Travel restrictions likely to be dropped 'very soon', says Sajid Javid

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  • Sajid Javid
    British politician (born 1969)
An arrival at Heathrow yesterday - Getty
An arrival at Heathrow yesterday - Getty

England could see the end of international travel restrictions again almost as quickly as they were reinstated, the Health Secretary has suggested.

Speaking at the House of Commons last night, in response to a question from Birmingham MP Tahir Ali about a potential red list expansion, Sajid Javid said: "Very soon, in the days and weeks that lie ahead, if, as I think is likely, we see many more infections and this variant [omincron] becomes the dominant variant, there will be less need to have any kind of travel restrictions at all."

In response, Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, today commented: "The Health Secretary understands well that travel restrictions are utterly futile when we have community transmission and that’s why we’re pushing hard for these latest, emergency restrictions to be rolled back at the December 20 review."

This week saw the World Health Organisation, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, and even the Archbishop of Canterbury calling for the travel red list to be scrapped. France has already lifted its ban on flights from Southern Africa and the US has indicated it will follow.

Scroll down for the latest updates.

05:24 PM

That's a wrap

We're calling it a day. Here's a reminder of Thursday's biggest stories.

  • Sajid Javid has suggested travel restrictions could be ditched as omicron becomes the dominant variant in Britain

  • Returning travellers have been warned that postal delays could see them stuck in self-isolation over the festive period

  • While Austria is preparing to end its lockdown, Denmark is introducing new restrictions, including a curfew for hospitality businesses

  • Morrocan hoteliers believe the country will end its omicron border closure in the coming days

  • EU sources have suggested that boosters will be needed to travel freely within the bloc next summer

Have a pleasant evening one and all.

05:13 PM

Belgium adds negative test to entry requirements

Following in the wake of other EU countries, Belgium – as of today – requires arrivals from the UK to present evidence of a negative Covid test.

The full entry requirements are as follows:

  • Complete a Passenger Locator Form (PLF), unless you fall under a very limited list of exemptions listed on the Belgian government website (under the Transport and International section).

  • Do a PCR test no more than 72 hours before you arrive in Belgium, or a RAT test either the day before arrival or the day of arrival. This test must be negative.

  • Take a PCR test on day 1 after arrival and quarantine until you receive a negative result.

  • Take a further PCR test on day 7 after arrival.

05:00 PM

The story behind the Barmy Army, England's travelling band of soused cricket fans

The Barmy Army was born of a chastening tour of Australia, and an impromptu trip to a T-shirt shop, writes Chris Leadbeater.

Read the full story.

The Barmy Army: always a colourful, noisy accompaniment to England's cricket matches, home and away - Getty
The Barmy Army: always a colourful, noisy accompaniment to England's cricket matches, home and away - Getty

04:48 PM

New York's new vaccine passport rules

Yesterday we reported that New York’s decision to extend its vaccine passport scheme to cover those aged 5-11 is expected to see families snub the city and travel elsewhere.

Here's a reminder of the new rules:

  • Currently, in New York City, people 12 and older participating in public indoor activities are required to show proof of at least one dose of vaccination.

  • As of December 27, in New York City, people 12 and older participating in public indoor activities will be required to show proof they have received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or the one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

  • As of December 14, in New York City, children ages 5 to 11 will be required to have proof of one dose of a vaccine vaccination for public indoor activities.

04:39 PM

How the Left destroyed Paris

Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo has made the French capital unsafe, uglier and dirty, according to resident Anne-Elisabeth Moutet. Watch her video report below.

04:27 PM

Austria confirms that tourists can return

The Austrian tourist board has said that overseas visitors can return from December 12, when its nationwide lockdown ends.

The reopening will be staggered, however, with three regions – Burgenland and the key ski areas of Tirol and Vorarlberg – opening their hotels and restaurants from December 12, three – Salzburg, Styria and Lower Austria – from December 17, and Vienna from December 20. The reopening of venues in Upper Austria, where the lockdown will end on December 17, as not yet been confirmed.

Only "vaccinated and recovered" tourists will be permitted to enter the country, or able to visit indoor venues.

The Austrian resort of Ischgl - Getty
The Austrian resort of Ischgl - Getty

04:14 PM

'It is stark-raving mad that red list travellers can't self-isolate at home'

"The current situation is absurd," writes Annabel Fenwick Elliott. "If you're in England and test positive for Covid (even the dreaded omicron variant), you're permitted to self-isolate at home. If you arrive in England from southern Africa, clutching evidence of a negative test, you are carted off to the Holiday Inn, Heathrow, for 10 days of staring at a wall. How does that make sense?"

Read the article in full.

04:00 PM

African safari operator: 'Yet again, the carpet has been ripped from under our feet'

Commenting on the red list, Paul Gardiner, CEO The Mantis Collection, which has lodges in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, tells Telegraph Travel:

The news that South Africa and other neighbouring countries were going back on the red list was devastating. Here at Mantis, we had just begun to see the first real green shoots in two years - we have been getting lots of enquiries and new bookings, plus with regular flights from the UK starting to return it was looking really promising. There was a palpable optimism in the industry and on the ground that we were turning a corner, only to have the carpet ripped from under our feet.

We are all concerned about the new variant, and understand the necessity of travel restrictions as nations seek to limit the spread of the virus. However it appears many African countries are being penalised with immediate travel bans when data on the effects of the new variant are still being determined. Further still, reports are emerging which suggests that the variant is much wider spread than southern Africa, with samples from people in Europe with no travel links to the region.

We wait patiently, in the hopes the scientific community can shed more light, confidence can be restored with travellers and we can get off this red list and back to business before any more damage is done to the tourism industry in Africa.

03:52 PM

Quarantine hotel in chaos as omicron-infected guest goes missing

Guests are seen wrapped in towels to stay warm during the evacuation on Thursday morning -  louis_uj and Sue Cartwright
Guests are seen wrapped in towels to stay warm during the evacuation on Thursday morning - louis_uj and Sue Cartwright

More details have emerged about a chaotic quarantine hotel fire alarm evacuation, which lead to guests huddling together outside (see earlier post at 14:34).

Travellers staying at the Gatwick Sofitel have decried the experience as an “absolute fiasco”, after security were forced to “frantically hunt” a missing guest infected with the omicron variant.

Chris Styles, 57, who paid £3,700 and arrived at the hotel on Wednesday evening with his wife from Johannesburg, South Africa, said he was “horrified” at the “absolute fiasco”.

“Security staff said somebody had tested positive for the omicron variant on the first floor and they were frantically hunting for the person as they couldn't find them in their room,” he told The Telegraph.

“There was somebody who is Covid positive so it absolutely is a super spreader event, there was no social distancing outside, none in the lift, none in the hotel foyer. So how could it not be a superspreader event?”

Ewan Somerville has the full story.

03:40 PM

Omicron cases so far appear 'mostly mild', says EU medicines agency

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said that cases of omicron so far appear to be "mostly mild", but cautioned it was still investigating whether the variant could cause severe disease.

"Cases appear to be mostly mild, however we need to gather more evidence to determine whether the spectrum of disease severity caused by omicron is different [to] that of all the variants that have been circulating so far," said Marco Cavaleri, EMA's head of biological health threats and vaccines strategy.

Read more on our Covid live blog.

03:30 PM

UK confirms 249 additional cases of omicron

An additional 249 cases of the omicron variant of coronavirus have been confirmed by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) today.

This means there is now a total of 817 confirmed cases of the variant across the country.

Nations that have detected their first cases of the new variant today include Pakistan, Lebanon and Cuba. Omicron has now been found in more than 60 countries.

03:17 PM

Airport group calls for urgent travel restrictions review

Manchester Airports Group (MAG), which operates Stansted, East Midlands and Manchester Airport, has called on the Government to urgently review its new travel restrictions.

Charlie Cornish, MAG chief executive, said:

The Government has talked openly about the damage these restrictions cause to the travel sector, but neither they nor the opposition have recognised the critical need to support our industry in return.

As a business, we will always do our part to protect public health, but we also need these temporary measures to be removed when they are no longer worthwhile.

These restrictions may have slowed the arrival of Omicron, but it is now transmitting in the community, and the Government needs urgently to review whether the rapidly reducing benefit of testing justifies the damage it is causing to consumer confidence.

03:05 PM

New Zealand hands young a lifetime ban on cigarettes

New Zealand plans to ban young people from ever smoking in one of the world’s toughest restrictions on tobacco, despite earlier moves effectively “decriminalising” the use of recreational drugs.

New Zealand currently outlaws tobacco sales to under-18s and Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said on Thursday that from 2027, the age ban would increase by one year annually to keep the cohort smoke free.

"We want to make sure people never start smoking... as they age, they and future generations will never be able to legally purchase tobacco, because the truth is there is no safe age to start smoking," she said.

Read more, here.

It's unclear whether tourists will be under the same restrictions – assuming New Zealand has reopened by 2027.

02:53 PM

Day 2 PCR tests for travel: The quickest, easiest and cheapest options

With concerns over festive test delays mounting, we run through the best options for Day 2 PCR tests, including express options that could release you from quarantine within four hours.

Read the full guide.

02:34 PM

Fire alarm at quarantine hotel sparks crowds and chaos

An early morning fire alarm sparked chaos at a Gatwick Airport quarantine hotel today, with isolating guests fleeing their rooms and ending up packed together in a carpark.

Images showed guests who had been quarantining at the Gatwick Sofitel standing in crowds outside the hotel.

Busi Mudimu, who had recently arrived from red-listed South Africa, told the Evening Standard that guests had been told to remain in their rooms but that many rushed outside when the alarm persisted.

She said: “When I went outside, people were everywhere. All the social distancing rules went out the window. Some people didn’t have shoes or clothes. The whole thing was ridiculous… no one was even there to make sure we evacuated the building safely.”

Some guests took to Twitter to complain, including Chris Styles, who posted a video of the situation and described it as "total chaos".

02:17 PM

In pictures: Dubai's new floating palace

Behold, the lavish new floating hotel that will soon adorn Dubai's shoreline.

The Kempinski Floating Palace will have 12 overwater villas  - Kempinski
The Kempinski Floating Palace will have 12 overwater villas - Kempinski

The Kempinski Floating Palace, scheduled to open in 2023, will consist of 156 rooms and suites, in addition to 12 over-water villas that can be anchored to different points of the five-star structure, as well as an array of restaurants, pools, a spa and its own helipad.

Centred around a glass pyramid offshore Dubai's Jumeirah Beach Road, the complex is yacht accessible, with 16 vessel parking places, and also includes a large banquet area.

Mr. Mohamed El Bahrawy, CEO and founder of Seagate Shipyard, which has partnerd on the project, states: "It is thrilling to see, that for the first time a brand of the calibre of Kempinski will manage a floating hotel of such magnitude, and we are confident that our hotel will soon be one of the top tourist attractions in Dubai. It will undoubtedly occupy an iconic position among floating hotels all over the world."

A CGI image of one of the hotel's plush vilas 
A CGI image of one of the hotel's plush vilas

02:06 PM

'Plan B can be just as good as Plan A when it comes to travel'

When your holiday falls victim to Covid restrictions, know that every "Plan B" has a silver lining, writes Anna Hart.

This week, I thought I’d be writing you a cheery postcode from Zurich, but if the pandemic has taught travellers anything, it is that what we think we will be doing, and what we find ourselves doing, are rarely the same thing. I once foolishly believed that depleted bank balances, airline tickets and booking references were proof that a thing would happen… no more! I have seen how the gods, and the Government, laugh in the face of our booking references.

Amid the feverish flurry of travel restrictions last week, Switzerland placed a quarantine rule on incoming UK travellers, and although swiftly lifted, the fuss forced the cancellation of my two-week work project in Switzerland. To add spice to the fondue, I’d rented out my flat in Margate to a friend for December, in the blissful expectation that I would be on a holiday to Tanzania (tick!), then working in Switzerland (cancelled), then off for a family Christmas in California (TBC). Who needs a home, I thought, when you have holidays?

Me, as it turns out. So this week I found myself urgently in need of a Plan B. And I heard plenty of other people’s Christmas plans disintegrating around me, from office parties to long-awaited family visits to South Africa. One friend nicknamed it a “sadvent calendar,” a December countdown of cancelled plans, but I refuse to play this game.

Read on about Anna Hart's Plan B, here.

01:50 PM

No red list changes expected today

Under normal procedure, we would be expecting a red list update today.

However, the arrival of omicron has meant the abandonment of the usual three-week timeline, with the 11 countries on the list added with little warning.

The countries currently on the list are: South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Lesotho, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Nigeria.

01:33 PM

Why it's time Britons discovered the anti-Hamptons that bohemian Americans love

The Catskills has become the weekend break of choice for creative, affluent New Yorkers, drawn to its hip hotels and bustling small towns. Tyler Wetherall reports.

A new wave of Catskills residents have brought artistic energy to the region
A new wave of Catskills residents have brought artistic energy to the region

01:31 PM

Booster needed to travel freely next summer, say EU sources

Reuters reports that European Union countries are expected to agree to limit to nine months, from the completion of the primary vaccine doses, the duration of Covid certificates for travel. If applied, EU citizens wanting to travel freely next summer across the bloc would need a booster shot.

EU sources told the news agency that governments were expected to reach a consensus on the nine-month limit as early as Friday. France had previously set a seven-month limit, as had Cyprus, whereas in Greece the passes expire after six months for older people.

01:16 PM

London bar named the world's best (again)

The bar at the Connaught hotel in London has been named the best in the world for the second year running. In the annual list of the World's 50 Best Bars it was described as "the quintessential London hotel bar" but with "a distinct Italian accent".

Read our full review of the hotel, here.

01:06 PM

Travel bosses vow to ignore Plan B advice

Leading travel CEOs have come out swinging after last night's Plan B announcement.

Martin Johnson, co-founder of Latin Routes and Polar Routes, and vice chair of the Latin America Travel Association, said he would defy the Government's work from home guidance, tweeting: “Literally had enough now, the world needs to move on.”

His stance was endorsed by other industry figures, including Sunvil managing director Chris Wright, who replied: “I have said exactly the same.”

01:02 PM

Telegraph view: End this dismal cycle of restrictions

Here's The Telegraph's measured take on the last 24 hours:

For months, the Government had managed to hold the line against irrational demands for renewed restrictions. It was possible to entertain the hope that the UK had begun to learn to live with Covid, thanks to the vaccines. Now, the fragile freedom the country has enjoyed since July has been shattered. In a little over a fortnight since the omicron variant emerged, the Government has reimposed travel restrictions and reintroduced mask mandates. Earlier this week, travel testing was tightened up yet again. Now, with a grim air of inevitability, Mr Johnson has announced the roll-out of Plan B of the Covid winter plan.

Read the piece in full.

12:57 PM

New testing rules hitting demand, says travel firm

Holiday group On the Beach has become the latest travel firm to reveal a hit to demand due to new testing rules.

Chief executive Simon Cooper told the PA news agency he had seen a "big tail-off" in terms of both bookings and searches for holidays in recent weeks.

It comes after Tui and easyJet also reported a slowdown in bookings for holidays.

Mr Cooper said: "Since omicron hit, we have seen a big tail-off in terms of booking appetite and search appetite. There's no doubt that tests dampen people's appetite to travel. It adds extra cost and jeopardy."

12:46 PM

Moroccan hotels hope for rapid reopening

While the UK has tightened travel restrictions, other countries – such as Morocco – have shut their borders entirely, a move that has exasperated hoteliers ahead of the peak winter sun season.

Hector de Galard, Senior Advisor to El Fenn, a luxury hotel in Marrakech, told Telegraph Travel:

The recent announcement by the Moroccan Government to close the borders caught us all by surprise so those who had booked El Fenn for December and the festive season felt the need to cancel. Fortunately, it’s a fast-changing world and while earlier this week we expected only bad news, things are looking more rosy. We have heard through the grapevine that the Government is likely to re-open the borders in a few days’ time and flights are to start once more, though we wait to hear of the exact date and which countries are to be welcomed.

Nevertheless, the closing of the borders couldn’t have come at a worse time as it’s such an important period for the hotel industry in Morocco, with Christmas and New Year’s Eve generating the highest occupancy levels and the greatest revenue of the year. It’s another major loss for hotels and the hospitality industry in Marrakech – the third time in the toughest two years.

12:39 PM

Kenya could close borders to unvaccinated travellers

The Foreign Office (FCO) has updated its travel advice for Kenya. "From 21 December, you may be required to show proof of vaccination when arriving in and departing Kenya," it says.

The African country last month announced plans to close many public spaces to unvaccinated citizens, despite just 12 per cent of the country having received even a single jab.

The edict – due to come into force on December 21, hence the FCO warning – means unvaccinated Kenyans from the age of 15 will be cut off from a range of government services as well as public transport, schools, hotels, bars, restaurants or national parks.

12:28 PM

How to avoid quarantine hotel hell using the transit loophole

Why spend £2,350 to be a prisoner in your own country when you can enjoy 10 days in Mexico for half the price, writes Abigail Butcher.

As more and more horror stories emerge from travellers confined to “jail-like” conditions in quarantine hotels after returning to the UK from countries in southern Africa, one Briton currently living in Cape Town says he plans to go elsewhere for his quarantine.

For less than the price of a quarantine hotel you can bag a 10-day all-inclusive stay in Mexico - Getty 
For less than the price of a quarantine hotel you can bag a 10-day all-inclusive stay in Mexico - Getty

Richard Barber, 43, from London, has spent the past two months in South Africa, where he works remotely in finance. He is planning to return home at the end of this month, and if South Africa is still on the UK red list, Richard intends to fly somewhere else for a 10-day working holiday (with a helping of winter sun thrown in) and wait until he’s legally allowed to return to London without quarantine.

“I’m coming home sometime around the end of December and if I still have to do 10 days in a quarantine hotel, I will instead go to work from somewhere like Kenya or Mexico – there are several places where I can fly to from here,” says Richard. “Whatever I’m doing, I’m sure as hell not going to spend £2,350 to be a prisoner in my own country.”

Read the full story.

12:23 PM

The cost of a quarantine hotel stay

With mounting criticism of the UK's hotel quarantine policy as the omicron variant spreads, here's a breakdown of the costs of a stay.

How much you’ll need to pay

  • 1 adult in 1 room for 10 days (11 nights): £2,285

  • Additional rate for 1 adult (or child over 11): £1,430

  • Additional rate for a child aged 5 to 11: £325

You do not have to pay for children under 5.

The price includes

  • Transport to and from your quarantine hotel

  • Accommodation, food and drink

  • Any Covid tests you need to take while you quarantine

12:13 PM

Travellers face week-long waits for PCR test results over Christmas

One of Britain’s biggest travel testing companies has warned of delays to PCR test deliveries over Christmas, potentially throwing festive travel plans into disarray.

Qured announced that standard delivery Day 2 PCR tests with an arrival date between December 20 and January 3 are “unavailable due to postal closures.” This could impact returning travellers, given that they must now self-isolate until receiving a negative result. Meanwhile, a Day 2 & Day 8 test package, for unvaccinated travellers, will not be possible if they arrive between December 14 and January 3.

The company also warned that the turnaround of returned swabs will be much slower. In a website statement, Qured said: “The last day to post your PCR samples for arrival at the lab before Christmas is December 22. If your travel plans allow it, we urge you to post your sample earlier to avoid potential Royal Mail delays or to use our Expedited Courier service if you're within the M25.”

The company added that “any tests posted after December 22 are extremely unlikely to be delivered until December 29”.

The Covid testing market has come under fire in recent days with former Competition and Markets Authority chairman, Lord Tyrie, branding it a “rip-off jungle”. He told the BBC: "It appears that some of the worst practices: misleading online advertisements; overpricing; unacceptably poor service among them, are still widespread."

12:10 PM

Travel tests for teenagers dampening holiday demand, suggests survey

More than half of parents (53 per cent) with teenagers say the cost of tests for their children is preventing them from booking last-minute holidays, a survey from insurance provider Battleface has found.

All travellers aged 12 years and over must take a PCR or lateral flow test before they travel to England from abroad plis a PCR test on, or before, Day 2 of their arrival.

Many other countries are also requiring travellers to provide proof of a negative Covid test taken within 48 hours before arrival – or in the case of France – 24 hours before arrival for those who are not fully vaccinated. In addition, self-administered tests are not accepted.

European destinations including France, Italy and Spain consider full vaccination status to be vaccinated with both doses of a two-dose vaccine or one dose of a one-dose vaccine at least 14 days prior to arrival.

Battleface's data also showed that almost half (47 per cent) of UK adults with teenage children are unaware of specific requirements for their children, if they’re travelling with fully vaccinated parents/guardians.

Katie Crowe, Director of Communications, Battleface said:

The cost and complications of testing for holidays with teenagers this festive season is nothing short of a headache. Parents need to be prepared for the costs and logistics of testing before departure, whilst away and on return to the UK.

While we all understand that new variants will make for a bumpy ride out of recovery, it is damaging that international governments haven’t managed to work together to align their COVID-19 regulations. Not only does every country have different travel restrictions and entry requirements, Spain is not even allowing those over 12 who are not fully vaccinated to enter.

In addition, France and Italy, require non-fully vaccinated travellers to take tests every 24 or 48 hours in order to enter public spaces.

11:54 AM

Red list reminder

Here are the 11 countries on the UK travel red list, from which arrivals must spend 10 days in a quarantine hotel.

  1. South Africa

  2. Botswana

  3. Namibia

  4. Zimbabwe

  5. Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)

  6. Lesotho

  7. Angola

  8. Mozambique

  9. Malawi

  10. Zambia

  11. Nigeria

11:50 AM

Hong Kong mandates Covid tracing app for adults under 65 in bars and restaurants

From today, all adults under the age of 65 must use the city government's Covid app, scanning QR codes to log their presence at 18 different types of premises – including restaurants, cinemas and gyms.

Children and the elderly were exempted at the last minute after a public backlash against the proposal to make the app mandatory for all.

The "Leave Home Safe" app has been in use since November 2020, but until today it was not mandatory and Hong Kongers could still fill out paper slips when entering venues.

The move is the latest expansion of coronavirus tracing technology in the city at a time of heightened privacy concerns.

No local infections have been recorded in months, but the city is further ramping up virus measures and aligning with China's zero-Covid strategy as it seeks quarantine-free travel with the mainland.

11:45 AM

Travel restrictions 'make no sense' in face of omicron, says travel expert

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, has taken to Twitter to welcome Health Secretary Sajid Javid's comments on travel restrictions.

11:38 AM

'Roll back emergency travel restrictions', says airline chief

The travel industry has welcomed comments made by the Health Secretary Sajid Javid last night on the potential ending of travel restrictions if omicron becomes dominant in the UK.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said:

Omicron will soon be the dominant variant in the UK and we know there are many cases now independent of international travel.

The Health Secretary understands well that travel restrictions are utterly futile when we have community transmission and that’s why we’re pushing hard for these latest, emergency restrictions to be rolled back at the December 20 review.

No other major economy has gone down the road of pre-departure and on-arrival tests – they are damaging our competitiveness and not providing any health advantage at all when the variant is this dominant within the UK.

11:29 AM

Inside the new Covid quarantine evacuation service

A Covid positive traveller being evacuated from Uganda
A Covid positive traveller being evacuated from Uganda

For many travellers during the pandemic, a lingering low-level anxiety has accompanied any trip abroad. What happens if you test positive for Covid while you are away? And with the omicron variant looking to sweep across the globe, that fearful little voice may be becoming louder.

New variant panic has led to an increasing number of countries introducing testing on arrival, or requiring negative swabs before you head home, which means more holidaymakers are likely to get caught out. The upshot of testing positive varies dramatically depending on your destination. In Thailand, for example, any traveller who is found to have Covid is taken straight to hospital to quarantine, even if asymptomatic. Elsewhere, a dream holiday could end in being driven to an abandoned naval base for 10 days of ‘dirty showers’ and ‘rubber-topped mattresses’. If you’re lucky, some countries might allow you to isolate in your hotel room – at great expense, of course.

Enter Covac Global, a pandemic-born members’ club which promises to rescue Covid-positive clients from anywhere in the world and deliver them straight to their homes, using a mix of air ambulances and private vehicles.

Founder and CEO Ross Thompson, whose background is in global crisis response, says: “The idea was to create a membership programme where if you have Covid we can bring you home.”

Read the full story.

11:14 AM

Omicron dominance could see end of travel restrictions: Sajid Javid's comments in full

Health Sajid Javid has said that travel restrictions could be loosened in the "likely" event that omicron becomes the UK's dominant Covid strain.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Javid said the rules had been introduced to “buy time” and slow the spread of the new variant but that they could soon be scrapped.

Answering a question from MP Tahir Ali about potential red list expansion, he said:

When it comes to travel measures such as the recent announcements in respect of the red list, I think the honourable gentleman will understand why the government took that action to buy time and to try to slow any incursion of this new variant.

I am afraid it is just not possible to give a guarantee for any particular country that there will not potentially be any future measures.

As he has raised the important issue of travel measures, one thing I would say is that very soon, in the days and weeks that lie ahead, if, as I think is likely, we see many more infections and this variant becomes the dominant variant, there will be less need to have any kind of travel restrictions at all.

11:01 AM

Legal action launched over 'false imprisonment' at quarantine hotels

An international law firm is launching a judicial review into the UK's hotel quarantine policy, which has once again been made mandatory for all arrivals from "high-risk" countries.

Tom Goodhead, managing partner of PGMBM, argues that it should be unlawful for fully vaccinated travellers who have tested negative for the virus to be "detained in this way" when entering Britain from one of the 11 African countries now on the red list.

PGMBM will seek permission at the High Court later today.

10:43 AM

NHS Covid pass back after hours offline

To the relief of travellers this morning, the NHS Covid pass app is back up and running.

The service, which holds vaccination records, suffered an hours-long outage last night while the Prime Minister was announcing new domestic vaccine passport measures.

A reminder to always print out copies of your vaccine certificates, negative test results and passenger locator forms (where applicable) in case of a technical hitch.

10:27 AM

Eritrea yet to begin vaccinating its population against Covid

Eritrea has yet to start vaccinating its population against Covid, the head of the African Centres for Disease Control said today.

"Eritrea is the only country now that has not joined the family of 55 member states (of the African Union) that are moving forward with vaccination, but we are not giving up," John Nkengasong told an online media briefing.

He added that African governments will have no choice but to start imposing vaccine mandates if citizens refuse to get vaccinated.

10:21 AM

Recap: Government 'will look at red list' now omicron has spread

In case you missed it, during last night's Covid press conference Boris Johnson answered a question from the public on hotel quarantine.

Rachel, in Essex, asked: Why do fully vaccinated travellers face hotel quarantine?

Why can't fully vaccinated travellers stuck in red list countries self-isolate at home when they return, instead of a hotel? Quarantine hotels are too expensive especially as this was implemented at short notice, not giving travellers a chance to get home.

The Prime Minister said this was a "very fair challenge" given that omicron is seeded across the world and revealed that the Government will look at the red travel list and the way "we do it".

However, he added: “It’s been very important in the immediate period, the immediate response to omicron, to have very tough border measures to slow the arrival of the variant in this country."

10:07 AM

Denmark orders restaurants to close early and bans large concerts

Denmark's government has ordered nightclubs, bars and restaurants to close at midnight in an attempt to counter an uptick in Covid cases.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen also banned concerts where audiences have more than 50 people standing and introduced a requirement for people in restaurants to wear face masks when they are not seated.

The measures will apply from Friday and are set to last for four weeks.

Speaking of the omicron variant, Mr Frederiksen said that it is "expected that this will mean more infected, more sick and thus potentially more hospitalised patients."

09:58 AM

Cuba detects first omicron case

Cuba has confirmed its first case of the omicron variant in a traveller from Mozambique, Cuban state media agency ACN reported.

The Caribbean island nation, whose economy has increasingly relied on tourism in recent years, eased entry requirements in mid-November after a successful vaccine rollout with domestically developed jabs.

The omicron variant has now been found in around 60 countries across the world.

09:46 AM

What happens if you test positive for Covid abroad?

Even fully vaccinated travellers now have to take a Covid test before arriving in the UK. So, what happens if your test returns a positive result?

Here’s what to do if you catch coronavirus on holiday, whether in the UK or abroad.

09:30 AM

Europe's Covid passports explained

In Germany you'll need a pass for pretty much everything, from restaurants and salons to sports venues, hotels and Christmas markets  - NurPhoto
In Germany you'll need a pass for pretty much everything, from restaurants and salons to sports venues, hotels and Christmas markets - NurPhoto

As the Government brings in vaccine passports for large events, as reminder of the latest rules for European green passes in France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Spain, Greece and Germany – and how to get one.

Read the full story.

09:26 AM

Everything you need to know about domestic Covid passports

While international holidays were not impacted by last night's Plan B announcement, your domestic travel might look a little different if it includes attending any large events.

The Government is pressing ahead with mandatory coronavirus vaccine passports for some events in England. From Wednesday December 15, the NHS Covid Pass on the NHS App will become mandatory for entry into nightclubs and other settings where large crowds gather.

These include unseated indoor events with 500 or more attendees, unseated outdoor events with 4,000 or more attendees and any event with 10,000 or more attendees.

The smartphone passes, which show whether a person has had a vaccine or a recent negative test, have already been used for entry into some large events and in overseas travel since vaccines have been widely available.

Matthew Field has the answers to all your questions here.

09:08 AM

Slovakia eases lockdown – but only for vaccinated

Slovakia will loosen some lockdown restrictions for vaccinated citizens, health minister Vladimir Lengvarsky has announced.

Non-essential shops and some services for those vaccinated against Covid will reopen on Friday. However, unvaccinated citizens will remain in lockdown until January 9.

It is hoped that the two-tier restrictions will act as an incentive for more people to get the jab. Slovakia remains one of Europe's least-vaccinated countries, with only 46.5 per cent of its 5.5 million population double-jabbed.

09:04 AM

Travellers cancel December trips over testing fears

A raft of travellers have cancelled December holidays due to the increased testing restrictions.

Gillian Rodgers, 61, a retired civil servant from Durham, told the i newspaper that she postponed a trip to Gran Canaria next week due to the new Day 2 PCR rule, which requires travellers to quarantine until they receive a negative result, meaning she could end up isolating on Christmas Day.

“It just felt like the right thing to do given the increased risk and proximity to Christmas,” she said.

08:57 AM

Omicron Covid cases could soon exceed one million a day, says Sajid Javid

Omicron cases could exceed one million a day by the end of this month, on the current trajectory, the Health Secretary has said.

Sajid Javid said the actual number of infections of the variant already in this country was likely to be close to 10,000 - a figure 20 times higher than that which has been confirmed.

He told the Commons: "Although there are only 568 confirmed Omicron cases in the UK we know that the actual number of infections will be significantly higher.

The news follows comments from head of the WHO, Dr Tedros, who said travel bans are unlikely to be effective to halt omicron's spread now it has been widely identified.

"I'm also pleased that France and Switzerland have lifted their travel bans on Southern African countries and I urge other countries to follow their lead to France and Switzerland," he said. "Merci beaucoup."

08:41 AM

What happened yesterday?

A recap of the top stories.

  • England to move to Plan B – but no changes to international travel

  • Airlines slam omicron restrictions

  • Vaccine passports for children could see tourists desert New York

  • Covid test market branded 'a rip-off jungle' by former competition regulator chair

Now, on with the latest travel news.

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