The government has been accused of allowing "a gap in our defences" after it delayed COVID testing for international travellers to England, little more than 24 hours after it was due to come into force.
People arriving in England from abroad will now have to prove they have tested negative for coronavirus from Monday and not Friday as originally planned.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the delay was to “give international arrivals time to prepare” after the full guidance was only published on Wednesday night.
This is despite Mr Shapps’ department having announced the plans for new testing requirements last week.
"To give international arrivals time to prepare passengers will be required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before departure to England from MONDAY 18 JANUARY at 4am," Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said in a tweet at 11pm on Wednesday.
The scheme was originally due to begin at 4am on Friday 15 January.
Home Office minister Victoria Atkins told Sky News there was a "very delicate balancing act" when deciding on travel restrictions, as she suggested concerns about the impact on businesses might have been behind the delay.
Asked why, more than 11 months after the first COVID case in the UK, border testing had still not been introduced, Ms Atkins said: "We have had a series of travel restrictions, indeed the quarantine restrictions have been in force for some time.
"There’s a very delicate balancing act between controlling the virus and ensuring we are not putting too much of a burden on the economy."
She added: "We have listened to the concerns that many people had about whether the message has quite got through to people who are making the flights over the weekend, and we have acted in relation to those concerns."
Responding to the government’s decision to delay the introduction of pre-departure testing, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: "It’s a complete mess again.
"(Home Secretary) Priti Patel has talked tough about the borders but other countries have been doing testing for months and months.
"People are really worried about strains in other parts of the world, in Brazil, et cetera.
"Yet again we’ve got a prime minister and a government that’s late, slow and… they’re putting testing back another few days.
"I think people will be bewildered and they will feel that we’re exposed – there’s a gap in our defences.
"We can’t go on like this with delayed decisions not being made in a competent way."
His fellow Labour MP, Yvette Cooper, the chair of the House of Commons home affairs committee, posted on Twitter: “No guidance out with 2 days to go. And now delays. What on earth are they doing?”
Those who fail to comply will face an immediate £500 fine.
The regulations also apply to returning UK nationals, but not to those entering from Ireland, any other part of the UK, or the Falkland Islands, Ascension and St Helena.
Those landing from Antigua, Barbuda, St Lucia and Barbados do not require a negative test result on arrival until 4am on 21 January. After that date, the same rules apply.
Hauliers, children under the age of 11 and those travelling or assisting someone who needs urgent medical care are exempt.
Announcing the changes last week, Mr Shapps said the new requirements were part of "further precautions" to help protect against new coronavirus strains being imported into the country.
© Sky News 2021