TRAVEL bosses have been left furious over the “hammer blow” to the industry as it was announced all passengers must now take Covid tests before entering the UK.
Despite igniting fury across the sector, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab defended the rules and insisted the move was essential in stopping the Omicron variant from crippling the country.
But travel chiefs said the last-minute measures will see “businesses fail, travellers stranded and livelihoods devastated”.
The latest blow to the ailing industry will be introduced on Tuesday at 4am following a sharp increase in cases of the super-strain, ministers said.
They hope it will be a temporary step if successful in squashing rising Omicron infections, the variant which was first identified in South Africa.
Those returning to the UK will now need to provide a negative PCR or lateral flow test in the 48 hours before travelling.
Families jetting off on Christmas breaks will now have to shell out up to £100 more on pre-departure tests, which travel bosses fear will act as a “major deterrent” for holidaymakers.
Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, hit out at the rules and said they directly contradicted assurances given by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
He explained: “The introduction of pre-departure testing with little warning is a hammer blow to the business travel industry.
“Public safety is a priority, but businesses will fail, travellers will be stranded and livelihoods devastated by the lack of coherent plans from Government.”
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the industry body Airlines UK, added: “It is premature to hit millions of passengers and industry before we see the full data.
“We don’t have the clinical evidence. These measures must be removed as quickly as possible in line with the speed of the booster programme.”
The Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee slammed the decision that will rock the industry which was slowly recovering.
“Most of the limited remaining demand following the reintroduction of self-isolation will now fall away, just as airports were hoping for a small uplift over the Christmas holiday,” she said.
It comes as Omicron cases today terrifyingly leapt up by 53 per cent, with a further 86 infections reported in the UK on Sunday.
It means the total number of confirmed cases of the variant in the UK now stands at 246 – with 68 of those in England.
Dominic Raab supported the Government’s decision, but admitted it was a “burden”.
The former Foreign Secretary told Sky News’s Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme: “I know that is a burden for the travel industry but we have made huge, huge strides in this country.
“We have got to take the measures targeted forensically to stop the new variant seeding in this country to create a bigger problem.
“We have taken a balanced approach but we are always alert to extra risk that takes us back not forward.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the measures were “hugely unfortunate” but insisted they would be temporary”.
“We have always said we would act swiftly if we need to if the changing data requires it,” he said. “We want to remove them as soon as we possibly can.”
But experts warned the travel measures are already “too late” to make a “material difference” in stopping a wave of cases.
Government adviser Professor Mark Woolhouse said: “I think that may be a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.”
The Labour party welcomed the “u-turn”, after calling for their comeback since the Omicron variant was first identified.
But Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper added: “We badly need them to learn the lessons on the importance of acting quickly on Covid border measures rather than each time having to be put under huge pressure to finally act.”
Ministers acted after early evidence suggested the gap between infection and being infectious is shorter than the Delta variant meaning cases can be caught sooner.
The decision will be reviewed on December 18 in line with other COVID measures such as the wearing of face masks on public transport.
Nigeria became a ‘red’ list country joining others including South Africa, meaning UK nations must self-isolate at home and others to book a government-approved hotel quarantine for ten days.