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Abta chair urges trade to keep up pressure on testing rules

The chairman of Abta has urged the industry to keep lobbying the government to relax the rules on testing for international travel.

Health secretary Sajid Javid and transport secretary Grant Shapps announced on Tuesday (December 14) that the government will remove all 11 remaining countries from the UK’s red list from 4am on Wednesday (15 December) – but testing requirements for all travellers remain.

Alistair Rowland, Abta chair and chief executive of Blue Bay Travel, said urged the industry to put pressure on for change.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, before the red list announcement was made, he said: “Media is very strong here – TV, radio, writing to your MP, all of that lobbying effort actually is worthwhile.

“We have got some friends in government – Huw Merriman [chair of the transport select committee] has been a real asset.

“Get hold of the assets that are on the [Abta] website, write to the MPs, let’s get thousands of MPs asking the same question of government.”

He made the point that the government’s rationale for the restrictions to stop the introduction of Omicron into the UK no longer stacked up.

“Omicron is here, isn’t it? To actually make travel even harder when no other country is doing this, makes no point. Let’s at least make travelling for those travellers who are prepared to go as easy as it can be,” he said.

His calls for relaxing the testing rules were echoed by Manchester Airports Group, which said in a statement following yesterday’s update: “The government must act to kickstart the recovery of the aviation sector by following through on its commitment to remove remaining travel testing requirements once the Omicron variant becomes dominant in the UK.”

Passenger numbers across its three airports – Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands – had reached an average of 58% of 2019 levels in November, before the introduction of the latest measures.

That represented the highest proportion of pre-pandemic traffic the group has seen – and during the final week of November, passenger numbers across MAG airports peaked at 61% of 2019 levels.

The re-imposition of the day two and pre-departure testing requirements caused passenger numbers to fall by more than one-quarter in the two weeks since then.

Charlie Cornish, MAG chief executive, said: “Our passenger performance in November showed how consumer confidence grew strongly as soon as restrictions on international travel were lifted.

“Our industry supported the re-introduction of testing requirements, which have done their part in slowing the arrival of the Omicron variant.

“However, now there is widespread domestic transmission of the variant across the UK, there can no longer be any justification for maintaining these costly and damaging restrictions.

“The news that all countries will be removed from the red list is positive recognition that they serve little purpose once the variant is circulating widely, but the same is true for the testing requirements which remain.

“We need the government to act swiftly to minimise the disruption to travel and reduce the costs for families travelling over the Christmas, as well as supporting the recovery of our critically-important sector.”

Steve Heapy, chief executive of Jet2.com and Jet2holidays, was also disappointed that the “disproportionate and excessive” testing restrictions remain in place for the Christmas holidays.

“Yet again, international travel is having to play to a completely different rule book when compared to other areas of everyday life,” he said.

“We fail to see how the current travel testing regime adds anything other than hassle, cost and disruption to hardworking customers and families who just want to get away for a well-deserved holiday over the Christmas holiday season.”

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw tweeted in response to the government announcement: “Ridiculous. Why remove one of the measures introduced to stem #Omicron spread (the red list), but not the pre arrival Lateral Flow and post arrival PCR tests + self isolation? These are the main deterrents to travel, making it impractical & unaffordable for most families.”

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