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International arrivals may need negative tests before heading to Britain

Gareth Fuller

By Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent

Ministers are considering introducing a requirement for international arrivals to have a negative coronavirus test before travelling to Britain to tackle surging cases.

The plans, which would include hauliers being exempt, were being discussed as Boris Johnson imposed the third national lockdown in England to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed.

The Prime Minister has faced some calls to strengthen border protections to prevent the arrival of new cases, particularly of new and concerning strains.

But he made no mention of the border during his address to the nation on Monday evening, when he ordered schools in England to close in enacting the toughest lockdown since March.

Senior Cabinet minister Michael Gove said announcements will come in the days ahead on “how we will make sure that our ports and airports are safe”.

“It is already the case that there are significant restrictions on people coming into this country and of course we’re stressing that nobody should be travelling abroad,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

Mr Gove said during his series of broadcast interviews that he is in discussions with the devolved UK administrations about the terms of the announcement affecting international visitors.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “Protecting public health in the UK is of the utmost importance and we are looking at what additional measures could be taken with regards to international travel.”

Currently arrivals into England from nations that are not exempted under the travel corridor programme have to isolate for 10 days.

But under the test and release scheme introduced in December, this can be shortened if they have a private test five days after their departure and it comes back negative.

During the first lockdown, the Government argued against introducing border restrictions while the prevalence was so high in the UK, with experts arguing it would do little to bring down infection rates.

A quarantine period, however, was introduced in June after the first peak and when cases were more under control.

Conservative former health secretary Jeremy Hunt on Monday called for the closure of the borders, with an “off-the-scale” winter crisis brewing within the NHS.

Ahead of the Prime Minister’s statement, the chairman of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee wrote on Twitter: “Time to act: thread on why we need to close schools, borders, and ban all household mixing RIGHT AWAY.”