All travellers to England from international destinations will have to test negative for coronavirus before they can enter the country or face a £500 fine, the Government has announced.
Under plans set out by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, from next week passengers arriving by boat, train or plane will have to take a test up to 72 hours before leaving the country of departure.
He said the move was designed to prevent new variants of the disease which have emerged in countries such as South Africa and Denmark.
Failure to comply with the new regulations will lead to an immediate £500 fine.
There will be a limited number of exemptions, including hauliers, children under 11, crews and for those travelling from countries without the infrastructure available to deliver tests.
Arrivals from the Common Travel Area with Ireland will also be exempt.
While the announcement only covers England, ministers were said to be working closely with the devolved administrations on similar measures for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The move follows the decision to suspend all direct travel from South Africa following the emergence there of a new strain of coronavirus thought potentially to be even more virulent than the mutant variant which has led cases to surge in the UK.
Mr Shapps said: “We already have significant measures in place to prevent imported cases of Covid-19, but with new strains of the virus developing internationally, we must take further precautions.
“Taken together with the existing mandatory self-isolation period for passengers returning from high-risk countries, pre-departure tests will provide a further line of defence – helping us control the virus as we roll out the vaccine at pace over the coming weeks.”
The announcement comes at a time when the latest lockdown restrictions across the four nations of the UK mean there is very little international travel.
The airline industry – which has been devastated by the pandemic – acknowledged the need for the restrictions but urged ministers to lift them as quickly as possible.
Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of the industry body Airlines UK, said: “We recognise the UK Government’s need to act now and support the introduction of pre-departure testing in order to keep the country safe and borders open.
“However, this should be a short-term, emergency measure only and once the rollout of the vaccine accelerates, the focus must be on returning travel to normal as quickly as possible in order to support the UK’s economic recovery.
“This includes removing the need to quarantine or test as the UK population is vaccinated and the virus is brought under control at home and abroad.”