An international law firm is launching a judicial review into the UK's hotel quarantine policy, which has once again been made mandatory for all arrivals from "high-risk" countries.
Tom Goodhead, managing partner of PGMBM, argues that it should be unlawful for fully vaccinated travellers who have tested negative for the virus to be "detained in this way" when entering Britain from one of the 11 African countries now on the red list. PGMBM will seek permission at the High Court on Thursday.
"The idea that they need to pay for the privilege of their own false imprisonment is outrageous," Goodhead told the BBC. "It is for this reason that we are taking the UK Government to court."
It comes after a British couple stranded in South Africa this week when there was no room available at a UK quarantine hotel launched a legal challenge calling on the Government to fund the costs, describing the situation a "fundamental breach of human rights".
Yesterday saw the World Health Organisation, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, and even the Archbishop of Canterbury, calling for the travel red list to be scrapped.
Scroll down for the latest updates.
What happened today?
That's all from us today. A recap of the top stories.
England to move to Plan B – but no changes to international travel
Airlines slam omicron restrictions
Vaccine passports for children could see tourists desert New York
Covid test market branded 'a rip-off jungle' by former competition regulator chair
Join us tomorrow for more of the latest travel news
Question: Why do fully vaccinated travellers face hotel quarantine?
Boris Johnson answers a question from the public on hotel quarantine.
Rachel, in Essex, asks:
Why can't fully vaccinated travellers stuck in red list countries self-isolate at home when they return - instead of a hotel? Quarantine hotels are too expensive especially as this was implemented at short notice, not giving travellers a chance to get home.
The Prime Minister says this is a "very fair challenge" given that omicron is seeded across the world. He adds the Government will be looking at the red travel list and the way "we do it".
Boris Johnson confirms move to Plan B
Boris Johnson says it has become "increasingly clear omicron is growing much faster than the previous delta variant" and spreading "rapidly all around the world".
A total of 568 cases have been sequenced across the UK, Mr Johnson says, although the true number is certain to be much higher.
The most significant change is the return to work from home guidance.
No changes have been announced to international travel, but domestic trips may be impacted by the announcement that face masks must be worn in most public indoor venues from Friday. This includes theatres, restaurants and cinemas.
The Prime Minister said that the NHS Covid pass would be mandatory for nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather including unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people, and any venue with more than 10,000 people.
Watch: Boris Johnson holds Covid press conference
Take action now but scrap Africa travel bans, urges WHO
Dr Tedros, head of the World Health Organisation, has urged governments to urgently take action to curb Covid transmission in the face of omicron and the still dominant delta strain.
"Even though we still need answers to some crucial questions, we are not defenceless against omicron or delta," he said. "The steps countries take today and in the coming days and weeks will determine how omicron unfolds. If countries wait until their hospitals start to fill up, it's too late. Don't wait. Act now.
"We're running out of ways to say this but we will keep saying it. All of us. Every government and every individual must use all the tools we have right now.
The head of the WHO also said travel bans are unlikely to be effective to halt omicron's spread now it has been widely identified.
"I'm also pleased that France and Switzerland have lifted their travel bans on Southern African countries and I urge other countries to follow their lead to France and Switzerland," he said. "Merci beaucoup."
South Korea reports record surge in new Covid cases
New Covid infections soared to a record single-day high of 7,175 cases in South Korea on Wednesday, up by 2,221 from the previous day and placing new strains on the nation’s already stretched medical services, reports Julian Ryall.
The number of critically ill patients also climbed to a record high on Wednesday, up 66 to a total of 840, Yonhap News reported. More than 83 percent of the seriously ill are over the age of 60. Hospitals in Seoul are reporting bed occupancy rates of 84.5 percent, with nearly 1,000 people waiting to be admitted for treatment.
An additional 63 deaths were also reported, the third-highest figure to date and bringing the national total to 4,020.
Health authorities have also confirmed 38 cases of the omicron variant of the virus, with an additional 13 cases being monitored.
Slovakia eases lockdown – but only for vaccinated
Slovakia will loosen some lockdown restrictions for vaccinated citizens, health minister Vladimir Lengvarsky has announced.
Non-essential shops and some services for those vaccinated against Covid will reopen on Friday. However, unvaccinated citizens will remain in lockdown until January 9.
It is hoped that the two-tier restrictions will act as an incentive for more people to get the jab. Slovakia remains one of Europe's least-vaccinated countries, with only 46.5 per cent of its 5.5 million population double-jabbed.
Covid press conference set for 6pm
Boris Johnson will address the nation at 6pm tonight, it has been confirmed.
A Number 10 spokesperson said: "The Prime Minister will hold a Covid press conference at 6pm."
Europe's digital Covid vaccine certificates explained
Ahead of the news that vaccine passports could be announced as early as today, we take a look at how they work across Europe.
In Austria, for example, if your second jab was administered more than nine months ago, your pass will be rendered invalid. In Greece, you'll need to supply ID along with your NHS pass or risk being turned away from venues.
Those who aren’t vaccinated, in some cases including children, can in certain countries obtain a pass with just a negative test, but must repeat them every 24 hours to keep them valid. In some parts of Germany, this is required even for fully vaccinated pass holders.
What Covid Plan B could mean for you
New work-from-home guidance and vaccine passports could be announced as early as today, according to government officials, as Cabinet ministers move to counter the omicron spread.
A meeting of the ‘Covid-O’ Cabinet sub-committee took place today to discuss the measures, which was followed by a Cabinet meeting and a press conference scheduled for later this afternoon.
We will be on hand to bring you any travel updates.
Austria cancels next year's Vienna Opera Ball
Austria has cancelled its Vienna Opera Ball for the second year running due to the pandemic, the government has announced.
Going ahead with the ball, which was due to take place on February 24, would have sent "the wrong signal" as the country emerges from lockdown, the state secretary for culture Andrea Mayer said.
"The Opera Ball is typically the kind of event at which social distancing is impossible," she told the Austrian news agency APA.
The ball, a major event in the country's cultural calendar, was also called off last year.
Omicron could have 'major impact' on pandemic
Omicron has been detected in almost 60 countries worldwide, the World Health Organization has said, warning that the highly mutated variant could have a "major impact" on the trajectory of the pandemic.
"The omicron variant has now been reported in 57 countries and we expect that number to continue growing," Dr Tedros told a press briefing.
"Certain features of omicron including its global spread and large number of mutations suggest it could have a major impact on the course of the pandemic.
"Exactly what that impact will be is still difficult to know, but we are now starting to see a consistent picture of rapid increase in transmission," he said.
The WHO director general added that data from South Africa shows the "number of omicron cases is increasing quickly".
But he warned that omicron was detected when transmission of delta was very low, "so there was little competition", which may skew the picture.
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.
Government advice is to take the pre-departure test in the two days before your return to the UK. If your trip is a multi-leg journey, you must take the test in the two days before the start of the first leg.
While the Government gives you a choice between taking a PCR test or a lateral flow test, the latter is usually cheaper and quicker, with results coming in just 15-20 minutes in some cases. Therefore we’ve chosen to list only lateral flow tests.
The tests are self-administered. However, you must either carry them out while on a video call with a health professional, or else take a photograph of the completed test and upload to an app for verification.
'Unacceptable' for Covid test companies to take advantage of holidaymakers, says Government
The Department of Health and Social Care have issued a statement after concerns were raised over the continued presence of misleading prices on the Government's list of travel test providers.
We’ve been clear it is unacceptable for any private testing company to take advantage of holidaymakers.
The Government has taken action to drive down the cost of tests for international travel.
Earlier today Lord Tyrie, former chairman of the Competition and Markets Authority, branded the market a "rip-off jungle" in an interview with the BBC.
Japanese tourists dock at International Space Station
As we reported at 08:51, Russia has returned to the space tourism game after a decade-long hiatus. And things are going swimmingly so far.
Japanese fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawa and his producer Yozo Hirano, who plans to film his mission, blasted off for the International Space Station in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft along with Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin this morning, and have now successfully docked at the orbiting outpost.
In several more hours, the crew will be able to open the hatches and move to the space station from the Soyuz.
Maezawa and Hirano are scheduled to spend 12 days in space. The two are the first self-paying tourists to visit the space station since 2009. The price of the trip hasn't been disclosed.
Austrian regions eye rapid reopening to save ski season
Austria's nationwide lockdown ends on Sunday, allowing hotels, bars and restaurants to reopen, but many regions have announced plans to lift restrictions more cautiously.
Those opening up fastest include the western provinces of Vorarlberg and Tyrol, which have the highest and fourth-highest infection rates in the country but are heavily reliant on ski tourists.
"Some (provinces) will act gradually over time, and Burgenlend, Vorarlberg and Tyrol will (immediately) adopt this federal arrangement," Tyrol's governor, Guenther Platter, told a joint news conference with Chancellor Karl Nehammer and Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein.
The province of Upper Austria, which long had Austria's highest infection rate and borders both Germany and the Czech Republic, plans to stay in lockdown until December 17. Vienna will only let cafes and restaurants fully reopen a week after the national lockdown lifts, while non-essential shops and Christmas markets will reopen from Monday.
'It's time to cut the power to ubiquitous and overrated light festivals'
British towns and cities have jumped on the light-art bandwagon – but winter is meant to be dark, says David Atkinson.
It’s hard to enjoy a festive city break without tripping over a lantern parade or a cynical attempt to cash in with a string of LEDs and a sack of souvenir tat. Do we need yet another light festival? No. It’s time to pull the plug.
In Durham, I caught the first evening of Lumiere, the city’s biennial light-art festival. I quite liked the son et lumière projected onto the facade of Durham Cathedral but the giant desk lamps, by French art collective TILT, weren’t quite as electric.
Light festivals are a great way for destinations to extend their visitor season, plugging the tumbleweed gap between Hallowe’en and Christmas. But do I really want to drive to Warrington to visit Luminate? Or traipse down to Lightopia at Crystal Palace Park, hosted by Myleene Klass? No thanks.
'The Christmas lockdown will become an annual tradition'
Don't read Ross Clark's latest column, unless you don't mind falling into a pit of despair.
Here we go again. Like clockwork, the Government is clunking its way towards what threatens to become an annual Christmas tradition: the festive lockdown. Last week we were told to wear masks in shops and on public transport. This week it looks as if we are going full Plan B – mask-wearing, the return of social distancing, working from home and possibly vaccine passports, too. You can already fill in your diary for next week: as soon as the annual Downing Street staff party is out of the way a full lockdown will be called and we’ll be forced to cancel the in-laws yet again.
I almost wish we could go straight into lockdown to save us this agonising drip-drip-drip erosion of our freedoms. It starts with some modest gesture, and we are assured that is all it is – there will be no more nasties heading our way. Then, a gloomy Chris Whitty takes us through his slides, and, before those measures have had chance to take effect, we have to have tighter restrictions.
Greece's Covid passports explained
With the UK expected to announce some form of Covid passport this evening, Annabel Fenwick Elliott is looking at the schemes being used in other countries. Here are the rules for Greece:
You can still enter Greece if you’re unvaccinated, by presenting a negative PCR or antigen test, or proof of recovery from the virus. Vaccinated visitors and all those under 12, or those with proof of recovery, can enter without a test.
What do I need a pass for?
Greece’s ‘Covid Free GR’ app only recognises Greek vaccination certificates, so UK travellers will need to present their British vaccination certificate or recovery certificate (i.e. NHS the Covid Pass) in printed or electronic form, each time they require entry to a venue. They will also need to show some form of ID.
Greece only permits indoor entry to bars, entertainment and sports venues, and restaurants if you are fully vaccinated or under 12. Similar measures apply to some public transport networks. To board boats or ferries to travel between Greek islands or take a long distance bus, you will also need proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative Covid-19 test result. Rapid tests are available for €10 (£8.50) for those who are not vaccinated. The rules also apply to children aged 12-17. Children aged 5-12 may be expected to show a negative test result.
How strict is it?
Your options are very limited in Greece if you’re unvaccinated. Currently, you can only enter essential shops, sit outside at a bar or restaurant, or use public transport – and even then you’ll need to present proof of a negative rapid test, taken up to 48 hours before entry.
Swiss authorities contradict Foreign Office on testing requirements
The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) has confirmed to Telegraph Travel reporter Abigail Butcher that any visitor entering the country must hold a negative PCR, no older than 72 hours, on arrival. This applies to visitors travelling immediately onwards to another country — for example skiers heading to the French or Italian Alps — as well as those staying in Switzerland.
Current FCDO advice is that travellers can take either an antigen or PCR test, but this is not the case, says the FOPH.
An FOPH spokesman clarified to us: “If entry is by air (cf. Art. 7 para. 4 let. c) and the person is travelling on to another country, the person must take a test and complete the entry form.”
While we have pointed this error out to the FCDO, and clarified the regulations, the UK government advice on travelling to Switzerland has yet to be updated.
New route links Caledonia with the Caribbean
Virgin Atlantic flight VS223 flew from Edinburgh to Barbados on Wednesday morning, marking the launch of Scotland’s only direct flight to the Caribbean.
It’s also the first time Virgin Atlantic has flown international flights from the Scottish capital in its 37-year history. A service from Edinburgh to Orlando will be added in March 2022.
Gordon Dewar, Chief Executive of Edinburgh Airport said: “Welcoming Virgin Atlantic to its new home in Scotland is hugely exciting and I know seeing that famous Virgin tailfin at Edinburgh Airport is something that has created a buzz across the campus and with our passengers.
“There’s pent up demand for safe and sustainable travel and by offering Scotland’s only direct route to the Caribbean we are looking to make it as easy as possible for people to get away on that well-earned break or holiday of a lifetime.”
Airlines slam omicron restrictions
The head of global airlines body IATA has criticised governments for worsening the omicron scare through snap border closures and "rip-off" testing regimes, and urged politicians to let travellers make their own decisions based on scientific data.
Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association, predicted "knee-jerk" border restrictions resulting from the coronavirus variant would ease soon but said it was to early to know whether holiday travel would be disrupted.
"We can't shut down everything when a new variant appears," Walsh told a news briefing, adding that hasty travel bans had penalised countries like South Africa for reporting findings.
The safest (and most dangerous) countries to visit in 2022
International SOS, the world’s largest medical and security consultancy, has released its latest Travel Risk Map, detailing the safest and most dangerous options on the planet. Safety-conscious folk should look to Scandinavia, and avoid the Middle East.
The following countries could potentially be the most dangerous to visit in 2022, according to the firm:
Central African Republic
The following countries may be safe bets to travel to in the coming months:
Some notable changes from last year also include:
Haiti – the travel risk rating for the capital Port-au-Prince has been raised from HIGH to EXTREME to reflect the worsening risks posed by gang activity, including direct crime risks
Myanmar – the travel risk rating for Myanmar has been raised from Medium to HIGH
Malaysia – the risk rating for Johor Bahru (Johor state) has been lowered from MEDIUM to LOW following a thorough review of the security environment
India faces 'massive' third wave if citizens ignore precautions, public health body warns
India faces a "massive" third wave of Covid-19 if its citizens continue to ignore precautions, like social distancing and mask wearing, the country's leading public health body, the Indian Medical Association, has warned.
Earlier this week, Joe Wallen had this report:
The number of new daily cases dropped to below 10,000 in the autumn – down from a peak of over 400,000 in May – resulting in crowding in many towns and cities. Tens of millions of Indians have also not reported for their second vaccine doses.
But, 23 cases of omicron have now been detected, including in many of India's densely populated megacities, such as Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. While the majority of omicron infections have been detected in travellers arriving from southern Africa, Indians with no travel history have also tested positive for the variant.
Public health experts already believe omicron is spreading within the community in India but the country has poor genome sequencing and it can currently take up to one month to confirm whether an infection has been caused by omicron.
France says fifth Covid wave has not peaked yet
France's fifth Covid wave has not yet peaked, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday.
"The peak is clearly not behind us, the pandemic continues to gain ground," Attal said during a press briefing, though he added that the rate of new cases seemed to be slowing slightly.
Earlier this week, the French government announced it will close nightclubs for a month from this weekend and encourage limiting social engagements over the festive period.
Pfizer says third dose tackles omicron
While Britain looks set to be plunged into fresh restrictions, there's some positive signals about the efficacy of vaccines against omicron.
Pfizer and BioNTech have claimed a third dose of their jab neutralises the variant – a result that could increase momentum behind booster shots across the world, and could potentially lead to third doses becoming a requirement for travel to certain countries.
A booster with the current version of the vaccine increased antibodies 25-fold, providing a similar level as observed after two doses against the original virus and other variants, the companies said.
Blood plasma from people immunised with two doses of the vaccine has neutralising antibody levels more than 25-fold less versus omicron than against the original strain of the virus, they added.
Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla said: “It’s clear from these preliminary data that protection is improved with a third dose.”
Omicron reported in 57 countries, WHO says
The omicron variant has now been detected in 57 countries, the World Health Organisation said on Wednesday.
In its weekly epidemiological report, the WHO said more data was needed to assess the severity of disease caused by the variant and whether its mutations might reduce protection from vaccines.
United Arab Emirates changes weekend days to match the West
The United Arab Emirates is moving its weekend to Saturday and Sunday as it seeks to attract more foreign investment and workers by aligning practises with the West.
Officials announced that the weekend will now begin on Friday afternoon, in a break from the regional norm of a Sunday-Thursday working week.
The UAE said it would allow flexible working and work from home on Friday, which is usually a day off in predominantly Muslim countries.
That means visitors to Dubai or Abu Dhabi might notice a rather different feel to the cities on Fridays and Sundays.
Austria's Covid passports explained
With Austria set to end its full lockdown on Sunday, Annabel Fenwick Elliott runs through its strict Covid passport rules.
You’ll need the Austrian Green Pass to exercise most freedoms under its national ‘2G’ rule; which is to say you must prove either that you are fully vaccinated or recovered from Covid – a negative test will no longer cut it, and you have had your second jab within the past nine months or it is deemed invalid.
All arrivals must complete a pre-travel clearance form not more than 72 hours before entry to Austria. Vaccinated visitors from the UK are permitted to enter Austria without a test, so as long as their second dose was administered no less than 270 days ago (nine months). Otherwise, you’ll need a booster.
Unvaccinated UK travellers must be able to show evidence of a negative Covid test or recent recovery from Covid to gain entry, but must also self isolate for 5-10 days (with the option of it ending early if a Covid test is negative on day 5).
What do I need a pass for?
Pretty much everything. After the current lockdown has been lifted, entry to restaurants, bars, theatres, cultural and sports events, as well as all ski resorts, will require proof of vaccination or recent recovery from Covid as part of Austria's '2G' rule. Currently, these regulations also apply to children, but there is an ongoing discussion and this may change in time for the ski season.
Download the pass here.
How strict is it?
Very. If you aren’t vaccinated or recovered, or lord forbid you had your second jab more than nine months ago, you will be shunned from society. While theoretically it would still be possible for you to wander around parks, or take some skis and make use of the Austrian Alps, good luck getting around without being permitted to access the ski lifts.
Day 2 tests for travel: The quickest, easiest and cheapest options
Day 2 tests are back for double-jabbed travellers, but this time you must isolate until you receive a negative result.
If your flight lands in good time to get to an airport test centre by 8pm, that would be your best route to ensuring fast results. Should you arrive after this time, or very early in the morning, then a drive-through clinic is the best alternative.
If you’re not working to a budget, and time is very short, then you could get an at home test taken in London and expect results within as little as four hours.
Be warned: however, fast and cheap tests are in high demand. Book early, where possible.
Tour operator calls for action against 'rogue' testing firms
Echoing the words of Lord Tyrie, the former chairman of the UK competition regulator (see 10:17 update), Donat Retif, CEO of Loveholidays, has called for a crackdown on unreliable testing firms:
With mandatory testing now imposed on travellers, it must go hand-in-hand with tough regulation of the testing sector. At present the bargain is one-sided and travellers are at risk of those rogue operators hiding among the more responsible testing firms.
As Which? and most recently Lord Tyrie, former Chairman of the CMA, have both rightly called for, there urgently needs to be regulation of the testing market. It is surely now also time for the Government to impose price caps on tests, at least for as long as they are mandatory.
The most English town in all of France
Zap the snow-topped peaks and, at moments, you could be in Berkshire, says Anthony Peregrine. Well, the nicer bits of Berkshire. Where is he talking about? Find out here.
France's Covid passports explained
With the UK expected to announce some form of Covid passport this evening, Annabel Fenwick Elliott is looking at how the controversial schemes work in other countries. Here's how the French system operates.
Currently, fully-vaccinated travellers from the UK are able to enter the country. Non-vaccinated arrivals are only permitted to enter the country for limited reasons (not holidays), and must present a negative PCR or antigen test certificate. Regardless of their vaccination status, all individuals over the age of 12 arriving in France from the UK must take a lateral flow (antigen) test less than 48 hours before travel.
What do I need a pass for?
While in France, the pass sanitaire (compatible with NHS QR codes) must be shown to enter all cafés, bars and restaurants (even to sit outside) and museums, as well as to stay in some hotels, ski resorts and travel on long-distance trains.
For over 65s, the third booster dose will be mandatory to activate the pass from December 15. For everyone else, the booster dose will be required within seven months of the second shot from January 15. Unvaccinated arrivals, including children under 12, face having to test every 24 hours in order to reactivate their pass.
The best way to prove your vaccination status is by scanning your NHS QR code into the TousAntiCovid app.
How strict is it?
It’s very difficult for unvaccinated travellers to visit France, let alone do normal things while there. Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated Britons aged 12 years old or over may only travel to France if they have a “compelling reason” to do so. Even then, as in Switzerland, you’ll have to test every day in order to keep your pass valid for entry into almost any venue.
Vietnam urged to restart travel
Vietnam’s Ministry of Transport has urged the government to allow international flights to resume on nine routes from next week.
The ministry proposed a first phase allowing services to resume from San Francisco or Los Angeles, Singapore, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Vientiane, Beijing, Tokyo, Seoul and Taipei.
A suggested second phase, from January, would see flights resume on routes connecting Vietnam with Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Paris, Frankfurt, Sydney, and Moscow.
Only diplomats on official business and certain high-skilled workers are currently permitted to enter Vietnam.
Vietnam’s tight restrictions have dealt a blow to its burgeoning tourism sector, which accounts for about 10 per cent of GDP.
Confusion lingers over testing rules
The Government is continuing to issue conflicting advice over when Britons need to take their pre-departure test, even after the new rules have 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".
The cost of a quarantine hotel stay
With a law firm launching legal action over the UK's hotel quarantine policy, here's a breakdown of the costs of a stay.
How much you’ll need to pay
1 adult in 1 room for 10 days (11 nights): £2,285
Additional rate for 1 adult (or child over 11): £1,430
Additional rate for a child aged 5 to 11: £325
You do not have to pay for children under 5.
The price includes
Transport to and from your quarantine hotel
Accommodation, food and drink
Any Covid tests you need to take while you quarantine
Red list reminder
Here are the 11 countries on the UK travel red list, from which arrivals must spend 10 days in a quarantine hotel.
Germany's Covid passports explained
With the UK expected to announce some sort of Covid passport system this evening, Annabel Fenwick Elliott is looking at how the controversial schemes work in different European countries. Germany has one of the strictest systems, although it hasn't stopped its Covid rates rocketing in recent months.
If you’re vaccinated, you may enter Germany from the UK without providing a test. Children under 12 can enter with a vaccinated parent but must quarantine for five days upon arrival. If you are over 12 and unvaccinated, you are not permitted to visit Germany unless you qualify for an exemption, which you probably won’t; certainly not for a holiday.
What do I need a pass for?
Pretty much everything, including restaurants, bars, salons, sports venues, hotels and social events. Germany accepts the NHS Covid Pass, but you are travelling with a printed PDF version, it must date from November 1 to ensure that the certificate can be scanned successfully.
Depending on which district you are in, you will either be subject to Germany’s ‘3G’ rules, whereby you can enter most public spaces with proof of vaccination, recovery from a previous infection or a recent negative test, or ‘2G’ rules, which excludes people who only have a negative test. At the strictest end of the scale, expect to face ‘2G-plus’ restrictions, which excludes unvaccinated people and requires even those who are vaccinated or recovered to also provide a recent negative test.
How strict is it?
Very; and not just strict but complicated and fast-morphing. Expect to flash your NHS Covid Pass at every turn, and even then, should local R-rates flare, be asked to submit to extra testing (for example, hotels will test you upon arrival and twice a week during your stay). That, or for bars, restaurants and Christmas markets to be closed altogether.
Travel and leisure stocks fall
UK travel and leisure stocks have fallen after reports of fresh restrictions in England to curb the spread of the omicron Covid-19 variant.
Restaurant Group Plc and Cineworld Group Plc were among the worst performers on the FTSE All-Share Index, both down more than 6%. Pub operator J D Wetherspoon Plc, meanwhile, lost 4.7%.
Airlines were also hit, with Wizz Air Holdings Plc, EasyJet Plc and International Consolidated Airlines Group all falling more than 5%
Domestic travel shares were lower, too, with bus and train operators The Go-Ahead Group PLC and National Express Group plc dropping 5%.
The fascinating history of Scotland's most debauched island
Wild and beautiful Rum was once notorious for nefarious parties, and home to easily the most outlandish castle in the country. Join Robin McKelvie for a tour.
New work-from-home restrictions and vaccine passports expected as Government looks to Plan B
Major news is brewing over on the main Covid live blog.
New work-from-home guidance and vaccine passports could be announced as early as today, according to government officials, as Cabinet ministers move to counter the omicron spread, writes Ben Riley-Smith.
A meeting of the ‘Covid-O’ Cabinet sub-committee is expected to take place today to discuss the measures, with a possible full Cabinet meeting and press conference later.
Philippines bans travellers from France
The Philippines will ban travellers coming from France to prevent the spread of the omicron variant, the country's presidential office said on Wednesday.
The ban, which applies to everyone who has been in France in the past 14 days, runs from December 10 until at least December 15.
This adds to an earlier ban on travellers from South Africa and 13 other countries to keep out the variant, which has yet to be detected in the Philippines.
Vaccine passports for children could see tourists desert New York
New York’s decision to extend its vaccine passport scheme to cover those aged 5-11 will see families snub the city and travel elsewhere, an industry insider has predicted.
From December 14, all those above the age of four will need to present evidence of a Covid vaccination to visit restaurants and indoor attractions such as Broadway shows.
“We know that restrictions simply put people off travelling so New York is not doing itself any favours with this planned measure,” said Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency. “Britain, along with most other countries, has not approved vaccines for children under 12 so families will simply choose to go to those destinations which are more sensible in dealing with Covid.
“In the short-term, New York’s loss is Europe’s gain as families will choose to visit countries which are friendlier to younger children. It’s no wonder airlines, tour operators and agents are so busy having to deal with rebookings to other destinations at the moment. The more barriers to entry places introduce, the fewer visitors they will see.”
A Visit USA spokesperson said: “We are unfortunately seeing a number of additional restrictions come in around the world and it is impossible to respond until we all understand how the latest strain of Covid is going to help accelerate global regulations that are easy for everyone to understand and adhere to so travel can become as straightforward as possible.”
Italy's Covid passports explained
This week Italy extended its controversial Covid passport scheme. Annabel Fenwick Elliott looks at the ins and outs.
Fully vaccinated Britons can visit Italy but are still required to present a negative test (PCR or antigen) on arrival, taken within the last 48 hours. Those who are not double-jabbed can also enter but will, in addition to having a negative test, need to quarantine for five days in Italy.
What do I need a pass for?
All those over the age of 12 qualify for a ‘Green Pass’, which displays proof of vaccination, certification of having recovered from Covid, or a negative test result from the previous 48 hours. It is required to enter to attend events of any kind whether inside or out, as well as restaurants, cafes, bars, pools, gyms, museums, galleries, tourist sites or spas. A pass is also required to board any form of public transport which crosses regional boundaries, including planes, coaches, trains and ferries. It is also obligatory in enclosed cable cars in ski resorts.
Any EU Covid certificate – in the form of an electronic or on-paper QR code – will be accepted. Non-EU visitors – including Britons – must produce equivalent documentation such as the NHS Covid Pass.
How strict is it?
Without a pass, you’ll struggle to do much at all. Examples of loopholes are few and far between, but you won’t, for example, be required to show your pass in order to dine at the hotel you’re staying at, though you will if you’re not a guest. In other settings, according to our Italy expert, you’ll also be able to enjoy ‘a quick espresso at the counter without complications, but you will be asked to show your Green Pass or equivalent if you want to sit down.’
The worst holiday of my life, featuring pickpockets and a deadly chicken tamale
Need something to cheer you up amid the omicron gloom? When his Mexican holiday took a turn for the worse, Anthony Peregrine was rescued by a saint named Maria. Read the full story.
US airline 'bans' four-year-old autistic boy unable to wear a mask
The father of a four-year-old autistic boy has said his son was banned for life by Frontier Airlines because he cannot wear a mask in accordance with US Covid regulations.
Michael Seklecki Jr. has been blocked from boarding flights twice because he does not wear a mask, Fox News reports.
His father, Michael Seklecki, is suing the US Transportation Security Administration, as well as two airlines, Spirit and Frontier, in response. He said he has presented a doctor’s note explaining his son's condition to airline workers, to no avail.
Under America's strict Covid regulations, all air passengers over the age of two must wear a mask for the duration of the flight. UK airlines typically do not enforce face coverings for those under the age of 12.
Covid test market branded 'a rip-off jungle' by former competition regulator chair
The former chairman of the UK competition regulator has criticised the market for Covid tests for travellers, branding it a “rip-off jungle”.
Lord Tyrie said that the Government was allowing companies to engage in "misleading online advertisements, overpricing and unacceptably poor service".
“For this policy to get into a mess once might be seen as a misfortune but for it to resurface again after all the warnings over the summer would have to be described as carelessness,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“It was a scandal waiting to happen and it’s now happened and it needs very urgent action.”
Lord Tyrie, a former MP and chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, said: “It appears that some of the worst practices: misleading online advertisements; overpricing; unacceptably poor service among them, are still widespread.”
Long border closure hits Japanese economy
Japan’s economy contracted at a 3.6% annual rate in July-September, according to a revised estimate released Wednesday.
The downgraded growth estimate for the last quarter, down from an earlier report of a 3.0% contraction, reflected weaker consumer spending and trade, its government said.
The world’s third-largest economy has been mired in recession and struggling to recover from the impact of waves of coronavirus infections.
The latest outbreak, in the late summer, has receded for now with a sharp drop in cases. But it hit during the usually busy summer travel season, with calls for restricted business activity and travel hurting restaurants, hotels and other service sector industries.
More than just holidays
The importance of travel for those with loved ones living overseas has been highlighted in a new festive video by Heathrow Airport.
If you look for it in #Heathrow Arrivals, we’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around…
We’ve worked with the original Love Actually script team and @martineofficial to recreate the film’s iconic reunion scene for the world today ❤️#HeathrowActually pic.twitter.com/es0W3QRSsv
— Heathrow Airport (@HeathrowAirport) December 8, 2021
Travelodge reveals strangest guest requests
Budget hotel chain Travelodge has revealed the most bizarre requests from guests at its hotels this year, including one who allegedly asked where the Welsh rarebit lives, and another who wanted to know what time they could see the snake on Derbyshire's Snake Pass.
One guest in York reportedly asked a member of staff to sing in the next room to test if his room was quiet enough. Another, at the Newcastle Quayside branch, apparently asked for a children's paddling pool to store their pet fish.
Tracking the spread of omicron
Yesterday saw the World Health Organisation, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, and even the Archbishop of Canterbury, calling for the travel red list to be scrapped. Indeed, with omicron having already reached all four corners of the planet, travel restrictions are looking increasingly futile.
The biggest absurdities behind Britain's travel testing regime
We've highlighted some of the biggest oddities when it comes to the UK testing rules. Here's a flavour:
Testing to come home before you’ve left
According to the Government, the pre-departure test forms part of our defences against the dreaded omicron variant that still hasn’t killed anyone, anywhere. However, if you’re going away for less than 48 hours – a quick city break in Stockholm, perhaps – you can take your pre-departure test on British soil. After all, why would anyone wait until they’re on holiday to do it and risk being stranded abroad?
The Day 2 test loophole
Disreputable travellers have for months been getting around the requirement for a Day 2 test by simply inputting old PCR test codes onto their Passenger Locator Form. The form is the only point at which a person is requested to show proof they have purchased a test before entering the country.
But it has been an open secret all year among regular travellers that the same test codes can be reused on multiple occasions as those operating the system do not cross-reference them against the books of private testing companies. Only recently have authorities, following checks by The Laboratory and Testing Industry Organisation, been made aware.
'Impossible' to introduce Covid-19 restrictions after Downing Street lockdown party, says Tory MP
A Tory MP has said the Government is likely to find it "almost impossible" to introduce "very proscriptive" Covid-19 restrictions, after a video emerged showing aides joking about festive celebrations last year.
Sir Charles Walker, MP for Broxbourne in Hertfordshire, was speaking after footage was obtained by ITV News, showing Prime Minister Boris Johnson's then-press secretary Allegra Stratton and adviser Ed Oldfield, along with other aides, laughing about a "fictional" Downing Street party in December 2020.
He told Times Radio: "I think now that, going forward, any measures will be advisory. I think it would be very difficult to enshrine them in law and then once again ask our poor police forces to enforce them."
He added: "To be very proscriptive about this now, particularly as we've had such a successful vaccine rollout... is much more difficult, and was always going to be much more difficult. And the events of the last 24 hours make it probably almost impossible now."
Greece, Portugal and PCR tests dominate the year in search
Google has released its annual list of the year's most popular UK search terms, and it will come as no surprise to see Covid restrictions dominating when it comes to travel.
The rather depressing "Travel update UK" takes the top spot, followed by the equally unenticing "PCR test for travel" and, er, "Caravan holidays". Portugal and Greece, two countries that have tried their hardest to keep their borders open and lure Britons, also made the list.
2021's most searched-for travel terms
Travel update UK
PCR test for travel
Travel green list
Greece travel restrictions
Travel to France from UK
Anger after Israel exempts beauty pageant contestants from travel ban
Few countries reacted with as much caution to the emergence of the omicron variant as Israel, which closed its borders to all foreign arrivals. There is one notable exception to the rule, however. Contestants in the Miss Universe beauty pageant, which takes place in Eilat on December 12, have been granted permission to visit.
The decision has angered those in Israel with family overseas, include a group of pregnant women who have launched a campaign video urging Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked to allow their non-Israeli parents to visit.
Austria poised to lift lockdown, but only for the vaccinated
Austria will end its two-week lockdown on Sunday, but strict restrictions will remain for unvaccinated citizens, Chancellor Karl Nehammer has said. Full details have yet to be decided.
Ski resorts in the country will reopen, and Britons still hoping to ski in the county this winter will need to present evidence of a Covid vaccination to enter the country. Unvaccinated skiers would be wise to look elsewhere.
Russia resumes space tourism after decade-long hiatus
A Russian rocket took off on Wednesday carrying a Japanese billionaire to the International Space Station, marking the country's return to space tourism after a decade-long pause that saw the rise of competition from privately held US companies.
Online fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawa and his production assistant Yozo Hirano blasted off from the Russia-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 0738 GMT, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.
Their journey aboard the three-person Soyuz spacecraft piloted by cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin will take just over six hours, capping a banner year that many have seen as a turning point for private space travel.
Fellow billionaires Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson all made breakthrough commercial tourism flights this year, bursting into a market Russia is keen to defend.
Inbound tourism businesses count the cost of fresh restrictions
The destructive impact of fresh travel restrictions in the wake of the omicron variant has been laid bare in a new survey by travel trade association UKinbound.
More than 100 businesses, including inbound tour operators, accommodation providers and attractions, provided feedback, with 86% confirming they have received cancellations or are expecting to receive cancellations in the run up to Christmas.
Joss Croft, CEO of UKinbound, said "Although thoroughly depressing, these results are not surprising. International consumer confidence to travel to the UK has taken another huge hit, and the UK’s kneejerk decisions and lack of support for businesses that bear the consequences, means the recovery of this industry has already been derailed."
How London became the world's most congested city
Drivers can waste 148 hours a year in our capital, which now has more traffic than Paris – but why?
New York's vaccine passport rules
Currently, in New York City, people 12 and older participating in public indoor activities are required to show proof of at least one dose of vaccination.
As of December 27, in New York City, people 12 and older participating in public indoor activities will be required to show proof they have received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or the one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
As of December 14, in New York City, children ages 5 to 11 will be required to have proof of one dose of a vaccine vaccination for public indoor activities.
Tui hopes for 2022 rebound
Holiday giant Tui said it hopes summer 2022 bookings will rebound near to levels seen before the pandemic as it revealed an annual loss of more than £2 billion.
The group said it is close to breaking even in the final three months of its financial year, to September 30, with a quarterly underlying loss of 97 million euros (£82.7 million).
But the firm added it is reviewing whether to cut the remainder of its winter programme in light of the spread of the omicron variant of coronavirus and a fourth wave of the pandemic.
It reported am annual group loss of 2.47 billion euros (£2.1 billion), against losses of 3.15 billion euros (£2.7 billion) in 2019-20, as it continued to be hit hard by Covid-19 travel restrictions for much of the year.
Tui said the first quarter of the new financial year is 93% booked, though it is still running 31% below pre-pandemic levels.
It hopes summer 2022 will see a bounce-back close to 2019 bookings, but stressed customers are continuing to book later and at short notice.
What happened yesterday?
Before we kick off today's updates, here's a reminder of Tuesday's key stories:
The closure of nightclubs across France for at least a month dealt ski holidays another blow
The World Heath Organisation, the United Nations, and even the Archbishop of Canterbury joined calls for governments to scrap travel restrictions
However, EU ministers called for even more curbs on travel, including extra testing and even mandatory quarantines
Abta warned that new restrictions could ‘tip travel companies over the edge’