A data-led approach and free PCR testing for passengers are among the measures suggested by airline associations to protect the Christmas travel season.

The number of Covid-19 variant Omicron cases within the UK had risen to 14 confirmed cases this morning (November 30). The new strain was first detected in Botswana earlier this month and has resulted in the UK placing South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini under Red List restrictions.

Scientists fear the new variant could be more transmissible and vaccine resistant which has prompted the Government to introduce fresh curbs to stem the spread of infection. Mandatory face coverings in shops and on public transport, and self-isolation rules, have returned today as part of a suite of measures reduce the spread of the variant.

All travellers returning to the UK must take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result, while contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate, regardless of their age or vaccination status.

“Situation is developing rapidly”

Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK, the industry body representing UK-registered carriers, said: “We understand the cautious approach being taken to travel from Southern Africa in light of concerns over the new variant. Airlines are working with governments and are in touch with affected customers. The situation is developing rapidly, and hopefully as more data emerges emergency border restrictions can be reversed quickly – and applied only where they will make a material difference.”

“In the meantime, we urge Ministers to make mandatory PCR tests free of charge for impacted passengers, many of whom are now in the invidious position of having less than 48 hours to arrange extra testing whilst overseas. Many will struggle to do so which is why support from Government – at no excessive cost to the Exchequer – would be an appropriate gesture.”

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) has called for the government to impose “only data led restrictions” to support and repair what it called “shattered confidence in air travel.”

“Latest changes have shattered fledgling confidence in air travel”

Responding to the latest travel changes, BALPA General Secretary Martin Chalk said: “BALPA welcomes the Government’s promise to remove these new restrictions if this variant is no more a threat than the Delta variant. All professional pilots support the Government’s desire to protect the population, but that will need effective measures. Border restrictions have not stopped previous waves of virus, not here or elsewhere, so there is no reason to suggest they will now.”

“The latest changes have shattered the fledgling confidence in air travel including for Christmas and new year bookings.”

“We call again on Government to act with the data and to support a vital UK industry. This includes Government funding the expensive PCR tests and actually sequencing traveller’s tests so we can have an effective and data driven policy.”

“The aviation industry now needs a winter resilience fund to support us through an even more extended period of restrictions. Vital aviation industry skills, including those of pilots, will carry the ambitions of the whole country as we recover. Government must invest in the recovery now”.

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