SPICe FAQs – COVID-19: international travel and quarantine

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Since the introduction of managed isolation for international arrivals into the UK, we have been receiving enquiries about the quarantine process. This blog provides the answers to some of these questions and was last updated on 8 October 2021. The contents pop-out below will help you navigate this blog.

COVID-19: international travel and quarantine

Anyone arriving to Scotland from outside the Common Travel Area (the CTA, comprising the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands) must:

  • Book and pay for a COVID-19 PCR test to be taken within two days of arriving in Scotland. This applies to arrivals from all countries outside the CTA and includes British citizens. NHS PCR tests can be booked via the CTM booking portal. Alternatively, travellers can also buy a ‘self-swab at home’ test from a list of private providers in England.
  • Complete an online passenger locator formbefore travelling, providing contact details, travel details, the address of the final destination, and the booking reference for their COVID-19 PCR test and, if applicable, managed isolation package (comprising accommodation booking in a quarantine hotel, transport and testing).
  • Be tested on day 2 after arrival.
Further requirements apply, depending on vaccination status and whether the country one is travelling from is on the red list.

Non-red list countries and areas

Over 18, fully vaccinated travellers returning from a country not on the red list do not need to isolate unless the result of the COVID-19 test taken on day 2 after arriving back in Scotland is positive, or they are contacted by NHS Scotland Test and Protect and asked to isolate.

Travellers who are not fully vaccinated face additional requirements. For people 18 and over, the Scottish Government defines a person as being ‘fully vaccinated’ 14 days after receiving the final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine must have been administered in one of the following countries:

  • the UK, including as part of a UK vaccine rollout overseas, with an NHS approved vaccine
  • an EU member state - with a vaccine approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA)
  • Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino or Vatican City - with a vaccine approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) or the Swiss vaccination programme
  • the USA - with a vaccine authorised by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • Australia, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Dominica, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan or the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with a full course of the Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna or Janssen vaccines.
Travellers who have received a combination of different approved vaccines, a formulation of a listed vaccine (such as AstraZeneca Covishield, AstraZeneca Vaxzevria or Moderna Takeda), who have received vaccinations in two of the above listed countries, or who have taken part in formally approved COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials in the UK or the US, will count as ‘fully vaccinated’ for international travel to Scotland.

Those travellers who do not meet the above criteria, and have been to a country not on the red list in the 10 days before arriving in Scotland, must isolate at home (or in the place they are staying) for 10 days and take two COVID-19 PCR tests, one on day 2 and one on day 8 after arrival. In addition, they must also take a COVID-19 test before travelling. This can be either a PCR or antigen test, however, it must meet standards of ≥97% specificity and ≥80% sensitivity at viral loads above 100,000 copies/ml.

Children under 18 do not need to self-isolate when they arrive from a non-red list country if they normally live in the UK, EU or US or are a dependant of someone who has been fully vaccinated overseas. The requirement to take a COVID-19 PCR test on day 2 applies to children aged 11 or over. Children under 11 do not need to take a test.

Red list countries and areas

Arrivals into Scotland from red list countries and areas are only permitted for
  • British and Irish nationals.
  • Those who have the right to remain in the UK (including a visa to work or study in the UK).
  • Those travelling to the UK for a certain type of job or for essential medical treatment.
Prior to arrival, travellers must take a COVID-19 test as well as book and pay for a managed isolation package, which includes a 10 day (11 night) hotel managed quarantine stay and two COVID-19 PCR tests, to be taken on days 2 and 8 after arrival to Scotland. Children who have been in a red list country in the 10 days before arriving in Scotland must follow the normal rules for red list arrivals.
The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, Michael Matheson, stated in September that the simplification of the system recognises the success of global vaccination programmes:

“This is a major step but one with sensible safeguards built in recognising the success of the Scottish Government’s vaccination programme.

The expansion of the eligible vaccinated traveller policy combined with the changes to the traffic light system will provide a welcome boost to Scotland’s tourism industry.”

The Cabinet Secretary expressed concerns at the UK Government’s decision to remove the requirement for a pre-departure test for some travellers, however, the Scottish Government opted to align with the UK post-arrival testing regime, for practical purposes:

“We have urgently considered all these implications, weighing any possible impact on the public health and the logistical realities. After liaising at length with stakeholders from the aviation sector to understand the impact of adopting a different approach in Scotland, we have reluctantly concluded that, for practical reasons, alignment with the UK is the best option.

The new proposals make clear pre-departure tests will no longer be a requirement. We also intend to align with the UK post-arrival testing regime. The detail of that is still being developed with lateral flow tests being considered and we will engage further with the UK Government on those plans. Details will be announced at the same time as the UK.”

The Scottish Government has also recently announced that it is consulting with Public Health Scotland on how additional safeguards and surveillance of inward travel can be implemented to guard against the importation of new variants, with details to be set out in the near future. However, this will be at no additional cost to travellers.
Managed isolation is required for travellers who have been to a red list country or area at any point in the 10 days before arriving in Scotland.

Those travelling to Scotland from a red list country, via an airport in England, must quarantine in a hotel in England. They do not need to isolate for a second time in Scotland.
Anyone arriving in Scotland who has been to a non-red list country and does not qualify as fully vaccinated, must self-isolate for 10 days. However, they can do so at home or in their own accommodation. A COVID-19 pre-departure test and a test on day 2 and day 8 is also required for international arrivals isolating at home.
Travellers arriving in Scotland from a red list country and those who have, in the preceding 10 days, departed or travelled through a red list country, must use an online portal in order to book and pay for a Covid Testing Package and for managed quarantine in a hotel. The portal is operated by the UK Government.

Quarantine hotels are available in, or nearby, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. However, one cannot choose which hotel they stay in. The booking package includes transfer to a hotel close to the airport, meals, (as well as fruit and soft drinks, delivered to their room), and information on how to access NHS Scotland healthcare support during quarantine.
Anyone required to quarantine in managed isolation must book and pay for their accommodation online through the UK Government portal. Starting with 12 August 2021, the cost is £2,285 for the first traveller in a room, £1,430 for an additional adult or a child over 11, and £325 for a child aged 5-11. There is no charge for children under 5.

If the quarantine has to be extended beyond the minimum 10 days, the extra days must be booked through the Corporate Travel Management (CTM) booking portal. However, there is currently no charge applicable for these extra days.
For those in “emergency financial hardship” the portal currently offers the option to apply for a deferred payment plan. This is available for those who already receive income-related benefits, and they will be required to pay back the debt to the UK government in 12 monthly instalments.

Residents in Scotland, who are not able to pay for the hotel quarantine package, can have the repayment plan cancelled and the costs paid by the Scottish Government. Further information is available from CTM via telephone (+44 (0) 207 429 9732) or email (Quarantine.hotels@travelctm.com).

Those arriving in the UK on a Family Reunion Visa, who need to isolate in a hotel, can get help paying for their stay by contacting MQS_new_Exemptions@dhsc.gov.uk.
The Scottish Government guidance on international travel and managed isolation includes a limited number of job-related (sectoral) exemptions for those exempt from isolating on arrival in Scotland, when not fully vaccinated or travelling from red list countries.

Exempt from isolation, arriving from all countries:

  • border security, including UK officials and contractors
  • a Crown servant or government contractor who is required to undertake essential policing or essential government work in the UK
  • defence personnel, visiting forces or government contractor
  • part of diplomatic missions, an international organisation or representative of a foreign country
  • aircraft pilots or crew
  • seamen, masters of ships, ship inspectors or surveyors of ships
  • being extradited
  • international prisoner escorts
  • transporting human cells or blood
  • boarding school pupils and children under 18 travelling without an adult
  • compassionate exemptions on medical grounds
  • COP 26 and World Leaders’ Summit delegates
  • in-flight security officers.
Travellers who do not fall under any of the above categories, and are isolating, are only allowed to leave isolation for essential work related to:

  • border security duties – including non-UK officials or contractors
  • extradition duties – including non-UK officials.
Exempt from isolation, arriving from countries not on the red list:

  • aerospace engineers
  • bus or coach drivers
  • civil aviation inspectors
  • driver of goods vehicles
  • offshore oil and gas work
  • postal workers
  • elite sportspeople
  • seasonal agricultural workers.

You are also exempt if you are travelling from a country not on the red list and you are travelling airside only through the UK.

In addition to the above, workers in the following sectors are permitted to leave isolation for essential activities:

  • clinical trials or studies
  • data infrastructure maintenance
  • downstream oil facility work
  • electronic communications networks
  • flood risk management
  • IT and telecoms work
  • medical treatment
  • work relating to medicines, including human and veterinary
  • Network Rail work
  • nuclear personnel
  • Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections
  • quality assurance inspections for human and veterinary medicines
  • specialist technical work in sub-sea telecommunications infrastructure, goods, waste, power infrastructure or space infrastructure
  • water supplies and sewerage service work.
Certain passengers may require a letter or official photo identification to demonstrate their exempt status. The Scottish Government guidance on sectoral exemptions provides further detail on the rules applicable to each sector.
Scottish Ministers have the power to designate an individual as a “relevant person” for specific exemptions, however, such cases are dealt with individually. The following can be designated as a relevant person:

  • a person requiring urgent medical assistance
  • a person on immigration bail
  • a person who has been detained by an immigration officer
  • a person who has been refused leave to enter the UK
  • an illegal entrant
  • an asylum seeker
  • a person who is in police custody
  • a prisoner
  • a potential victim of human trafficking
  • a person whose arrival in the United Kingdom has been arranged, for safeguarding or welfare reasons, by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office
  • a person whom the Scottish Ministers consider requires exceptional arrangements to be made on compassionate grounds.
It is an offence to fail to have a pre-departure test, to fail to complete a Passenger Locator Form, and to leave the managed isolation you are required to book.

Under the The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel and Operator Liability) (Scotland) Regulations 2021, Police Officers may issue a £480 Fixed Penalty Notice to anyone over 18, if the Police Officer has reason to believe an offence has been committed under the Regulations.  Immigration Officers may also issue a fixed penalty notice to anyone over 18 if the Immigration Officer has reason to believe an information offence has been committed. The penalties include maximum fines upon conviction of up to level 5 on the standard scale (£5000).
All passengers entering the UK must:

  • book and pay for a day two COVID-19 PCR test
  • show proof of a completed passenger locator form.

Passengers who have been in a country or territory not on the red list in the 10 days before arrival must quarantine at home or in the place they are staying for 10 days and take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 and on or after day 8 if not fully vaccinated. They must also provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test result taken up to 3 days before departure.

Fully vaccinated travellers from non-red list country must take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 but are not required to isolate unless the test result is positive.

In England, quarantine may be ended early by paying for a private COVID-19 test through the Test to Release scheme.

Travellers who have been in a country or territory on the red list in the last 10 days will only be allowed to enter the UK if they are a British or Irish National, or they have residence rights in the UK. They must take a pre-departure test, quarantine in a managed hotel and take two COVID-19 tests after arrival.

From 15 February it is not possible to travel directly to Wales from a red list country. Travellers can only enter Wales from red list countries via a designated port of entry in England or Scotland and must isolate for 10 days in a nearby managed quarantine hotel.
The European Union launched the Re-open EU website and app, which provides an overview of the health situation in European countries, including on quarantine and testing requirements for travellers. The EU Digital COVID Certificate was introduced in July 2021 and provides digital proof that a person has either been vaccinated against COVID-19, received a negative test result or recovered from COVID-19. The certificate is valid in all EU countries.
The red list of countries is updated regularly according to case numbers and the emergence of new COVID-19 variants. The list is available on the Scottish Government website, along with updates to testing and quarantine requirements.

Alexandra Gherghiniş, Enquiries Officer

Image source: Canva