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Coronavirus: Arrivals in England will be able to cut quarantine time with negative test

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street on Nov. 10, 2020.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street on Nov. 10, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Matt Dunham
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In a move that will be cheered by families and businesses, the UK government has said it plans to reduce England's 14-day quarantine requirement for travellers from destinations deemed COVID hotspots to little as five days if they test negative for the virus.

The change, set to take effect on December 15, will allow passengers from places not on the government's travel corridor list, which includes destinations like France and Spain, can reduce their mandatory quarantine period by paying for a test from a private company five or more days after their arrival in England.

“Our new testing strategy will allow us to travel more freely, see loved ones and drive international business,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.

“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.”

The change only applies in England and travellers from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales must continue to self-isolate for 14 days.

England to return to tier system

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday that England will exit its lockdown on December 2 and return to a multi-tier system to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a virtual address to MPs on Monday afternoon, Johnson, who is in self-isolation, said from the end of lockdown people will be able to leave their home for any purpose and meet others provided it's outdoors and they respect the rule of six.

He also said all shops, including gyms, will be able to reopen.

He also confirmed that England would return to a multi-tiered approach with restrictions imposed based on the area's epidemiological situation.

Johnson said that "the scientific advice is, I'm afraid... our tiers need to be made tougher."

"Unlike the previous arrangements, tiers will now be a uniform set of rules," he added, with no negotiations between local authorities and the government as under the previous system.

Here's how the tiers will look:

Tier 1

  • In tier one areas, six people maximum can meet indoors or outdoors. In tier two, as there is In tier three - the toughest tier - household mixing is not allowed indoors.
  • Bars and restaurants to close at 11 pm.

  • Travel should be minimised and people should work from home where possible.

  • Audience members to be allowed at concerts and spectators to be permitted at sports events with a restriction on numbers.

  • Facilities that provide "personal care" like hairdressers can reopen.

Tier 2

  • There is to be no mixing of households inside and a maximum of six people can meet outdoors.
  • Bars and restaurants to close at 11 pm, but alcohol only to be served with a "substantial meal".
  • Audience members to be allowed at concerts and spectators to be permitted at sports events with a restriction on numbers.
  • Facilities that provide "personal care" like hairdressers can reopen.

Tier 3

  • Households are not to mix inside or outside, or at hospitality locales.
  • Six people maximum are to meet in outside spaces, such as parks.
  • All indoor entertainment businesses and hospitality companies — unless they provide take-away services — will have to close.
  • Inside entertainment locales to be shut.
  • Guidance will be issued on people travelling in and out of the area.
  • Facilities that provide "personal care" like hairdressers can reopen.

England already operated under a multi-tier system in October. This time, the allocations will be reviewed every two weeks, with the regional approach set to last until March.

He also added that local authorities will have stronger enforcement abilities. The areas to be placed under Tier 2 and Tier 3 restrictions from December 3 are to be announced later this week.

'Christmas won't be normal'

The Prime Minister said it was important to maintain "pressure on the virus" in the run-up to Christmas and warned: "I can't say that Christmas will be normal."

He also said that authorities of the four devolved demonstrations are working together to come up with rules for families to follow over the festive season, stressing: "What we don't want is to throw caution to the wind and allow the virus to flare up again."

The Cabinet Office announced on Sunday that ministers from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland had "endorsed a shared objective of facilitating some limited additional household bubbling for a small number of days" over Christmas.

Their statement urged, however, for the public "to remain cautious, and that wherever possible people should avoid travelling and minimise social contact."

He also struck a more optimistic note, saying that "we can see a route out of the pandemic" and that the "scientific cavalry is now in sight" with treatments, including vaccines, in the work.

"By the spring these advances should reduce the need for the restrictions we've endured," he assured.

"When that moment comes it will have been made possible by the sacrifice of millions of people across the UK," he went on.

'Risky' three-tier system

The return to a three-tier system will have to be approved by parliament.

Keir Starmer, the leader of the main opposition Labour party said after Johnsons's announcement that returning to a three-tier system is "risky because the previous three-tier system did not work".

Imposing a new one "runs the risk of not getting buy-in from local leaders and local communities, which is incredibly important," he added.

Prior to Johnson's address, 70 lawmakers from the Conservative majority had already indicated they might oppose it.

"We cannot support this approach further unless the Government demonstrates the restrictions proposed for after the 2nd December will have an impact on slowing the transmission of COVID, and will save more lives than they cost," they wrote in a letter to Johnson.

The UK is Europe's most heavily impacted country with more than 55,000 deaths.