In a statement to the House of Commons, Health Secretary Matt Hancock unveiled the new rules to come into force from next Monday, which also include two additional compulsory PCR tests on arrival during a 10-day hotel quarantine as part of a 1,750 pounds pre-booked package covering accommodation, transport and testing.
“From Monday, all international arrivals will be required by law to take further PCR tests on day two and day eight of that quarantine,” said Hancock.
“If either of these post-arrival tests comes back positive, they will have to quarantine for a further 10 days from the date of the test,” he said.
The new measures are over and above the requirements already in place for a negative pre-boarding coronavirus test and will be enforced with “tough fines”, which include 1,000-pound fine for any international arrival who fails to take a mandatory coronavirus test and 2,000-pound fine for failing to take a second test, with quarantine automatically extended to 14 days.
Fines between 5,000-pound and 10,000-pound will be imposed for anyone failing to quarantine in a designated hotel, with around 16 hotels with 4,600 rooms contracted for the specific purpose of compulsory self-isolation.
Anyone who lies on their passenger locator form about having been in a country on the “red list” will face a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
The rules affect UK residents and Irish nationals travelling from 33 countries on the so-called “red list” – which covers much of South America, southern Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Portugal as feared regions for new coronavirus mutations. Non-UK travellers from these locations are anyway blocked from entry under the strict lockdown rules.
India is not on this list of high-risk countries but a limited travel regime has been in operation within the India-UK corridor since a new highly transmissible variant, called the Kent variant after the south-east England region where it was first discovered, at the end of last year.
While the measures announced this week will apply England-wide, the devolved administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will also be following similar tough travel rules.
The UK government said the latest measures will help tackle the deadly virus as part of a four-pronged strategy: lower case numbers; enhance contact tracing, surge testing and genomic sequencing; vaccine rollout; and protection at the border.
Hancock told Parliament that any positive result will “automatically undergo genomic sequencing to confirm whether they have a variant of concern”.
“The combination of enhanced testing and sequencing has been a powerful weapon through this pandemic,” he said.
The announcement comes as the minister revealed that the country’s coronavirus cases have fallen 47 per cent in the last two weeks and hospitalisations are falling, but there are still many more people in hospital than during the April and November 2020 peaks of the pandemic.
Therefore, he dubbed responding to new strains as “mission critical”, even as the vaccination programme continues to expand.
Any over-70s not yet contacted by the National Health Service (NHS) for their jabs, or having missed their turn, are now being encouraged to contact the health service directly to get their doses.
Vaccines are currently being administered at over 1,500 sites across the country, from temples, mosques and museums to rugby grounds and cathedrals, and 12 million people in the top priority groups have now reportedly been covered.