Fury grows within travel industry over U-turn on pre-departure Covid tests

·34-min read
Pre-departure testing will return from tomorrow - Bloomberg
Pre-departure testing will return from tomorrow - Bloomberg

Travel industry bosses have blasted the Government’s reintroduction of pre-departure tests for fully vaccinated travellers returning to the UK.

The measure, which was announced over the weekend and comes into force at 4am on Tuesday, comes despite Transport Secretary Grant Shapps telling The Telegraph just a few days earlier that such a move could “kill off the travel sector again”.

Alistair Rowland, chief executive of tour operator Blue Bay Travel, was among those criticising the Government’s actions.

He said: “Saturday’s news has come as a blow to the travel industry and to those holidaymakers who are abroad right now enjoying some much-needed winter sun and who didn’t factor into their plans, or budget, the requirement for a Covid-19 test before they fly home.”

Meanwhile, Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of Advantage Travel Partnership, said: “Once again we are at the mercy of a Government who can’t communicate with each other”. She called the measure “a fatal bullet for many travel agents.”

In an attempt to slow the growth of the omicron variant, Ministers also agreed to place Nigeria on the travel red list from 4am this morning, requiring arrivals to quarantine for 11 nights in a government-approved hotel at a cost of up to £2,285.

Follow the latest updates below.

05:31 PM

That's a wrap

We're calling time on the blog for today. Here's a reminder of the big stories:

  • The travel industry is furious about the return of pre-departure testing

  • Travellers are furious about the chaos (and terrible meals) at Britain's quarantine hotels

  • New York is rolling out vaccine passports for children aged 5-11, putting family holidays at risk

  • Nigeria has become the 11th African country on the UK red list

  • A Norwegian cruise ship has uncovered 17 Covid infections on a fully vaccinated voyage


05:20 PM

Travel stocks jump 4% over hopes that omicron is mild

Reuters reports that resurgent travel stocks helped European shares mark a strong start to the week on Monday, after sharp losses late last week, boosted by hopes that the omicron variant is mild.

After marking its third straight week in the red, the pan-European STOXX 600 closed up 1.3%. The technology index was the only sector in the red, down 0.5%, tracking U.S. peers.

Some concerns were eased after a South African health official said the strain caused mild infections, while US infectious disease official Anthony Fauci told CNN, "it does not look like there's a great degree of severity" so far.

That saw travel and leisure stocks rejoice, with the index surging 3.9% and posting its best session since May.

05:09 PM

What it's really like to ski in Canada this season

Having shone a light on France last week today we're looking at how Canada is shaping up for the ski season.

Leslie Woit finds that while resort life has been muted by Covid rules, Whistler Blackcomb has roared back into action with a healthy dose of powder.

Read the full story.

Lots of rain down below has meant plenty of snow up top for Whistler
Lots of rain down below has meant plenty of snow up top for Whistler

05:01 PM

The cheapest, quickest and easiest pre-departure Covid tests to take on holiday with you

Pre-departure tests are once again a requirement for all travellers returning to the UK. Lateral flow tests are usually the cheapest option, with prices for less than £20. Aisling O'Leary looks at the best options.

04:49 PM

How a new opening in Helsinki is reviving the joy of the railway hotel

The Finnish capital’s Grand Central harks back to a heyday of Art Nouveau, international bonhomie, champagne flutes and tinkling pianos, reports Mark Stratton. Step inside...

Grand Central Helsinki occupies a beautiful Art Nouveau building, part of Helsinki's railway station
Grand Central Helsinki occupies a beautiful Art Nouveau building, part of Helsinki's railway station

04:35 PM

Confusion persists over pre-departure testing rule

The Government is continuing to issue conflicting advice over when Britons need to take their pre-departure test, less than 12 hours before the new rules come into force.

Its website, on some pages, says the tests should be taken "not more than 48 hours before" departure, but on others the deadline is "in the 2 days before your service to England departs".

One Twitter user created a scenario to illustrate the problem created by the lack of clarity.

04:29 PM

My extreme holiday with Will Smith

Needs to escape the world of hotel quarantines and omicron fears? British explorer Dwayne Fields shared his experiences of guiding the Hollywood actor Will Smith on hair-raising adventures in Iceland for a new TV show. Read the full story.

Will Smith and Dwayne Fields walking on Breidamerkurjokull glacier  - National Geographic for Disney+
Will Smith and Dwayne Fields walking on Breidamerkurjokull glacier - National Geographic for Disney+

04:24 PM

EU sources say no immediate plans to end African flight bans

European Union health ministers will discuss the coronavirus pandemic and the spread of the omicron variant on Tuesday, but are not expected to make any decision on easing travel restrictions, Reuters reports.

Late last month EU states agreed to impose travel curbs on seven southern African countries. It was reported earlier today that blanket travel bans could be eased or lifted, and replaced with stricter testing requirements.

The travel ban "was meant always as a time-limited measure", one senior EU official told Reuters, adding however that there was no plan at the moment to lift it. "We are not yet working in that direction."

Another two EU sources familiar with the work of health ministers said no decision on travel bans was expected at Tuesday's meeting.

Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe are the southern African countries that have been targeted. All seven, along with four other African nations, are on the UK's travel red list.

04:16 PM

Canada’s new travel rules leave travellers facing complex journeys

Bizarrely, Canada’s new travel rules require arrivals from southern Africa to show proof of a negative Covid test that was not taken in the region.

Instead, travellers must take a test from a third country, meaning many are having to re-route flights before they can head home.

Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper has reported that several citizens have been forced to make lengthy stops in Ethiopia – a regional travel hub – on their way home.

04:00 PM

Covid travel test prices are misleading, warns trade body

The Laboratory and Testing Industry Organisation (LTIO) has warned that the Government's list of travel testing companies "is not serving its purpose."

The trade body said that the Government has "failed to enforce accuracy" on the list, with misleading prices "constantly reappearing" on the website.

A spokesperson said:

The advantage of displaying prices on the gov.uk site is to help consumers make an informed choice when purchasing a test, yet given the government's failure to enforce accuracy, the website is not serving its purpose," said the trade body, which represents testing companies and laboratories.

The LTIO believes passengers would be better off if the pricing function was removed entirely. This would put a stop to misleading companies constantly reappearing on the site with incorrect prices.

03:44 PM

Norway to increase Covid restrictions

Norway's health minister has announced that new restrictions will be introduced, as the country battles rising Covid cases.

Ingvild Kjerkol told Norway’s public broadcaster, NRK: “Tomorrow, we will come up with a new measure because we have got a situation with a lot of infection with the Delta variant. In addition, we have the omicron variant that spreads quickly,”

“These measures will be felt in our daily lives,” she said.

03:33 PM

In pictures: Italy's tightened vaccine pass rules come into effect

Italy's tightened vaccine pass rules came into force today.

The so-called 'super green pass', which shows proof of vaccination or recent recovery from the virus, is now be required to use hotels and local public transport. Theatres, cinemas, live music venues and major sporting events are off-limits to those without the pass.

Covid pass - Getty
Covid pass - Getty
Police officers check Covid-19 health passes of passengers in Milan - Getty
Police officers check Covid-19 health passes of passengers in Milan - Getty
Covid pass
Covid pass
People have their Covid-19 'green pass' checked as ski resorts reopen in Bormio, Italian Alps - Getty
People have their Covid-19 'green pass' checked as ski resorts reopen in Bormio, Italian Alps - Getty

03:15 PM

The new Covid travel rules – from testing to quarantine requirements

Holidaymakers are starting the week with more new travel rules to grapple with. Here, we explain everything you need to know about international travel, from testing requirements to paperwork and quarantine.

Read the full story.

02:58 PM

Slovakia’s health minister proposes extending lockdown

Slovakia's health minister has said he will ask his cabinet to extend a lockdown aimed at slowing the spread of Covid infections by one week until December 16.

Health minister Vladimir Lengvarsky told a news conference that he would propose partial reopening from December 17, but initially only for people who are vaccinated or who have recovered from the virus.

Slovakia introduced a national lockdown that shut most shops and services on November 25, amid a new wave of coronavirus cases.

Under current lockdown rules, Slovaks are allowed to attend school and work but non-essential movement between districts is banned, as well as most events.

02:46 PM

Travel company flies 3,500 free pre-departure tests to Lapland

Tui has flown out 3,500 free Covid tests to Lapland to help its customers return to the UK following the rule change tomorrow.

A flight left Birmingham this morning specifically to supply complimentary pre-departure tests for guests currently in Lapland and those departing today and tomorrow.

Passengers heading to the festive destination from December 8 will be reminded to purchase their tests prior to departure.

Tui UK’s commercial and business development director Richard Sofer said: “Families plan all year for their magical trips to Lapland with dreams of meeting Santa, husky sleighing and feeding the reindeer.

“It’s our job to ensure their dreams are a reality and our Christmas elves, as ever, are on hand to help make sure they experience the magical wonders of Lapland.”

02:29 PM

Keep calm and carry on travelling

Despite the increasingly arduous restrictions, it would seem that Britons remain keen to escape for some winter sun. Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of Advantage Travel Partnership, tweeted this.

02:27 PM

Europe's Covid hotspots

Here's how the 10 countries in Europe with the highest Covid case rates compare with both the UK and South Africa, epicenter of the omicron outbreak.

02:22 PM

Norwegian cruise ship finds 17 Covid infections on fully vaccinated voyage

A probable case of the omicron variant has been identified in a crew member of a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship that reached New Orleans on Sunday after a Covid outbreak.

The probable case was found among 10 people who tested positive for the virus on Saturday, the Louisiana Department of Health said.

Another seven cases have since been reported, it added, taking the total number of cases among passengers and crew of Norwegian Breakaway to 17.

All of those on board had been vaccinated, the cruise line said, and all cases were asymptomatic.

"At this time, there have been no changes to scheduled future sailings on Norwegian Breakaway," a spokesperson added.

02:12 PM

New York City extends vaccine passport scheme to cover children aged 5-11

British families hoping to visit New York will face a fresh hurdle from December 14. The city has just announced that children aged 5-11 will be added to its vaccine passport scheme, which covers indoor events and dining. UK authorities have not approved Covid vaccines for under 12s, however.

01:59 PM

EU considers easing omicron travel restrictions on southern Africa

European Union health ministers will discuss on Tuesday whether to replace blanket bans on flights from selected African countries with tougher testing requirements.

European nations last month suspended most air travel from South Africa and six other countries in the region to stem the tide of omicron. However, with the variant already spreading rapidly within Europe, those measures are starting to appear unnecessary. Instead, they could be replaced with a wider recommendation for all arrivals from non-EU countries to be both vaccinated and tested before they depart, Bloomberg reports.

The European Union coordinates travel guidelines within and into the bloc, but member nations are responsible for devising and implementing specific travel restrictions.

01:51 PM

Lunchtime read: The debauched history of 'Chiantishire', a playground for billionaires

The latest season of Succession is coming to Tuscany – a region that has seen more than its fair share of dynastic power struggles. Tim Jepson traces the history of this beautiful region and its disreputable visitors. Read the full story.

The Roys are in Italy
The Roys are in Italy

01:45 PM

How Nigeria's three omicron cases compares with European countries

Nigeria is understandably angry about being placed on the UK's red list after a single omicron case it discovered a single omicron case. After all, European countries have uncovered many more without facing travel restrictions.

Here are the European countries with the most omicron cases, as of December 5:

  • UK: 246

  • Portugal: 38

  • Denmark: 32

  • Netherlands: 20

  • Norway: 19

  • France: 16

  • Germany: 15

  • Austria: 11

Britain's position at the top of the table is largely because it does far more Covid sequencing than other countries.

01:40 PM

The countries banning all travellers over the 'mild' omicron variant

Several countries including Japan, Israel and Morocco have announced complete border closures in response to the discovery of omicron. Read the full story.

01:34 PM

Japan considers ‘long term’ ban of foreign visitors

Japan is reportedly considering legislation to restrict the entry of foreigners indefinitely.

Overseas tourists have been barred from visiting Japan for the duration of the pandemic and even as other Asian countries have eased measures, it is yet to announce plans for a full reopening – prompting domestic and foreign business groups to lobby the country’s government to act.

However, The Nikkei reports that Seiji Kihara, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary, is considering legislation restricting the entry of foreigners “over the medium to long term” following the emergence of the omicron variant.

Robert Schrader, who runs the travel website japanstartshere.com and until July was a Japanese resident, said such a ban would have a high level of support.

“Even now, two years into the pandemic and when all other G7 countries are open to vaccinated tourists, a recent poll showed 89 per cent of Japanese supported the existing ban on foreigners,” he said. “Although few politicians have mentioned the idea of a more permanent ban before this week, I think most Japanese would be comfortable with a long-term ban.”

Foreign tourists have been barred from Japan for 20 months - Getty
Foreign tourists have been barred from Japan for 20 months - Getty

Despite the ban on foreign arrivals, Japanese citizens have been largely permitted to travel abroad.

“Japanese expect to be able to gallivant around the world, and Western governments oblige them,” said Schrader. “Many flaunt quarantine (which is voluntary, and there is no legal penalty for breaking it), perhaps knowing that the government and media will blame foreigners for the infection they inevitably import. Indeed, in spite of a strict ban on foreigners, Japan has experienced East Asia’s worst Covid epidemic, with more cases and deaths than China, Taiwan and Korea combined.”

01:29 PM

Health Secretary to give Commons Covid update this afternoon

Health Secretary Sajid Javid will update MPs on the latest Covid developments this afternoon, it has been confirmed.

The update follows decisions over the weekend to require pre-departure tests for people travelling to the UK and place Nigeria on the red list.

01:13 PM

Profiteering Covid testing companies 'unacceptable', says Government

Downing Street has said it is "unacceptable" for firms to "take advantage" of people who have to take pre- and post-flight tests in the wake of the omicron variant.

In response to concerns that test providers listed on the Government's website were continuing to advertise misleading prices, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We will continue to monitor the actions that the companies are taking.

"It's clearly unacceptable for any private testing company to take advantage of holidaymakers, and the average price of a day-two test is now under £45."

01:03 PM

Number of hotel rooms for red list quarantine doubled

The number of hotel rooms available for red list quarantine is “rapidly expanding”, the Department of Health and Social Care has announced

A spokesperson said: “We have doubled the number of hotel rooms available from Monday and will continue to increase availability on a daily basis."

With the addition of Nigeria this morning, there are now 11 African countries on the travel red list. Arrivals from these countries must quarantine for 11 nights in a government-approved hotel at a cost of up to £2,285.

The new follows reports that hundreds of people have been left stranded in red list countries after quarantine hotels ran out of space.

Some travellers stranded in South Africa said they have been told they would have to wait until December 13 before any quarantine hotels were ready for them – forcing them to spend hundreds of pounds more on bed and board abroad.

12:39 PM

Poland to introduce further Covid restrictions

The Polish Prime Minister has said his government will announce new package of pandemic restrictions this week in response to the omicron variant.

"Tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow at the latest, we will present a second (package) related to the Christmas situation, and as reaction to the virus omicron mutation because the situation is not looking good... We have many deaths," Mateusz Morawiecki told a news conference.

"We will strengthen the vaccination mechanism, making it compulsory for some jobs. We are considering this and we will certainly discuss stronger restrictions in certain places for people who are not vaccinated."

Pandemic restrictions in Poland are currently relatively limited. They include the wearing of masks in enclosed spaces and limits on the number of people allowed into public venues such as restaurants.

Only 54 per cent of Poles are fully vaccinated, lower than the 66.4 per cent average in the European Union.

12:33 PM

Feature: Why you're wrong about Nashville, the liberal city making more than just music

Nashville is synonymous with country music, but there's more to the city than just honky-tonk - Julien Capmeil
Nashville is synonymous with country music, but there's more to the city than just honky-tonk - Julien Capmeil

The Tennessee capital is full of surprises, from its culinary stars and progressive thinkers to its collaborative, village feel, writes Graham Boynton.

Just weeks before the Covid pandemic swept across the globe I found myself on board a British Airways’ flight to Nashville, where I bumped into Queen’s Brian May as he wandered around the cabin. Being an over-enthusiastic Nashville enthusiast, I was soon bending his ear about which gigs he should be going to on his short visit, and he took this unsolicited advice with weary patience and typical good grace. However, when I mentioned that Vince Gill would be playing with his studio session musician band the Time Jumpers the following night, May’s eyes lit up and he became seriously interested. “I love Vince Gill’s music,” he said.

So, the following night, thanks to my well-connected Nashville friend Paul, we took Brian May to this small club called 3rd and Lindsley, and spent the evening drenched in the Time Jumpers’ elegant, grooving, tight Western swing and soulful country sounds. Then we went backstage and met up with Gill himself. The Queen guitarist was delighted, as indeed was Vince. And Paul just glowed with pleasure. It turned out to be another magical night in the capital of country music.

Read on, here

12:19 PM

More countries detect first omicron cases

An increasing number of countries are confirming cases of the omicron variant. Among those reporting infections for the first time today are Argentina, Nepal, Thailand and Russia.

12:14 PM

'Trying to secure space in a quarantine hotel felt like trying to get Glastonbury tickets'

More reports are emerging from those stuck in hotel quarantine after returning from South Africa. Read Mickey Bevridge's story below.

If you're caught out in a red list country, your journey home to hotel quarantine could look like this
If you're caught out in a red list country, your journey home to hotel quarantine could look like this

Trying to get space in a quarantine hotel felt like trying to get Glastonbury tickets. But instead of standing in a field watching Jay-Z, the reward was a 10-day stay in a box room in the Radisson Blu at Heathrow Airport. And instead of taking half an hour for the tickets to sell out, it took three hours of refreshing till availability came up. When we eventually did get our room booked we celebrated as if we had got Glastonbury tickets. The fact that we were celebrating shelling out nearly £4,000 to stay in a hotel against our will should be all you need to know about how stressful the experience was.

Read the full story here.

11:59 AM

Confusion over imminent pre-departure testing rules

Which? Travel Editor, Rory Boland, has highlighted on Twitter that there remains some confusion surrounding the incoming pre-departure testing rules. The requirement will come into effect from tomorrow at 4am.

11:44 AM

Pre-departure test rules criticised as ‘political posturing’

The return of pre-departure tests has been criticised as “political posturing” by the head of the Latin American Travel Association (Lata), who added that the red list made ‘no sense’.

Lata chief executive, Danny Callaghan, said:

The reintroduction of pre-departure tests is nothing more than political posturing to give the impression of ‘doing something’ about omicron, when it’s already here.

Even the red-listing of African countries makes no sense when omicron is also present in European countries which, one has to assume, are not on that list for political reasons.

There seems to be plenty of awareness of the potential impact for the hospitality sector, with ministers continuing to encourage the public to hold parties and the face mask rules not extending to pubs and restaurants but, yet again, the travel industry is left twisting in the wind by the Government.

11:36 AM

Lower price of Covid travel tests, urges Labour leader

Sir Keir Starmer has urged the Government to do "whatever it can" to lower the price of Covid-19 pre-departure tests for travellers.

The Labour leader made the comments at the Macey Chemist vaccination centre in London.

Sir Keir said: "I want to see the Government doing whatever it can to bring the price of these tests down because lots of people... [are] getting really hammered by prices that can't be justified."

On the reintroduction of pre-departure tests, the Labour leader said: "I would have liked to see the Government act more quickly. As ever, they are behind the curve. As soon as we saw the scientific evidence saying that (there) should be pre-departure tests, we called on the Government to do this last week. The Government delayed, as they always do.

"They've done it now, that's a good thing. But the Government needs to get ahead instead of being behind."

11:19 AM

Hotel quarantine hell: 'No desk, no fridge, no cupboard and a window that won’t open'

Ralph Clark, a South African with UK residency, was among those caught out by the sudden addition of several African countries to the travel red list and is currently seeing out his 10-day quarantine period in a Holiday Inn.

He described long delays after landing at Heathrow, a dysfunctional processing system and inadequate accommodation.

There were only two immigration officials to process two plane loads of passengers, so progress was painfully slow. However, the worst part of the entire process was when security company G4S routed us to the various quarantine hotels. There was no supervisor on site and many passengers were irate with the delays. The sheer number of crying children was upsetting. I personally spent 90 minutes in this queue and there were concerns that the delays would extend the process beyond midnight, which would have resulted in an additional day of quarantine.

At the Holiday Inn Express we were asked to fill in a track-and-trace form, which seemed odd as all of us were going into quarantine anyway. We were then held on our bus, which had no air-conditioning. A mother asked to be allowed off so she could breastfeed her baby. Permission was initially refused and she became quite distressed. Once we were finally cleared to leave, no personnel came to help unload our stowed bags.

On arrival at my room my utter dismay at what I was expected to live in for the next 11 days was immediately apparent. A room around four metres square with a double bed and adjoining bathroom. No desk, no fridge, no cupboard, a window that won’t open and with a view of a covered courtyard – so no natural light. I have no idea if it is night or day, no inclination of the weather, I see no movement whatsoever. It occurred to me that next door is a family of three in the same kind of room that will be living out of suitcases for 11 days. I have paid £2,285 for this but the family next door would have paid £4,040.

Today the UK government added Nigeria to the red list with just three recorded cases. The entire policy smacks of xenophobia. We keep being told that the decisions are being driven by science and are proportionate and appropriate but the reality is very different.

11:13 AM

The quickest, easiest and cheapest Day 2 PCR tests for travel

Due to fears surrounding the omicron variant, everyone returning to the UK now needs to take a Day 2 PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result. Here are the best options.

PCR - Getty
PCR - Getty

11:01 AM

'Inedible' food, tears and 20-minute daily walks around a car park – the grim reality of hotel quarantine

Those returning from South Africa must now stay in a quarantine hotel.

One such couple serving time at one of the government-appointed hotels is Kate and Alex Freed. After getting married in September, they booked their traditional post-nuptial trip to South Africa. But the honeymoon period is well and truly over, stuck in an "awful" hotel overlooking Heathrow serving "inedible" food.

They said it took almost six hours to get from the plane at Heathrow to their hotel - the Holiday Inn Express at the airport's Terminal 4 - including waiting in a bus to be taken to their rooms.

A stroll around a car park during hotel quarantine - PA
A stroll around a car park during hotel quarantine - PA

"They put us onto a bus for the 30-second journey, but we were on the bus for three hours," Mr Freed explained.

"We were on a bus full of people, (with) no ventilation.

"It was the most unorganised mess ever. People were crying. It just seemed like something from a film, it was a bit mad," he added.

Read the full story.

10:48 AM

Italy’s ‘Super Green Pass’ introduced today

Italy’s ‘Super Green Pass’ rules come into effect today, which restrict access to leisure events to those who show proof of vaccination or recent recovery from the virus.

Unvaccinated people can no longer gain access to theatres, cinemas, live music venues or major sporting events by showing proof of a recent negative test.

More than 1.3 million passes were downloaded on Sunday ahead of the change. The measure aims to curb infections over the festive period and will be in place until at least January 15.

Meanwhile in Rome, new rules requiring face masks to be worn outdoors on the busiest shopping streets came into effect over the weekend.

Face masks on Rome's Via Condotti yesterday - Getty
Face masks on Rome's Via Condotti yesterday - Getty

10:28 AM

Qantas continues tentative return to international flights

Qantas is ploughing ahead with the resumption of its international schedule - AFP
Qantas is ploughing ahead with the resumption of its international schedule - AFP

Australia’s flag carrier is ploughing ahead with the resumption of its international schedule, with flights to India proving its most popular since it reopened its borders for Australian citizens to come and go.

Qantas is now operating direct flights from Sydney to Delhi for the first time in 40 years in response to soaring demand, with thrice-weekly operations, and a fourth launching from Melbourne on December 22.

Qantas domestic and international chief executive Andrew David states: "There's a huge amount of pent-up demand from friends and family wanting to reunite after being separated for so long," he said. "Forward bookings for the next few months are well ahead of our initial forecasts, so while it's early days, it's an exciting start.

"The level of pent-up demand on this route can be seen by the fact that almost all customers travelled as planned, despite the temporary three-day additional isolation requirement."

Qantas currently plans to resume several more routes in the next month, including:

  • Sydney-Fiji (December 11)

  • Sydney-Vancouver (December 18)

  • Melbourne-Los Angeles (December 19)

  • Sydney-Honolulu (December 20)

  • Sydney-Johannesburg (January 4)

10:18 AM

Travel rules are 'a pain but proportionate', says Government Minister

UK policing minister Kit Malthouse has acknowledged that Covid travel testing rules are "a pain", but said the increased measures are proportionate given the "unknown" nature of the omicron variant.

Mr Malthouse told Sky News:

We have to recognise that all these things are impositions on people’s lives and lifestyles. They’re obviously an extra cost and they cause difficulty for the travel industry. Now we need to try and smooth that as much as possible, and be proportionate about our response.

We’ve got family overseas. We’re going to be travelling at Christmas, where we will have done tests in and out, in and out both ways. And it is a total pain, especially if you’ve got kids, right? So we understand. So we have to be proportionate and make judgements at the right moment. That’s what we’ve done. And it feels to me as if in the face of the unknown of this virus at the moment, for the next few weeks, that’s where we need to be,

We’re in a much better place than a lot of countries right now. The decisions we made in the summer are paying dividends. That booster programme is going really well, 20 million people now I think and rising.

10:06 AM

Travel restrictions will have 'very minor impact' on omicron spread

A scientist specialising in emerging infectious diseases has said that travel restrictions will not stop the omicron variant from spreading.

Professor Paul Hunter, from the school of medicine at the University of East Anglia, told BBC Breakfast that increased travel rules will have a “very minor impact” on the virus growth.

"I think everything that we do has some benefit but I think the travel restrictions at this stage will have a very minor impact on how we we are likely to see things develop over the coming weeks," he said.

Professor Hunter also highlighted that travel bans could have an adverse impact on controlling the pandemic.

“One of the problems with travel restrictions like this is that it then demotivates other countries to actually be open about their own situations for fear of what they would see as economic sanctions.

"So I think once the infection is spreading within a country, then border restrictions don’t really add anything. We’ve known that long before Covid. This has been knowledge that we’ve had for decades, if not centuries, to be honest.”

09:56 AM

Watch: Pre-departure Covid-19 tests reintroduced for anyone travelling to the UK

09:44 AM

Boris Johnson defends travel restrictions

Boris Johnson has denied scientists' allegations that introducing travel restrictions to slow the spread of omicron is like "shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted".

Visiting police in Merseyside, the Prime Minister told reporters:

No, I think what we're doing is responding to the pandemic. We were the first country in the world to take decisive measures to tackle omicron. We put about 10 countries automatically, immediately, on to the red list and we said that anybody coming from any country in the world would have to quarantine for a couple of days.

We're now going further and toughening those measures up as we see the spread of omicron around the world.

I don't think we need to change the overall guidance and advice we're giving about omicron in this country. We're still waiting to see exactly how dangerous it is, what sort of effect it has in terms of deaths and hospitalisations.

09:30 AM

Ryanair cancels all flights to Morocco until February

Ryanair has suspended all services to Morocco until at least February 2022 in response to a "lack of clarity" from the country’s government.

Some 200,000 customers are thought to be affected by the cancellations to the popular winter sun destination, which has once again placed restrictions on incoming travellers.

Morocco currently has a ban on incoming international flights effective between November 29 and December 13 owing to fears over the spread of the omicron variant. It also put a brief stop on travel from the UK, Germany and Netherlands in October when cases were flaring.

Trips to Marrakech look uncertain for the next few months  - Moment RF
Trips to Marrakech look uncertain for the next few months - Moment RF

The Moroccan Foreign Ministry claims the new ban is to "preserve the gains made by Morocco in the fight against the pandemic and protect citizens".

Ryanair's Director of Commercial, Jason McGuinness, said: "We deeply regret this disruption to our passengers from these cancelled Morocco flights until February 1, 2022, due to a lack of clarity from the Moroccan authorities on what to expect beyond their initial travel ban ruling to December 13.

"Ryanair regrets the unnecessary disruption caused and apologises to all of our passengers for this outcome, which is entirely beyond our control."

09:18 AM

Thailand announces omicron case

Thailand has detected its first case of the omicron variant in an American citizen who had travelled to the country from Spain late last month, a health official said this morning.

Thailand is currently open to UK tourists, but arrivals must take a PCR test. If they return a positive result they are immediately transferred to hospital, even if asymptomatic.

The country banned travellers from eight African countries at the start of December amid concerns about the new variant.

09:09 AM

Nigerian high commissioner accuses UK of 'travel apartheid'

The Nigerian high commissioner to London, Sarafa Tunji Isola, said he agrees with the UN secretary-general who criticised measures imposed by various countries against African nations as "travel apartheid".

Asked about restrictions imposed by the UK, which come into force today, the commissioner told BBC Radio 4's Today programme:

The reaction in Nigeria is that of travel apartheid. Because Nigeria is actually aligned with the position of the UN secretary-general that the travel ban is apartheid, in the sense that we're not dealing with an endemic situation, we are dealing with a pandemic situation and what is expected is a global approach, not selective.

(Omicron) is classified as a mild variant – no hospitalisation, no death. So the issue is quite different from the delta variant. I mean, the position has to be taken based on scientific and empirical evidence. It is not a kind of panicky situation.

09:00 AM

Make Day 2 tests free for travellers, says industry chief

Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of Advantage Travel Partnership, has taken to Twitter to call for free Day Two tests for travellers.

Explaining her position to The Telegraph, she said:

We’ve been calling for free Day 2 tests to be made available throughout this current policy review period due on or before December 20.

Our understanding is the PCR change enables the Government to genome sequence the tests, but we already known the capability alongside the ability to provide results in a timely manner can at times be less than adequate from the private test providers.

The private test providers as featured on the Government list remain unmanaged with not only extortionate prices being charged but providers advertising tests from as little as 30p that do not exist – which results in them featuring at the top of the list. Nothing more than a practise of clickbaiting.

Free tests for a period of time ensures the government achieves its objectives, doesn't continuously penalise travellers unnecessarily and would give the travel industry – the UK’s third largest employer – some respite.

08:44 AM

The 11 hotel quarantine red-list countries

Nigeria is the latest African country to be added to the red list, due to fears over the omicron variant. Here is the full list of countries subject to hotel quarantine and flight bans.

  1. South Africa

  2. Botswana

  3. Namibia

  4. Zimbabwe

  5. Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)

  6. Lesotho

  7. Angola

  8. Mozambique

  9. Malawi

  10. Zambia

  11. Nigeria

08:35 AM

Pre-departure testing reaction: 'Chaos and uncertainty for travellers'

More travel industry chiefs have been reacting to the reintroduction of pre-departure testing for all passengers.

British Airways' Chairman and CEO Sean Doyle said:

The blanket re-introduction of testing to enter the UK, on top of the current regime of isolation and PCR testing on arrival is completely out of step with the rest of the world, with every other country taking a measured approach based on the science. Our customers will now be faced with uncertainty and chaos and yet again this a devastating blow for everyone who works in the travel industry.

08:30 AM

Hundreds stranded in red list countries as quarantine hotels run out of space

Ministers are racing to expand quarantine hotels, with hundreds of Britons stuck abroad in red-listed countries because the Government has run out of space.

Some travellers stranded in South Africa say they have been told they will have to wait until Dec 13 before any quarantine hotels are ready for them – forcing them to spend hundreds of pounds more on bed and board abroad.

Travel industry sources claimed Nigeria was added to the red list at the weekend even though there was not enough quarantine hotel capacity for the extra passengers.

Anyone returning from any of the 11 red-listed countries has to spend 11 nights in a quarantine hotel at a cost of up to £2,285. It is understood arrivals at Heathrow have to be bussed to Milton Keynes and Luton because hotels around the airport have spurned quarantine in favour of paying Christmas guests.

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