England Reducing 14-Day Quarantine With Testing

Filed Under: Travel

Back in May, the UK introduced a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all travelers arriving from “high-risk” areas (this is being reduced to 10 days as of December 2020). Up until now there hasn’t been any option to skip this quarantine with testing, though that will finally be changing.

New option: quarantine for five days and get tested

It has been announced that as of December 15, 2020, international travelers arriving into England from “high-risk” areas will have a new option to reduce their mandatory 14-day quarantine. With this new program:

  • Travelers will instead be able to self-quarantine for five days
  • At that point they can get a coronavirus test from a private provider, and if they test negative they can be released from their self-quarantine
  • Since it usually takes 24-48 hours to get test results, at a minimum people are still looking at self-quarantining for six to seven days

Travelers will have an alternative to a 14-day quarantine

The announcement came from Grant Shapps, the UK’s Secretary of State for Transport, who said that this move will “bolster international travel while keeping the public safe.” He went on to say:

“Our new testing strategy will allow us to travel more freely, see loved ones, and drive international business. By giving people the choice to test on day five, we are also supporting the travel industry as it continues to rebuild out of the pandemic.”

Those who don’t want to get tested can continue to self-quarantine for 14 days, though this is a good new option to have. For context, tests from private firms cost anywhere between £65 and £120.

This is a step in the right direction

It’s great to finally see England add an alternative to a full 14-day quarantine, even if the solution isn’t ideal.

A self-quarantine for five days and then testing won’t catch every single case, but when you consider the incubation period, it should catch most cases, and it would catch more than if you just did testing on arrival. In that sense this is a good plan.

Not only is this new option more convenient than a 14-day quarantine, but I’d argue it’s also safer. Why? Because the UK’s 14-day quarantine has gone unenforced, so people have largely been violating it without repercussions. Unless you quarantine someone in a monitored facility or there’s significant risk to being caught, people largely just don’t follow these policies.

I’m not sure this is as much of a “gift” to the travel industry as it’s being made out to be. We’re still talking about self-quarantining for about a week (by the time the results come in), and then you also have to spend a not-insignificant amount of money to get tested.

I continue to think that a lot of governments view their “safety” precautions through too rosy of a lens. These decisions should factor in non-compliance, rather than assuming everyone will follow guidelines.

It goes without saying that pre-travel testing or testing on arrival won’t catch all cases. However:

  • This system is the most realistic for people to follow, since it’s not that complicated
  • Unless you’re Australia or New Zealand, there’s nothing wrong with some cases slipping through, especially if the number of cases brought in is below the country’s average otherwise (which very well could be the case)

How much will this move actually help the travel industry?

Bottom line

It’s great to see England introduce an alternative to a 14-day quarantine. Travelers can now choose to quarantine for five days and then be tested, and once the results come in they’d be released from their self-quarantine.

While I think this is a step in the right direction, I do wonder if this will actually change anything. I feel like those who were happy skipping the 14-day quarantine will continue to do so, and I’m also not sure this will change demand for travel that much.

But again, progress…

What do you make of England’s new alternative to a 14-day quarantine?

  1. The government of UK is only responsible for healthcare and other public policies in England. The devolved governments in Wales, Scotland and NI are responsible for those policies in their respective countries.

  2. There’s another step which was detailed by Shapps in an article in the daily telegraph. Her Majesty’s Government are also trialling new Lateral Flow testing in Liverpool which give results in 30 minutes, and are much cheaper (the PCR tests are around 120 GBP which the passengers have to pay). These could be used to scrap quarantine altogether with a daily test for 7 days, and as long as they’re negative you could move around. Roll-out is expected in early Q1.

  3. Maybe an elite of ‘work from home’ people can just ignore the rules, but many people have actual jobs where you need to turn up (shops, hospitals etc). You can’t just skip quarantine. People know you’ve be away, and you get fired if you just turn up to work. The UK also prefers to rely on most people doing the right thing, rather than having the secret police out checking on people. So it’s rather depressing to hear ‘people have largely been violating it with repercussion’. If that’s actually true, what it means is that there are a tiny number of people travelling who are also selfish law breakers. This change in the rules lets the people who must or want to do the right thing travel again without breaking the law. Me included!

  4. Testing is useful but not the total solution. Look at Trump. Everyone was tested daily, even more often than daily.

    Test, test, test, then get sick. Trump got Covid-19 despite the most rigorous testing program in the world (but not following mask guidelines and limiting contact) See, you are infectious earlier than any test shows.

  5. If an overweight 74 year old doesnt get sick from this im not worried about especially with three vacinees ready next month and another 5 or 6 ready in q1’21. Cant wait to get back to traveling to europe soon.

  6. I have been unable to see my family in the UK since January (I live in the US) but I don’t see that this changes that much for me. For one thing, if i tested positive (even false positive) I’d be screwed. I’ll wait until things get better.

  7. England and the UK are different things. However, the phrasing in this article is entirely correct because it is the UK government which is responsible for health in England. Different, Devolved governments control health measures in Wales, Scotland, NI.

  8. Derek, I totally agree with you. People still need to follow guidelines such as wearing masks, minimum contact, etc. Cuz just getting tested is not enough, there is an incubation period of up to 14 days. This could be the timeline:
    Day 0: Joe was exposed to Covid
    Day 5: Joe tested for Covid and the results came back negative
    Day 8: Thinking he is fine, he goes out as usual, do gatherings, and exposed the virus to others
    Day 10: Joe became symptomatic and tested positive

  9. “Not only is this new option more convenient than a 14-day quarantine, but I’d argue it’s also safer. Why? Because the UK’s 14-day quarantine has gone unenforced, so people have largely been violating it without repercussions. ” Not sure why you think that people will stay in quarantine for several days either. Selfish people simply don’t care and if they weren’t following the rules before they aren’t going to follow them now.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reminder: OMAAT comments are changing soon. Register here to save your space.