The aviation industry has welcomed the announcement by Health Secretary Sajid Javid that all remaining countries have be removed from the red list – but has warned that “burdensome” testing regimes risk ruining the Christmas trade.
All remaining 11 countries – Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe – were removed from the UK’s travel red list from 4am this morning (December 15). The red list was reintroduced just over a fortnight ago following the emergence of the Covid-19 Omicron variant. Javid told Parliament that the variant had now spread so widely the rules no longer had much purpose.
Javid said that with widespread community transmission of Omicron in the UK and the rest of the world, the travel red list was “now less effective in slowing the incursion of Omicron from abroad. He added that temporary testing measures for international travel introduced after the emergence of the highly transmissable variant would be maintained.
All UK arrivals from red list countries who are currently self-isolating in government-approved hotels for managed quarantine will now be allowed to leave early and will follow rules designated for arrivals from non-red list countries.
Government risks “ruining Christmas travel plans” for many
Airport Operators Association Chief Executive Karen Dee said: “The removal of all the countries from the red list is a welcome recognition that these measures have little purpose when Omicron is rapidly becoming the dominant variant in the UK. It is difficult to understand why the UK and devolved governments did not recognise that the same logic applies to the blanket, expensive and burdensome testing regime.”
“The UK is only country currently that requires both a pre-departure test and a post-arrival test for all arrivals, regardless of vaccination status. UK tests remain significantly more expensive compared to the rest of Europe. They therefore place a heavy burden on families just as many were hoping to finally reunite with loved ones who live abroad over the Christmas period.
“The four UK governments should urgently reinstate the pre-omicron travel regime, or risk ruining Christmas plans for so many across the country. If the red list isn’t necessary, then neither is costly testing and isolation measures”
Tim Alderslade, head of trade group Airlines UK, said the government should also scrap the remaining travel restrictions which include mandatory Covid tests within 48 hours of setting off for the UK and PCR tests within two days of their arrival, regardless of the destination they fly from.
He told the BBC: “If the red list isn’t necessary, given that Omicron is established here at home, then neither are the costly emergency testing and isolation measures imposed on even fully vaccinated travellers, which again put us completely at odds with the rest of Europe,” he said.
Changing restrictions: a game of “in out hokey kokey”
The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) also welcomed the scrapping of the red list but said the government needed to take further action to provide more support for the travel industry. BALPA urged the Government to fully adopt the WHO/ ICAO framework – or explain to the industry exactly why the extra barriers to international travel are necessary, with data to support the explanation.
BALPA General Secretary, Martin Chalk said: “Every step forward seems to be accompanied by further ‘in out in out hokey kokey’ with our members’ jobs, our industry’s future and the country’s prosperity. The Government should be using the data to make consistent, evidenced based decisions – anything else risks people’s lives, livelihoods and health.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said the testing measures would be reviewed in the first week of January.