UK tightens travel restrictions to tackle new coronavirus variant

Ministers have announced fresh restrictions on entering the UK in response to the new Omicron variant of coronavirus, and will reintroduce pre-departure testing for all arriving passengers from next week.

Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said passengers would need to show proof of a negative pre-departure test, regardless of their vaccination status, from 4am on Tuesday.

Nigeria will be added to the travel “red list” on Monday morning, becoming the 11th African country to go on to the list.

People arriving from red list countries must quarantine in a government-approved hotel at their own expense for 10 days.

“In light of the most recent data we are taking further action to slow the incursion of the Omicron variant,” Javid said on Saturday evening.

Ministers have significantly tightened travel rules over the past week in response to the variant, which was first identified in southern Africa, sending a wave of uncertainty through the travel industry.

As well as the return of the red list, arriving passengers are required to take a PCR test within two days of their arrival and must self isolate until they receive a negative result.

Airlines, airports and other travel companies reacted with dismay to the return of pre-departure testing, which they argue is a significant deterrent to leisure travel.

Sean Doyle, chief executive of British Airways, said the news was a “devastating blow” and that customers “will now be faced with uncertainty and chaos”. 

“The blanket reintroduction 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,” he said.

Karen Dee, chief executive of industry body The Airport Operators Association, said she expected “most of the limited remaining demand for travel” to “fall away.”

Dee called for government support to help businesses through another period of reduced demand for travel.

“Travel and aviation are the only sectors hit with any operating restrictions in response to the Omicron variant,” she said.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, backed the expanded red list but criticised the new testing requirements.

“It is premature to hit millions of passengers and industry before we see the full data. We don’t have the clinical evidence,” he said.


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