'Hammer blow' for travel industry as pre-departure Covid tests return for all UK arrivals

5 December 2021, 08:11 | Updated: 5 December 2021, 08:16

UK arrivals will have to do a pre-departure test from 4am on Tuesday.
UK arrivals will have to do a pre-departure test from 4am on Tuesday. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

The travel sector said the return of pre-departure tests for all UK arrivals is another "hammer blow" for the industry, as the Government brings in new measures to curb the spread of the Omicron variant.

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The tests will become mandatory from 4am on Tuesday, health secretary Sajid Javid has announced.

He said it was intended to be a temporary measure following new data showing an increase in the number of cases of the new strain linked to foreign travel.

Mr Javid also said Nigeria has been added to the Government's red list, meaning people arriving in England from that country will have to isolate for 10 nights in a managed quarantine hotel, from 4am on Monday.

Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, said it directly contradicted assurances given by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and he called on the Government to step in and support the sector - which was just beginning to pick up again.

"The introduction of pre-departure testing with little warning is a hammer blow to the business travel industry," he said.

"Public safety is a priority, but businesses will fail, travellers will be stranded and livelihoods devastated by the lack of coherent plans from Government."

Read more: Omicron: 26 more cases found in UK as targeted testing introduced in affected areas

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Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the industry body Airlines UK, said the rapidly changing measures meant planning was becoming impossible.

"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.

"These measures must be removed as quickly as possible in line with the speed of the booster programme."

The new measures mean passengers travelling to the UK will have to take either a PCR or a lateral flow test up to a maximum of 48 hours before they depart regardless of their vaccination status.

"We have always said we would act swiftly if we need to if the changing data requires it," Mr Javid said.

"These are temporary measures we want to remove them as soon as we possibly can, but before we learn more about Omicron it is right that we have these measures in place."

Read more: LBC Views: No10 must be hoping their major Omicron gamble will pay off

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Labour welcomed the announcement, but criticised the Government for not acting sooner.

They have been pushing for the move since the variant, which was first detected in South Africa, was confirmed in the UK.

Read more: New Covid restrictions in Ireland include six person limit in bars and restaurants

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper welcomed the "u-turn" after ministers previously resisted calls to reintroduce pre-departure tests but said they should have moved sooner.

"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," she said.

The rules will come into force from 4am on Tuesday.