This report is an extension of modelling that was conducted by Oxera and Edge Health in November 2020, which helped provide evidence that supported the test-to-release scheme that was subsequently implemented by the UK government in place of the mandatory 14-day quarantine requirement. At the time, the UK government was mainly employing testing to reduce the volume of imported cases of COVID-19.
Since then, the UK government has introduced several additional testing and quarantine requirements. Mandatory pre-departure testing was first introduced on 15 January 2021, such that all passengers travelling to the UK must show evidence of a negative COVID-19 test, taken a maximum of three days before departure. From 15 February 2021, all arrivals to the UK have been expected to get tested on days two and eight of their ten-day quarantine. The purpose of the test administered on day two is mainly to help identify SARS-Cov-2 ‘variants of concern’; the purpose of the test on day eight is to ensure that passengers do not have COVID-19. The test-to-release scheme, which allows individuals to shorten their ten-day quarantine by getting tested on day five, is still available for travellers to England. In addition, arrivals from countries on the UK’s travel ban list are required to complete their testing and quarantine in approved ‘quarantine hotels’.
These changes have been made in the context of the UK government’s ongoing efforts to vaccinate the population, and concerns around the impact of variants of concern on the efficacy of the vaccination programme. At the time of writing this report, initial evidence indicates that approved vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness from COVID-19 in variants of concern identified in the UK, South Africa and Brazil. However, further analysis is still being undertaken.
The UK government has now re-established the Global Travel Taskforce to provide recommendations regarding how to facilitate a return to international travel as soon as possible while still managing the risk from imported cases and variants of concern.