, so it’s impossible,” Morrish told Observer.

There is no other available flight, she added, noting that Virgin Atlantic may have to cancel that entire trip since no one would have a valid Covid-19 test result certificate.

The couple would run the risk of being fined or not being allowed on the flight at all.

Observer contacted the hospital but was unable to speak with anyone who knew the alternative of getting tested on the weekend.

Meanwhile, Antigua and Barbuda remains on the UK’s “Travel Corridors” list so arrivals from the country will not need to self-isolate on arrival, however, all travellers must follow the UK’s national lockdown rules.

A limited number of exemptions will be in place, including but not exclusive to children under the age of 11, haulers – to allow the free flow of freight – and air, international rail and maritime crew.

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