Last night, ministers were faced with a massive backlash over the introduction of Covid pre-departure travel tests. This was in addition to warnings that there could be more than one million people stranded overseas.
Travel industry took aim at the Government for its dramatic U-turn that required travellers to undergo testing before coming back to Britain. It is a decision that could have devastating consequences on millions of Christmas plans.
Tory MPs said the rule change will be a hammer blow to the beleaguered airline industry, and a leading scientific adviser to the Government said the clampdown would make no ‘material difference’ to the spread of the Omicron variant.
Travellers will need to submit a negative result from their medical tests before they are allowed on a return flight. Positive travelers will need to be quarantined abroad.
Last night, ministers were faced with a massive backlash over the reinstatement of Covid pre-departure travel tests. This was in addition to warnings that there could be more than one million people stranded overseas.
Sources within the Cabinet said that some researchers and officials had long wanted to insist on quarantine for travellers returning from overseas. This could be done up to eight times.
‘If it had been up to the health “Blob”, this would have been even more disruptive,’ the source said.
Sources in the industry predicted that more than 1 million Britons would be rushing to obtain a test, to avoid becoming stranded.
Travel expert Paul Charles said: ‘People who are overseas are finding it difficult to obtain tests. It’s a weekend, lots of places are closed and these people had no reason to think about the need to get a test to come home.
‘People will effectively be stranded because they can’t get the tests that are now required.’
He added: ‘Tens of thousands of travel industry jobs are threatened. This is why no support measures have been proposed. That just indicates how knee-jerk these policies are.’
In a podcast interview recorded on Wednesday and posted on Friday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (pictured) said ministers did not want to ‘kill off the travel sector again’
Following a week of ministers insisting that no pre-departure test would be required, the government made its U-turn. In a podcast interview recorded on Wednesday and posted on Friday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said ministers did not want to ‘kill off the travel sector again’.
On Thursday, science minister George Freeman said further travel tests would put the economy ‘on its knees’.
A source claimed that Chris Whitty, chief medical officer, made an impressive case for ministers Saturday. He cited a South African flight on which eleven passengers were Omicron-positive.
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab insisted that the pre-departure tests were ‘not prohibitive’, but acknowledged it would make only a ‘marginal difference’ to the spread of the new variant.
Professor Mark Woolhouse, who advises the Government’s Sage committee, said it was too late for the measure to slow the spread of the virus. ‘I think that may be a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted,’ he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
‘If Omicron is here in the UK, and it certainly is, if there’s community transmission in the UK, and it certainly looks that way, then it’s that community transmission that will drive a next wave. It’s too late to make a material difference to the course of the Omicron wave, if we’re going to have one.’
A further 86 Omicron cases have been reported to the UK Health Security Agency on Sunday. The total now stands at 246.
Tory MP Henry Smith, chairman of the Future of Aviation group of MPs, said the new testing regime was ‘a massive blow that will hit our economy, jobs and place these vital industries into peril just as they were looking to recover’. Alistair Rowland was chairman of British Travel Agents and said that there had been no recovery.
After 21 Omicron cases in England linked to Nigerian travel, Nigeria was added to the red travel list. Today at 4am, British and Irish residents and nationals who are travelling from Nigeria to the UK will not be allowed in.
Over-reactions are a hammer blow for my industry.
Sir Mike Gooley is Chairman and Founder Trailfinders
The latest flip-flop on travel restrictions, dictating that anyone – British resident or tourist – who enters this country from 4am tomorrow onwards must take a test two days before arrival, is another shattering blow to my industry.
It’s a pointless over-reaction as all the early evidence suggests that Omicron is much less likely to cause death or illness serious enough to warrant hospital treatment.
Omicron was initially identified in South Africa. However, Omicron could have circulated in Britain undetected for several weeks. It has now been identified in the UK by a cluster of cases.
It’s a pointless over-reaction as all the early evidence suggests that Omicron is much less likely to cause death or illness serious enough to warrant hospital treatment
It is absurd to try and stop people from other countries from visiting the UK. However, passengers travelling from Glasgow to London board trains at Euston without any checks.
My 1,000 employees found that only one has contracted Covid overseas, and more than 200 in the United States. Of course, I’m not advocating Covid tests on the railways, I’m just trying to highlight the uselessness and sheer unfairness of the new rules.
And though my business and my customers have suffered bitterly throughout the pandemic, I don’t want special treatment.
I’m simply echoing Professor Mark Woolhouse, a member of the Government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, who says the travel restrictions have come too late to make any ‘material difference’.
But they could have long-term negative consequences for the business. Each change in direction and every snap decision creates more uncertainty. Uncertainty is the worst news for travelers.
Most people want to plan their holidays well in advance – traditionally, families start to think about their summer breaks at Christmas time. Even those who are not very organized tend to plan their holidays several months in advance.
Kneejerk rules introduced in a futile bid to control Omicron this week are going to have their real impact in the summer – because that’s when people will be missing out on travel that they are disinclined to book now.
Two years of panic and simmering fear have ruined our faith. Friends who run restaurants tell me that some customers are becoming wary of eating out at all: they book a table, then lose their nerve and don’t turn up.
The country we have become is so intimidated by slogans like “Quarantine” and “Still-Hit Hospitals”, that they are now risk-averse. Since I was 14 years old, I spent eight in special forces. I’ve also been in business over 50 years so I feel I understand how to manage risk.
That policy has cost Trailfinders £80million in 22 months, about a quarter of our total cash reserves. And as I own the company, that’s my own £80million
You must assess the risk and then manage it. Since March 2020’s Covid crisis, our company has made every effort to inspire confidence by minimizing the risk.
So that customers don’t suffer financial consequences if holiday plans have to be cancelled, we have adopted an immediate refund policy. There are no questions, no delays and no waiting periods. We can’t prevent the disruption and the disappointment, but we can at least ensure they are not out of pocket.
That policy has cost Trailfinders £80million in 22 months, about a quarter of our total cash reserves. And as I own the company, that’s my own £80million.
With no forced redundancies, this enormous expense allowed us to keep our shops and offices open. It puts us in a strong position to bounce back when the Covid crisis is finally over – and history tells us that all pandemics do end eventually. It will be back to normal. However, there’s no doubt the industry will continue to be scarred.
The airlines’ fleets, for instance, have decreased by between 20 and 25 per cent, and large numbers of aircrew have seen their qualifications lapse. They can’t just get back on a plane and start flying tomorrow.
My team wants to see the whole world fly again. To my great pleasure and pride, they couldn’t wait to stop working from home and get back to our shops and offices when the rules changed. That’s hardly surprising. It is because of the camaraderie that an office atmosphere offers, it’s far more enjoyable than working from home. Trailfinders seems to offer more romance opportunities than Tinder.
So far, I’ve counted 146 marriages between my employees. They were eager to go back.
It’s unacceptable to penalize the travel industry for every new pandemic. We know from hindsight that none of the international restrictions had any effect on slowing down the spread and spread of Covid.
These businesses are vital to millions of people’s livelihoods. Holidays are essential for all. It is important to have some sense of humor when dealing with these ridiculous rules.
Omicron: There are no deaths or hospitalizations. . . and symptoms ‘are only mild’
By Xantha Leeatham Science and Health Reporter
The new Omicron variant does not look ‘really severe’ and data suggests most victims get only mild symptoms, experts said yesterday.
While there is some evidence of increased transmission, scientists claimed there was no need to ‘panic unnecessarily’ and that vaccines remained a ‘very, very good’ defence.
Statistician Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter said: ‘It’s a very difficult situation because we haven’t got a lot of data… almost nothing from this country about what the risks are. In South Africa there’s data coming out showing pretty strong evidence of the increased risk of transmission and some evidence about people going to hospital. It could be even milder. We haven’t got enough data yet.
‘It doesn’t look as if it’s really severe if you get it. I think that’s about all we can say at the moment.’
Asked if measures to combat the spread of Omicron had gone far enough, Sir David told Trevor Phillips on Sky News: ‘It’s best to be precautionary, when there’s so much we don’t know… and when we don’t know it’s better to be safe than sorry.’ He added that the UK was being ‘saved by boosters’ countering the waning power of vaccines already received.
Friday’s announcement by the World Health Organisation stated that Omicron was not linked to any deaths, despite being found in at least 38 other countries.
According to the UK Health Security Agency, there have been no Omicron cases in England as of November 30.
Further reassurance was provided by South African health researcher Professor Willem Hanekom, director of the Africa Health Research Institute, who said that while the ‘virus is spreading extraordinarily fast in South Africa’, so far the ‘disease has appeared to be mild’.
Ministers’ mixed messaging over taking Covid precautions at Christmas continued yesterday as Dominic Raab (pictured) urged people to ‘enjoy’ parties – while saying he would not be holding one himself
The professor, speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, said that recent data suggested the ‘disease may occur more in younger people – and younger people who are unvaccinated’.
When asked whether he agreed with colleagues that the ‘rest of the world is panicking unnecessarily about Omicron’, he said: ‘I’m completely aligned to the view of my colleagues in South Africa.’
Yesterday, 43,992 Covid-19 cases in the UK were documented. Another 54 deaths were reported within 28 days after being tested positive for Covid-19.
Adding to the debate, US pandemic adviser Dr Anthony Fauci said: ‘It does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it. Thus far, the signals are a bit encouraging.’
The number of new Omicron cases reported in the UK rose by 86, bringing the total to 246 – an increase of more than 50 per cent in the space of a day. According to the UK Health Security Agency (which publishes these figures), 18 cases were reported in Scotland while 68 are from England.