Furious travel experts warn SAGE demands for isolation for all UK arrivals will ‘destroy’ sector


Travel industry chiefs have slammed Sage proposals to impose compulsory quarantine on all arrivals to the UK and force them to take pre-departure Covid tests regardless of whether or not they’ve been vaccinated.

The Government’s expert panel warned that current travel curbs were allowing ‘significant’ numbers of infected people from abroad to slip through the cracks.

Currently, fully vaccinated people coming into the UK need to take a PCR test within the first two days of returning to the UK. There is nothing stopping them taking this as soon as they land and getting a result on the same day, releasing them from isolation in hours.

According to leaked minutes of an emergency meeting about the so-called ‘Omicron’ variant held on Monday, more than 30 scientists advised that this might not give enough time for the virus to incubate. They also called on Ministers to bring in day five and day eight tests.

The Prime Minister has come under pressure from Opposition MPs to further tighten border controls after yesterday imposing requirements for arrivals to self-isolate until they get a negative PCR test. Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper today said it was ‘totally unacceptable’ for the Government to ignore its own scientific advice.  

However, travel industry leaders called the advice ‘an overreaction’. Warning of a jobs bloodbath, they said that the measures if implemented ‘would destroy inbound travel to the UK for the foreseeable future’.

Paul Charles, CEO of the travel consultancy The PC Agency, told MailOnline that the sector ‘has been used as a punchbag throughout the pandemic’.

‘Adding to the existing restrictions in place would be wrong at this time, bearing in mind scientists have not yet reached conclusions on whether the new variant is in any way a threat or not,’ he said. ‘The travel sector has been used as a punchbag throughout the pandemic and consumers have lost some confidence in talk of future restrictions. Let’s see whether this variant is one to worry about before implementing measures which put off people further from booking. Talk of quarantine is already having an impact on confidence. ‘ 

Henry Smith, Tory chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on General Aviation, said the restrictions ‘would be devastating for the travel sector and throw into doubt the jobs in that industry’.

‘I think it’s an overreaction to a variant that initially at least appears to be less virulent than other strains,’ he told MailOnline. ‘We are going to have to come to the realisation that we are going to live with variants for the rest of our lives and we cannot go into a wild panic about them. We cannot continue to have these rolling closures of the economy.’

Dr Steven Freudmann, the former President of ABTA – the Travel Association added: ‘Surely if the vaccine works, it works.’ 

The panel, chaired by chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, also warned that Britain should brace for a ‘potentially very significant wave with associated hospitalisations’ this winter and that the variant may require a ‘very stringent response’ – in a nod to a possible extension of Covid restrictions. 

A Covid testing centre sign at Heathrow Terminal 5 in London on November 28, 2021

A Covid testing centre sign at Heathrow Terminal 5 in London on November 28, 2021

In total 22 cases of the Omicron varaint have been detected in the UK. The nine in Scotland are linked to one event. The 13 in England are all linked to foreign travel

In total 22 cases of the Omicron varaint have been detected in the UK. The nine in Scotland are linked to one event. The 13 in England are all linked to foreign travel

Currently, fully vaccinated people coming into the UK need to take a PCR test within the first two days of returning to the UK. There is nothing stopping them taking this as soon as they land and getting a result on the same day, releasing them from isolation in hours

Currently, fully vaccinated people coming into the UK need to take a PCR test within the first two days of returning to the UK. There is nothing stopping them taking this as soon as they land and getting a result on the same day, releasing them from isolation in hours

SAGE scientists have called for testing requirements for vaccinated arrivals to be ramped up immediately. (Pictured: BA flight takes off from Heathrow)

SAGE scientists have called for testing requirements for vaccinated arrivals to be ramped up immediately. (Pictured: BA flight takes off from Heathrow)

Boris Johnson leaving 10 Downing Street to attend Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament

Boris Johnson leaving 10 Downing Street to attend Prime Minister’s Questions at the Houses of Parliament

New Covid restrictions in England in force

New restrictions on compulsory facemasks, testing and travel in England were published on Monday night and came into force at 4am on Tuesday.

FACEMASKS  

People must wear facemasks in the following places:

  • Public transport;
  • Retail shops;
  • Beauty salons;
  • Hairdressers;
  • Banks;
  • Post offices;
  • Takeaways;
  • Estate agents;
  • Veterinary clinics;
  • Taxis;
  • Driving instruction cars.

Those caught flouting the restrictions will be fined £200 for a first offence, which will double on each subsequent offence up to a maximum of £6,400.

Schoolchildren are being asked to wear facemasks in communal areas but not classrooms. Teaching unions have called for masks to be extended to lessons. 

TRAVEL 

All travellers returning to the UK must take a PCR test and self-isolate for 10 days until they receive a negative result. 

Anyone who breaks the self-isolation law without a ‘reasonable excuse’ faces a fine of £1,000, rising to £10,000 for repeat offenders and serious breaches.

A number of countries in Africa were added to the UK’s red list last week. They are:

  • Angola;
  • Botswana;
  • Eswatini;
  • Lesotho;
  • Malawi;
  • Mozambique;
  • Namibia;
  • South Africa;
  • Zambia;
  • Zimbabwe.

SELF-ISOLATION

All contacts of anybody who tests positive for the so-called ‘Omicron’ variant must self-isolate – regardless of their age or vaccination status. 

This has sparked fears of a return to the ‘pingdemic madness’ of the summer, when a million healthy pupils were forced to stay home because of the Test and Trace system. 

Anyone who breaks the self-isolation law without a ‘reasonable excuse’ faces a fine of £1,000, rising to £10,000 for repeat offenders and serious breaches. 

Responding to criticism the Government insists it is making ‘balanced judgements on scientific advice it receives, No 10 has insisted. 

Asked if ministers had ignored the guidance, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘At all times we take account of any clinical advice we receive, and then we need to make a balanced judgement on what is right.’

He said the Government had ‘acted swiftly’ to put new measures in place to protect against Omicron ‘on a precautionary basis.

‘We’re confident this is the right approach,’ he added.  

Vaccinated arrivals could be avoiding self-isolation by taking a Covid test at the airport and getting their results just three hours later. 

Some testing companies, including ExpressTest, offer this package for £119. 

In total, 22 Omicron cases have been officially confirmed but hundreds more suspected samples are being analysed.

The nine cases in Scotland have been linked to one event on November 20, Nicola Sturgeon confirmed yesterday. 

But there are fears the virus may already be spreading domestically there. 

In the minutes, seen by the BBC but yet to be published, SAGE scientists say extra swabs for travellers returning to the UK would be ‘valuable’. 

They also stressed how much uncertainty there is around the variant’s transmissibility and effectiveness against vaccines.

Ms Cooper slammed ministers for failing to sit up and take notice of advice from their scientists.

She said: ‘It is totally unacceptable that ministers are failing to take action at the border when even their own advisers are telling them to introduce pre-departure tests.

‘It cannot be right that people can travel to an airport, board a busy flight, queue at busy departure gates, and travel on trains and buses in the UK, all without having taken a test.

‘The Government must not repeat the mistakes it made earlier in the pandemic by being too slow to take action to prevent further cases of the Omicron variant entering the UK.’

Boris Johnson tightened restrictions for arrivals amid concern over the Omicron variant, saying they would slow down its ‘seeding’ in the UK.

But Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford have called on the Prime Minister to go further and require all arrivals to quarantine for eight days. 

Around 78,000 people were arriving in UK airports every day last year, when lockdowns and restrictions slashed air passenger numbers. It is thought to be higher now, although still below the 500,000 arrivals a day registered before the pandemic began. 

Up to fifty direct flights arrived in the UK from South Africa between the Omicron variant being detected and travel restrictions being imposed.

Now anyone coming from the red list country has to go into mandatory hotel quarantine for 11-days at a cost of £2,285. 

At least six countries in southern Africa have also been slapped with the restrictions. 

Guidance for un-vaccinated arrivals required them to take a Covid test three days before departure for the UK, and on day two and day eight after their arrival. They must also self-isolate for ten days. 

For vaccinated travellers they must self-isolate and take a Covid test within two days of their arrival. They can only leave self-isolation when the test is negative. 

Mr Johnson has also brought face masks back in shops, on public transport, and on school corridors, and said everyone who is a close contact of an Omicron case must self-isolate.

Tests and masks for Christmas parties? Sajid Javid says he would take a lateral flow and wear a face covering at a festive bash 

There are ‘no guarantees’ that there won’t be a lockdown this Christmas, the Health Secretary warned today.

In an ominous shift in tone from recent days, Sajid Javid told Good Morning Britain another festive shutdown was ‘not the plan’, but said: ‘We can’t rule out any particular measure at this point in time because we always have to look at the data and do what we need to protect people.’

He also urged people to take Covid tests before going to Christmas parties and wear facemasks while partying amid mounting fears about the so-called ‘Omicron’ variant.  

During a Downing Street press conference yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people not to cancel Christmas parties or school nativity plays. He also promised to ‘throw everything’ at the booster vaccination campaign to tackle the virus’s spread. 

But his government has now been accused of ‘mixed messaging’ after UK Health Security Agency chief executive Dr Jenny Harries recommended people reduce the extent to which they socialise this winter – in a hint that restrictions could go further. 

But he has faced pressure for restrictions to be further ramped up amid growing concern over the spread of the Omicron variant.

Dr Jenny Harries, the head of the UK Health Security Agency, said yesterday that people should avoid socialising in the run up to Christmas.

And some experts have called for face masks to be used in classrooms again.

People in Scotland have also been told to start working from home where possible to curb the spread of the virus.  

Scientists are working at breakneck speed to establish the risk it poses, but they say no concrete results are likely for the next two weeks.

Top epidemiologists at the UK Health Security Agency say they need hundreds of cases to be identified before they can make concrete assertions on its transmissibility.

Israeli news site Channel 24 suggested yesterday that Omicron may be 1.3 times more infectious than Delta, but they did not provide any data to back up the claim. The Israeli Health Ministry said it did not recognise the claim. 

It come as the Health Secretary warned today that there are ‘no guarantees’ that there won’t be a lockdown this Christmas,

In an ominous shift in tone from recent days, Sajid Javid told Good Morning Britain another festive shutdown was ‘not the plan’, but said: ‘We can’t rule out any particular measure at this point in time because we always have to look at the data and do what we need to protect people.’

He also urged people to take Covid tests before going to Christmas parties and wear facemasks while partying amid mounting fears about the so-called ‘Omicron’ variant.  

During a Downing Street press conference yesterday, the Prime Minister urged people not to cancel Christmas parties or school nativity plays. He also promised to ‘throw everything’ at the booster vaccination campaign to tackle the virus’s spread. 

But his government has now been accused of ‘mixed messaging’ after UK Health Security Agency chief executive Dr Jenny Harries recommended people reduce the extent to which they socialise this winter – in a hint that restrictions could go further. 

Fears of an extension of curbs were raised last night after it emerged that new rules on self-isolation will be enshrined in law until the end of March next year – way beyond the promised December 21 review date. Conservative MPs warned of another ‘pingdemic’ devastating the economy and education system – concerns dismissed by the Health Secretary today.

Last night, the Commons overwhelmingly approved the Government’s new Covid regulations, with just a handful of Tories rebelling. Former minister Steve Baker said ‘we are taking away the public’s right to choose what they do based on flimsy and uncertain evidence’, while Sir Christopher Chope branded the restrictions ‘oppressive, authoritarian and dictatorial’. 

Police community support officers monitor people walking through London Bridge station on the morning commute today

Police community support officers monitor people walking through London Bridge station on the morning commute today

People on the London Underground's Jubilee line this morning as they make their way to work in the capital

People on the London Underground’s Jubilee line this morning as they make their way to work in the capital

Commuters wear face masks while travelling on the Jubilee line this morning on their way to work

Commuters wear face masks while travelling on the Jubilee line this morning on their way to work

Commuters with and without face coverings board an Underground train at Stratford station in East London this morning

Commuters with and without face coverings board an Underground train at Stratford station in East London this morning

A commuter wearing a face covering waits on the platform at Stratford Underground station in East London today

A commuter wearing a face covering waits on the platform at Stratford Underground station in East London today

People walk down an escalator at London Bridge station this morning on their commute to work

People walk down an escalator at London Bridge station this morning on their commute to work

Commuters walk along the platform at London Bridge station on the Jubilee line this morning

Commuters walk along the platform at London Bridge station on the Jubilee line this morning

People wear face masks as they make their way through London Bridge station on their way to work this morning

People wear face masks as they make their way through London Bridge station on their way to work this morning

Self-isolation rules will be in law until MARCH: Tory MPs blast the Government for enshrining Omicron regulations for FOUR MONTHS despite promising to review the curbs in three weeks amid fears of return to a pingdemic 

Tory MPs have blasted the Government after it emerged new rules on self-isolation will be enshrined in law until March, sparking fears the curbs could remain in place far beyond a promised three week review.

A new restriction came into force yesterday which will require people who have been in contact with a case of the Omicron coronavirus variant to self-isolate for 10 days or risk a fine of up to £10,000.

Boris Johnson has said that rule, along with requirements to wear face masks in shops and on public transport and for returning travellers to take a PCR test on or before day two after arrival, will be reviewed before Christmas.

But the regulations underpinning the self-isolation rule are not due to expire until March 24, prompting a backlash from anti-lockdown Tories.

Conservative MPs have expressed concerns that the new rule could cause a fresh ‘pingdemic’ which could devastate the economy and education system.

But Health Secretary Sajid Javid today dismissed those concerns as he said the current number of Omicron cases is still ‘very low’ with 22 confirmed cases across the UK.

Asked if he would wear a mask if he was at a Christmas party, Mr Javid told Sky News’s Kay Burley: ‘It depends if I am walking around or sitting down. It depends if I’m eating. People just need to make a decision based on the guidance.’  

Hospitality leaders now fear another hammering to their industry this December. Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UKHospitality, told Radio 4’s Today programme that Saturday’s press conference had had a ‘chilling effect on consumer confidence’. She warned against ‘the threat of a stop-start to the economy again’ in the run up to Christmas. 

New curbs on global travel including the addition of 10 countries to the UK’s so-called ‘red list’, a return of testing rules, and quarantine hotels have also spooked travellers – and sparked a wave of cancellations of bookings at airport hotels.  

Questioned on whether he was anticipating another ‘pingdemic’, Mr Javid insisted: ‘At this point in time the case numbers are very low. That will certainly go up but the numbers are low. I hope it stays that way. I’m not worried about a ”pingdemic” type of situation.’

He later told Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘If you are invited to a Christmas party, there’s quite a few people there, maybe you want to take an LFT (lateral flow test) before you go. Go to the party, but just be cautious.’

Hospitality chiefs warned of a growing ‘sense of trepidation’ among customers that their Christmas plans might be disrupted for the second year running.

Ms Nicholls of UKHospitality told the Today programme: ‘I think you are seeing once again a return of uncertainty.

‘It’s quite clear the messaging over the weekend had a chilling effect on consumer confidence and we are starting to see a small number of cancellations. It’s a trickle at the moment, and we were very pleased that the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary yesterday did say that the measures they had put in place were sufficient and that people could feel confident about going ahead with Christmas bookings and Christmas parties, which is so essential for hospitality.

‘But we need that message to be reinforced more strongly to put an end to the uncertainty and the threat of a stop-start to the economy again in the run up to Christmas.

‘I think it’s driven largely by consumer confident. I think there’s also a sense of trepidation that their plans might be disrupted again, and so that irrespective of whether there are government controls imposed on the economy, that is having a cooling effect undoubtedly on hospitality.

‘We already saw that bookings were subdued this year compared to pre-pandemic levels. And this will clearly have a further adverse impact on our businesses.’

The Arora Group said travellers who stay at hotels at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports before catching early morning flights are axing their December bookings. They are even suspending corporate events at the four-star Fairmont in Windsor in January due to mounting uncertainty about the spread of the Covid variant, group chairman Surinder Arora said.

He told the Today programme: ‘It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Obviously we had the quarantine hotels at the beginning of this year, and then over the past few weeks as we’ve been trying to return to some kind of normality, most of the hotels have gone back to operating normal commercial hotels. 

Britain's overall infection numbers continued to fall, with 39,716 positive tests recorded over the last 24 hours. It was down 6.5 per cent on last Tuesday's figure of 42,484 and marked the fourth day in a row cases have dropped. The number of people dying with the virus fell 3.6 per cent to 159 and hospitalisations dropped 6.1 per cent to 718 on Friday

Britain’s overall infection numbers continued to fall, with 39,716 positive tests recorded over the last 24 hours. It was down 6.5 per cent on last Tuesday’s figure of 42,484 and marked the fourth day in a row cases have dropped. The number of people dying with the virus fell 3.6 per cent to 159 and hospitalisations dropped 6.1 per cent to 718 on Friday

Boosters ARE effective against Omicron: Israeli scientists claim Pfizer’s jab provides up to 90% protection against severe illness and super-strain is only 1.3x more infectious than Delta 

People who get a booster Pfizer Covid vaccine or who had their second jab within six months should be highly protected against Omicron, Israeli health chiefs claim.

Without citing any data, Health minister Nitzan Horowitz said on Tuesday that there was ‘room for optimism’ based on ‘initial indications’.

Just hours later, a report by an Israeli news channel claimed the Pfizer jab was 90 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic infection from Omicron, just slightly less than Delta.

Channel 12 also claimed the super mutant is just 1.3 times more infectious than the dominant Delta variant — much lower than initially feared.

The news comes after two new cases of Omicron variant were identified in Israel, bringing the total to four. The country closed its borders to foreigners at midnight on Sunday to stem the spread of the new strain.

Mr Horowitz told local reporters on Tuesday: ‘In the coming days we will have more accurate information about the efficacy of the vaccine against Omicron.

‘But there is already room for optimism, and there are initial indications that those who are vaccinated with a vaccine still valid or with a booster, will also be protected from this variant.’

A spokesperson for the Health Ministry last night said it was not yet in possession of the data published by Channel 12.

But the comments come after the co-founder of BioNTech, which developed the Pfizer jab, said he was confident it would hold up against Omicron.

‘And then of course last week we were hit with this new virus, so sadly that’s all changed again and the Government’s obviously introduced 10 new countries on the red list which means they need a few hotels to go on the quarantine programme.

‘Over the last few weeks, when the quarantine finished we were thankful for getting back to some kind of normality. Since this latest news, instead of getting new bookings the guys are getting a lot of cancellations.

‘We obviously have a lot of transient, a lot of leisure business, with guests flying out of the country – Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted – normally tend to spend a night with us before they travel, especially early morning flights. And now a lot of those are being cancelled.

‘And not just the leisure business, were getting quite a few bookings cancelled for meetings and events. I know, for instance, some of the larger bookings – we just recently opened our new flagship at the Fairmont in Windsor, and they actually had big large corporates who had bookings in January who are saying ”actually, we may want to push it back to further, later in the year to get some more clarity on where we’re heading”.’

It comes as Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said some NHS organisations had asked staff ‘not to mix in big groups’ in the run-up to Christmas owing to fears off staff absences.

She told Sky News this year was ‘very different’ to last year when ‘it was absolutely clear that nobody was going to a Christmas party’.

She added: ‘This year, we are in in a slightly different place – people will be taking their own decisions.

‘We know that many NHS trusts, for example, are asking their staff not to mix in big groups in the run-up to Christmas because of the potential threat to their health and what they will be available to do.

‘So, they are setting one example there.

‘I think, at the moment, without that advice for Government, I think it’s for individuals and individual organisations to think about what they will be doing in the run-up to Christmas. But it’s a really challenging and difficult one.

‘The thing we can encourage everyone to do is to go out and get their booster when it’s made available to them and to book in for that because that’s one of the best defences that we’ve got alongside wearing masks, washing your hands and also making sure you’re in ventilated rooms.’

Leaked minutes of a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies meeting held on Monday, seen by the BBC, show that scientists believe booster jabs are likely to provide protection against severe disease, hospitalisation and death from most variants in the short term.

But the notes say: ‘Any significant reduction in protection against infection could still result in a very large wave of infections.

‘This would, in turn, lead to a potentially high number of hospitalisations even with protection against severe disease being less affected.’  

It comes as easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said bookings had ‘softened’ since the Omicron strain emerged and the Government brought in costly travel rules that will require passengers to isolate until they have a negative PCR test result regardless of their vaccination status.

Mr Lundgren, writing in the Daily Mail, pointed out airline shares had dropped 13 per cent within hours of the announcement of the change. ‘Ministers must ensure their decisions are backed by data and precautions are kept in proportion to the threat,’ he said.

And Emirates airline president Tim Clark said a hit to the peak December travel season – when millions across the world travel to see friends and family – would cause ‘significant traumas’ for businesses.

Critics have claimed that Mr Johnson’s announcements are an over-reaction, given that only 22 omicron cases have so far been found in England. And early signs are that the variant is a mild form of the virus.

They say the moves are contributing to a renewed climate of fear, hitting consumer confidence – with the hospitality sector especially hit. 

Clive Black, retail analyst at Shore Capital, said: ‘This will cost the economy billions. It is a calamity. Christmas parties are off.’

Writing in the Mail, Patrick Dardis, head of Young’s pubs, claimed: ‘Within hours of the country being told that a new variant of Covid had been identified, the phones started ringing in the 300 pubs, restaurants and hotels in the Young’s chain.

‘And it wasn’t good news: the cancellation of Christmas parties, dinner bookings scrapped, weekend events in December delayed until who knows when, mini-breaks binned. This scenario is being repeated up and down the land.’

Damian Wawrzyniak, an award-winning chef who runs House of Feasts in Peterborough, told the BBC: ‘We had 20 cancellations over the weekend, mostly for Christmas parties. Hospitality has been waiting for Christmas and if it’s not what we were hoping for, there’s going to be some casualties.’



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Written by Bourbiza Mohamed

A technology enthusiast and a passionate writer in the field of information technology, cyber security, and blockchain

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