Editor’s Note — Coronavirus cases remain high across the globe. Health officials caution that travel increases your chances of getting and spreading the virus. Staying home is the best way to stem transmission. Below is information on what to know if you still plan to travel, last updated on March 9.
The United Kingdom has seen one of the highest number of deaths from Covid-19 in the world. Despite being the first country globally to start a vaccination scheme, it is still in the grip of a deadly second wave. A new variant, said to be much more infectious, was discovered in the UK, meaning that many countries canceled air links right before Christmas 2020.
All travelers entering the UK, including British citizens, must present a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours of arrival. This policy has been in place since January 18. Previously, the borders had been open with no test requirements.
On January 27, the government announced mandatory hotel quarantine for travelers arriving from countries on the “red list” — this began February 15.
On February 2, Scotland announced plans for a “managed quarantine requirement” for travelers from all countries — this began February 15.
What’s on offer
In London, the UK has one of the world’s greatest cities. But beyond the architectural marvels and nightlife of the capital, there is much to explore — the rugged peaks of the Scottish Highlands, distant Welsh lakes and the wide sweep of Cornish beaches, for starters, plus historic towns and cities such as Bath, Oxford and Harrogate.
Who can go
All travelers entering the UK, including British citizens, must present a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours of arrival.
All visitors must quarantine for 10 days on arrival. Depending on country of origin, this will either take place at a hotel or at your place of residence. Even those testing negative will still need to quarantine. See below for more quarantine information.
Since February 15, all international arrivals to the UK have had to take another Covid test on day two and day eight of their quarantine.
The UK’s four nations have each implemented slightly different travel restrictions.
As mentioned, Scotland has also implemented a managed quarantine hotel system — but it’s for all arrivals, regardless of country of origin.
There are no international flights to Wales or Northern Ireland right now, travelers must transit through Scotland or England.
People traveling from banned countries to Northern Ireland must also first quarantine in a designated English hotel.
(The Republic of Ireland has entirely separate entrance regulations, which are enforced when crossing the land border.)
What are the restrictions?
Arrivals from countries not on the UK’s “red list” must still quarantine for 10 days. This may be completed at a residential address.
Other members of their household do not have to quarantine unless they’ve also just arrived in the UK, or someone in the household develops Covid symptoms or tests positive.
If travelers are coming from one of the countries on the restricted list, they will have to quarantine in a designated hotel at their own expense. For these travelers, Passenger Locator Forms will also include details of their quarantine and testing package.
British people arriving home from countries deemed “high risk” — including South Africa, Portugal and South American nations — must undergo the 10-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.
Non-UK residents from these countries will be refused entry.
British citizens and permanent residents will be picked up straight from the airport and transferred to government-provided accommodation where they will begin their mandatory stay.
Before arriving in the UK, these travelers must purchase what the UK government calls a “quarantine package,” covering the stay in hotel quarantine and food and drink while there.
The charge for a single adult is £1,750.
If you try and dodge quarantine, fines will range from £5,000 rising to £10,000.
The Scottish government announced on February 9 that six hotels have been contracted so far, totaling 1,300 rooms. The hotels are all located near to to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow airports.
A “test to release” scheme came into force in England on December 15, allowing travelers to take a PCR test after five days’ quarantine and then go out into the community on the receipt of a negative result (although they must wait to receive the results before leaving their lodgings).
Travelers arriving from the “red list” countries and staying in a quarantine hotel are not eligible for Test to Release.
Travelers to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland also cannot take advantage of the scheme.
Travel between the four countries of the UK is also restricted. The Welsh government has prohibited travel to Northern Ireland and high-risk areas of England and Scotland. Travel between Scotland’s high alert areas and the rest of the UK is prohibited unless travelers have a reasonable reason.
In the UK’s Covid-19 response roadmap, published on February 22, the government said a Global Travel Taskforce, will report on April 12 “with recommendations aimed at facilitating a return to international travel as soon as possible.” The Taskforce, which met for the first time on March 2, will work directly with travel sector representatives.
The roadmap says the UK government will assess the taskforce’s findings to decide when international travel should resume, but that it’ll be no earlier than May 17.
What’s the Covid situation?
The situation in the UK remains poor, although cases are now going down after a January spike.
There have been over 4,200,000 Covid cases in the UK as of March 9.
After an initial UK-wide lockdown in spring 2020 in response to the first wave of Covid-19, for the second wave each country developed its own region-specific measures.
The UK was the world’s first country to begin a vaccination program; it is hoped that this can lessen the burden on the National Health Service.
However, the announcement of a new variant of Covid-19 right before Christmas led cases in the UK to rise quickly, with many hospitals becoming over capacity. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan declared a “major incident” on January 8.
Over 23 million people have had their first vaccination in the UK as of March 9.
What can visitors expect?
On January 4, England entered its third national lockdown. All nonessential shops are closed. For three months, schools were largely shut, but reopened March 8.
Those in England can only go out for essential reasons, which includes outdoor exercise or visiting a place of worship. Restaurants are open for takeaway food. You can currently meet one member of another household outside for exercise or a one-to-one social meeting on a bench, and preformed ‘support bubbles’ can still meet.
England has successfully passed the first step — schools reopened and people can now meet one other person from another household for a social meet-up, such as sitting on a park bench.
From March 29, outdoor gatherings of six people or two households will be permitted. At this point, England’s Stay at Home order will end, although restrictions will remain.
The next step is scheduled for April 12, when non-essential retail will open up. England’s restaurants, bars, museums and theme parks will reopen their doors. But if you’re with a group of six or two households, you’ll only be able to sit outside.
While international travel will remain off limits, UK residents will be able to stay overnight elsewhere in the country (with their own household) in self-contained accommodation, such as private holiday lets.
The hope is by May 17, hotels, hostels and B&Bs will reopen. Pubs and restaurants will be allowed to serve customers indoors, although customers must only gather groups of six or less. In parks or private gardens, up to 30 people can gather together.
June 21 is scheduled as the point when people in England may return to more of a pre-pandemic life — with nightclubs potentially reopening, and larger events returning — although it’s all subject to change and worth keeping an eye on updates.
Wales is also in lockdown. The rules are largely the same as England, but you cannot mix with anyone outside your household. Wales doesn’t have a roadmap out of lockdown yet.
Regular level 4 is also essentially a stay at home order, with nonessential shops closed.
All islands except for Skye, Bute, Arran and Gigha remain in level 3. Travel in and out of the area is banned, and restaurants are open until 6 p.m. but must not serve alcohol.
Scotland does not have fixed dates for easing lockdown, but Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she hopes April 26 will see non-essential retail and hospitality reopen.
Northern Ireland entered a six-week lockdown on December 26. That lockdown was extended until April 1. All nonessential shops are closed, and restaurants are open for takeaway and delivery only. Liquor stores must close at 8 p.m. Northern Ireland has not yet suggested possible dates for lockdown easing.