Hope for relaxation of travel restrictions pushed back to end of January

Industry hopes of the government easing Covid-19 test requirements for travel have been pushed back to the end of January as Omicron infections ramp up and the government prepares to toughen domestic restrictions post-Christmas.

The government is due to review the restrictions on January 5, with industry leaders urging it to drop requirements for fully vaccinated travellers to take both a pre-departure test and post-arrival PCR test.

But a leading aviation source told Travel Weekly: “We’re not super optimistic. It depends what the government decides with domestic restrictions. If there are a lot more restrictions domestically we’ll be in a very different ball game.

“We don’t think they’ll ban international travel. But it’s difficult to see them removing the test requirements [at the January 5 review]. The problem with these rules is they are sticky.”

More: Cruise agents blame threat of more restrictions for ‘quiet December’

Airlines demand removal of travel restrictions or ‘urgent support’

The source argued: “The pre-departure test – which is the one the industry hates most – is the test the medics most want. The Department of Health says the pre-departure tests are necessary to see we don’t import another variant.

“Let’s hope by the end of January or beginning of February we see some easement.”

There also is concern that restrictions on UK travellers in Europe could extend beyond any easing of UK requirements, with most EU destinations at an earlier stage of the Omicron phase of the pandemic.

France and Germany have curtailed entry from the UK in the past week and restrictions elsewhere around Europe are increasing.

The source said: “The UK tends to get any variant first and there was always a risk that other countries wouldn’t want us and would impose restrictions.

“Delta and now Omicron came to the UK first because of the UK’s better links with the global world – of course, it is aviation making this virus travel around the world.”

The source argued: “Omicron will probably run through the UK population quite quickly, with Europe about two to three weeks behind us. The problem with them being behind us is that by the time we’re ready to travel, they won’t be.”

A second airline source agreed, saying: “We’ll be pleasantly surprised if they remove the tests [on January 5]. We don’t expect it. It’s a minefield for international travel.”

Abta called for “the immediate lifting of unnecessary travel restrictions” and for “tailored winter resilience grants for the travel sector, similar to those announced for hospitality” after the Chancellor unveiled a £1 billion support package for hospitality and leisure businesses.

Luke Petherbridge, Abta director of public affairs, said the government had “once again ignored the direct impact of policy decisions on businesses reliant on international travel”.

He suggested there is “no indication that the government is listening” and insisted: “We urgently need ministers to engage with us to find solutions to keep businesses afloat.”

However, the airline source said: “The Treasury has been rock solid on not offering sector support. We have to buckle up for a bumpy ride and hope it’s short and sharp.”

The source noted: “There is frustration. People are saying ‘We’re not getting the right engagement’ with government. But lobbying is not about shouting the loudest. Shouting louder won’t get the right result.”

More: Cruise agents blame threat of more restrictions for ‘quiet December’

Airlines demand removal of travel restrictions or ‘urgent support’

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