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Travel testing chaos as government gives conflicting timeframes on pre-departure tests

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As travellers try to comply with the new demand for pre-departure testing to return to the UK, they face conflicting versions of the timeframe in which they must take a test.

On Saturday, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, said tests “will be required a maximum 48 hours before the departure time”.

The press release that accompanied the statement made the same assertion, claiming the timing was “no earlier than 48 hours before departure”.

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But the official statement of the rules is: “From 4am 7 December, you can take the test any time in the two days before the service on which you will arrive in England departs.”

The implication is that the test can be taken on either of the two days before departure to the UK, or on the day of travel.

For a 9pm Wednesday flight from the US to the UK, arriving the following morning, a traveller could test at 9am on Monday – 60 hours before departure.

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Late on Sunday, the law was published in the shape of the latest amendment to The Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel and Operator Liability) (England) Regulations 2021.

The Statutory Instrument says the test sample must be taken “no more than three days before” the scheduled departure time of the commercial transport service to England.

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While this suggests a maximum of either 72 hours or three full days before the day of departure, the Department of Health and Social Care insists the test must be taken on the day of departure or one of the two preceding days.

A senior UK airline executive said: “It’s just a complete mess. They are demonstrating beyond doubt that they have no more idea than the poor beleaguered average traveller. Making it up as they go.”

The government is keen for the pre-departure test to be taken as late as possible, saying: “The window between infection and infectiousness may be shorter for the omicron variant, which increases the efficacy of pre-departure testing as it is more likely to identify positive cases before travel.

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“Given the reduced incubation period of the omicron variant, passengers are advised to take the pre-departure test as close as possible to their scheduled departure to the UK.”

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