Quarantine will be lifted in two weeks’ time with those who test negative for Covid-19 on day five freed from having to self-isolate.
Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, will announce on Monday that blanket quarantine restrictions will end in time for Christmas so that families can travel to high-risk “red list” countries to visit relatives and reduce their time in self-isolation by up to nine days on their return.
The Transport Secretary has convinced sceptics in Government, who were pushing for returning holidaymakers or businessmen to remain in quarantine for at least seven days.
The regulations will be changed to enact the new five-day regime on December 15 or 16, with people freed from quarantine as soon as they get their test results, which could potentially be by the evening of the fifth day.
Travellers returning from high-risk countries which do not have a travel corridor will be able to order a Covid test from a list of approved companies published on GOV.UK.
The gold standard PCR tests are expected to cost between £130 and £180, although prices are likely to fall if there is high demand.
It will add significant costs to a family holiday so ministers are looking to replace them with rapid saliva tests, which produce results within an hour and currently cost half the price. The timing of their introduction will depend on the success of trials in Liverpool and other cities.
A source said: “The rule will be that you can have the test on day five and either on the same day or day six release yourself, depending on when you get your negative result. We are looking to enforce it in December, in two weeks’ time, around December 15.”
It represents a victory for The Telegraph’s test4travel campaign to replace quarantine with tests and follows warnings by the aviation industry that the policy was hindering a return to travel.
Critical to convincing Public Health England and Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, was research showing that tests at five and seven days were equally effective with both detecting Covid in 90 per cent of cases.
It was supported by research showing 14-day quarantine was the least effective of all strategies to prevent the spread of Covid into the community because of compliance rates as low as 25 per cent.
Reducing Covid infection
It found the longer the quarantine, the higher the rates of people not complying and the greater the risk of an infected person spreading the virus into the community. Britain was also at risk of falling behind as over 30 other countries have already introduced testing regimes, many on the fifth day.
The Government taskforce that recommended the five-day quarantine is also considering pre-departure testing up to 72 hours before arrival, which could enable travellers to sidestep quarantine on arrival.
Mr Shapps believes an internationally agreed global standard for testing for travellers is critical to the introduction of such a vision of quarantine-free travel. British Airways and Heathrow are currently piloting pre-departure testing on US-UK routes including New York and Los Angeles.