Can you get a free NHS Covid test if you must travel abroad?

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The UK has implemented several new travel restrictions in recent days as the cases of coronavirus continue to climb. The global Covid-19 death toll has now surpassed two million as new strains of the virus prove more easily transmissible. But can you get a free NHS Covid test if you must travel abroad?

From January 18, anyone flying into the UK from overseas will be required to show proof of a negative Covid test before setting off.

The new rules came as the ban on travellers from South America and Portugal came into force on Friday.

The travel ban was implemented in reaction to rising concerns about the new Brazilian Covid variant.

Speaking on Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “It’s vital to take these extra measures now when day-by-day we are making such strides in protecting the population.”

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Under the new rules, which will come into force from 4am on Monday, people travelling into the UK will need to quarantine for up to 10 days, unless they test negative after five days.

Anyone coming into the country must have proof of a negative test taken within 72 hours before leaving, a filled-in passenger locator form and the airline will ask for both before take-off.

Travellers will be checked on landing and will face fines for refusing to comply.

Mr Johnson added enforcement will be strengthened in the UK and at the border to ensure compliance.

Can you get a free NHS Covid test if you must travel abroad?

Under the current lockdown guidance, you must remain at home unless you meet one of the essential permitted reasons to leave your home.

These restrictions also apply to foreign and domestic travel.

You are only permitted to undertake international travel where you first have a legally permitted reason to leave home including:

  • Shopping for necessities
  • Attending work or volunteering
  • Exercising one per day and in your local area
  • Meeting your support or childcare bubble
  • Seeking medical assistance or avoiding injury or harm
  • Attending education
  • Moving house.

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From 4am on January 18, you must provide evidence of a negative Covid-19 test result taken up to three days before departure.

The NHS provides free Covid tests in the following circumstances:

  • You have a high temperature
  • You have a new, continuous cough
  • You have lost your sense of smell or taste or it’s changed
  • You have been asked to get a test by a local council
  • You are taking part in a government pilot project
  • You have been asked to get a test to confirm a positive result.
  • You may also be entitled to get a test for someone you live with if they have symptoms.
  • Those due to enter hospital for surgery or a procedure may also be entitled to a free test which will be arranged by the hospital.

You are not entitled to get a free NHS test if you have come to the UK from a high-risk country.

In addition, you are not entitled to a test if you are planning to leave the UK.

Free tests are also unavailable if your employer or school has asked you to get a test, but you are experiencing no symptoms.

You must instead pay for a private test in all of these scenarios.

What information must the test include?

Tests need to meet certain standards for pre-departure testing.

All tests in the UK must meet the following criteria:

Performance standards of more than or equal to 97 percent specificity or more than or equal to 80 percent sensitivity at viral loads above 100,000 copies per ml.

This could include tests such as a nucleic acid test, including a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or derivative technologies, including loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) tests, or an antigen test, such as a test from a lateral flow device.

It is the responsibility of the traveller to meet the minimum standards required.

All test results must be in English, French or Spanish – translations will not be accepted.

Original test result certificates must be shown and copies will not be accepted.

The data must include your name, your date of birth, your test result, the date the sample was collected or received by the test provider, the name of the test provider and their contact details and the name of the test device.

If you arrive without a test result which includes this information, you will be committing a criminal offence and could receive a £500 fine.

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