Measures to combat the Omicron coronavirus variant are unlikely to be removed at the three-week review promised by the government and will extend into next year, say industry sources, unless fears about the variant prove unfounded.
That could put demand for Christmas and New Year departures at risk and sour hopes of a strong January booking period as all arrivals again face PCR tests by day two, 10 countries joined the red list and some destinations tightened entry restrictions.
Sources described the response to the variant as “a setback” but “not Groundhog Day”.
A leading airline source told Travel Weekly: “The UK changes are not as severe as they could have been because we already had the day-two test in place. There is pressure to get PCR tests turned around fast to reduce the self-isolation period [required until receipt of the test result] and there will be price pressure on fast-track PCR services, probably costing £150.
“But the government has always been clear they would act decisively if they detect a new variant. They don’t have the benefit of hindsight on this.
“If you can get a PCR test at a reasonable price and turn it around quickly, you’re not that much worse off. It’s a setback and worse than we could have imagined a week ago. But we have to look at the bigger picture. The restrictions are a lot tougher in a lot of the world. As unpopular as it is, the UK response could have been worse.”
The source warned: “This will absolutely impact consumer confidence. The situation on the continent could also have a big impact. If the vaccines work, hopefully some of this can be unwound. [But] there will be several weeks of uncertainty while they come to grips with this.”
A second industry source forecast the government’s three-week review “will end up extending this another three weeks [because] they don’t want to risk Christmas. We couldn’t expect the government to do anything else at this stage. They need to be seen to act. We don’t think things will change in three weeks, but the government must keep the measures under review. They can’t be in place any longer than necessary.
“We hope to see some of this stripped back when we have the policy review in January. But we expect to see PCR tests in place for some time.”
The source added: “The government needs to decide what additional support it can give the sector if it does extend these measures because the domestic economy is ticking along, but travel has barely had a recovery and been hit yet again.”
Abta described the measures as “a huge blow” and said: “The government must consider tailored support for travel businesses.”
Spain tightened entry requirements for UK arrivals, throwing doubt on whether children aged 12 to 15 would be allowed entry.
Switzerland added the UK to its red list, requiring arrivals to quarantine for 10 days. Morocco suspended all flights and Israel banned foreign travellers from entry.