Airlines and airports are calling for the UK’s onerous and expensive testing rules to be revoked at an expected review later today.
At the end of November, testing rules were stepped up to try to tackle the Omicron coronavirus variant.
All international arrivals to the UK (except from Ireland) are required to go into self-isolation until they have a negative PCR test result.
In addition, flights from South Africa were cancelled temporarily and 11 African nations were placed on the red list – requiring hotel quarantine for 11 nights.
A week later pre-departure tests were made mandatory for all travellers to the UK.
Yet on 8 December, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, told Parliament that as Omicron became the dominant variant “there will be less need to have any kind of travel restrictions at all”.
Four weeks on, while the red list has now been emptied again, the travel restrictions remain in place – adding typically £100 to the cost of a trip and undermining consumer confidence.
Manchester Airports Group (MAG), which also owns Stansted and East Midlands airports, says its passenger numbers fell by one-third after the new restrictions were introduced.
MAG and Airlines UK, the industry body for carriers, have published new research that they commissioned which suggests that the removal of all testing requirements on international travel this month would not impact the spread of Omicron, now the dominant Covid-19 variant, in the UK.
“Pre-departure and ‘day two’ PCR testing introduced in late November and early December respectively had little to no impact on Omicron case rates in the UK, compared to if the travel policy of a single day two antigen test had stayed the same,” they say.
The research, conducted by Oxera and Edge Health, showed that domestic restrictions would be the only way to reduce the spread of Omicron in the UK, which is now the dominant variant.
The industry believes the measures cut the UK aviation’s contribution to the economy by £60m per week.
The study concludes that if the government had put in place pre-departure and day two PCR testing from the beginning of November, the peak would have been delayed by five days and been 3 per cent lower.
MAG’s chief executive, Charlie Cornish, and the chief executive of Airlines UK, Tim Alderslade, said: “The health secretary rightly acknowledged as early as 8 December that the value of any form of restrictions was significantly reduced once Omicron became dominant in the UK.
“Travel testing requirements can be removed in full without impacting overall case rates and hospitalisations in the UK.
“It should give the UK government confidence to press ahead with the immediate removal of these emergency restrictions, giving people back the freedom to travel internationally to see loved ones, explore new places and generate new business opportunities.
“Travel restrictions come at huge cost to the travel industry, and to the UK economy as a whole, placing jobs at risk and holding back the recovery of one of our most important sectors. It is therefore vital they do not remain in place a day longer than is necessary.”
At the Downing Street news conference on Tuesday, the prime minister said he would ask the Cabinet today not to extend domestic restrictions. But Boris Johnson warned: “This is a moment for the utmost caution.”
The Department for Transport (DfT) is expected to make a separate announcement on the travel measures brought in because of Omicron.
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