People arriving in England from abroad will be soon able to reduce their quarantine by more than half if they pay for a Covid test after five days, the transport secretary has announced.
The rules will come into force from 15 December and the tests from private firms will cost between £65 and £120.
The travel industry welcomed the policy but described it as “long overdue”.
It follows Boris Johnson’s announcement that England will come under “toughened” three-tiered regional restrictions when the lockdown ends on 2 December.
Under the new travel rules, passengers who arrive from a foreign destination not on the government’s travel corridors list will still need to enter self-isolation.
However, if they pay for a test after five days and it comes back negative, they will no longer need to self-isolate.
Results will normally be issued in 24 to 48 hours. This means people could be released from quarantine six days after arrival.
Mr Shapps said: “Our new testing strategy will allow us to travel more freely, see loved ones and drive international business. By giving people the choice to test on day five, we are also supporting the travel industry as it continues to rebuild out of the pandemic.”
Scotland and Northern Ireland are considering a similar scheme while Wales said it was “supportive in principle of the proposals for a Test and Release scheme”.
A Welsh government spokesperson said: “We will need to consider the data and evidence underpinning this scheme before making any decisions on changing international travel restrictions in Wales.”
Passengers will still have to go into quarantine, and take a test on day five is still likely to leave them in isolation for a week in total, as they wait for the results to come through.
The test has to be done privately, and typical prices range from £100-150.
What airlines are calling for is something more radical. They want a pre-departure testing regime, or a system of quick, regular and cheap tests – which would allow quarantine to be avoided altogether, until a vaccine is ready.