Travel news – live: UK reintroduces PCR tests and expands red list over Covid fears

·22-min read

Japan has closed its borders to all international travellers amid fears that the newly identified omicron variant of Covid-19 could be more transmissible and reduce the efficacy of vaccines.

Stricter border controls and travel restrictions are being introduced across the globe in response to the latest variant of concern.

The UK has reintroduced day two PCR tests for all inbound travellers, including those who are fully vaccinated, along with a mandatory quarantine while arrivals await their results.

In addition to the six southern African countries unexpectedly added to the UK’s red list last week - South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia - a further four nations have been given red status.

As of 4am on Sunday, UK and Irish residents returning to England from Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola must also pay to isolate in an approved quarantine hotel for 10 days.

Follow all the latest travel news below:

Read More

PCR tests and self-isolation: What are the new rules for travellers?

BA suspends Hong Kong flights as crew reportedly taken to quarantine camp

Travel expert Simon Calder answers 10 pressing questions as the red list returns

Key points

  • Japan shuts borders to travellers

  • Switzerland imposes quarantine on British arrivals

  • UK adds four more countries to red list

Monday 29 November 2021 07:56 , Helen Coffey

Good morning, and welcome to The Independent’s travel liveblog. We’ll be posting all the latest travel updates throughout the day.

What are the new rules for UK arrivals?

Monday 29 November 2021 08:01 , Simon Calder

PCR tests and self-isolation are back for travellers arriving in the UK. Weeks after international travel rules were eased to allow cheaper and faster lateral flow (antigen) tests, the government is tightening restrictions once again in response to the spread of the omicron variant of coronavirus.

At the same time, the previously dormant red list has been expanded and now applies to arrivals from 10 southern African nations.

Here are the key questions and answers to what the new rules mean for UK travellers:

How the return of PCR tests and self-isolation for travel will work

British Airways suspends flights to Hong Kong

Monday 29 November 2021 08:18 , Helen Coffey

British Airways has suspended flights to Hong Kong after a crew member tested positive for Covid-19.

The move followed reports that members of the crew were forced to isolate for three weeks at a quarantine facility built from shipping containers.

The city has one of the strictest quarantine policies in the world, with those arriving from abroad having to spend up to 21 days in government-mandated hotels.

The airline said a member of staff tested positive on arrival in the special administrative region after first testing negative before departure.

Spain bans non-vaccinated Britons

Monday 29 November 2021 08:53 , Alastair Jamieson

Only fully-vaccinated British tourists will be admitted to Spain from Wednesday as countries around the world tighten border restrictions amid concern at the new Omicron coronavirus variant.

Until now, Britons could enter Spain by showing a negative PCR test result taken up to 72 hours before arriving, but from 1 December they will also need proof of a Covid-19 vaccination.

The variant, which has also been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong, Italy, Germany and Britain, has sparked global concern and a wave of travel curbs, although epidemiologists say such restrictions may be too late to stop Omicron from circulating globally.

“The appearance of new variants … obliges an increase in restrictions,” with regard to people from the UK and Northern Ireland, said a Spanish government bulletin.

A spokeswoman for Spain’s Industry, Trade and Tourism said the move would not affect the estimated 300,000 Brits with residency in Spain.

Japan closes borders to all foreign visitors in response to new Covid variant

Monday 29 November 2021 09:11 , Stuti Mishra

Japan will close its borders to all foreigners, including business travellers and foreign students, from Tuesday in response to the spread of the omicron Covid variant, prime minister Fumio Kishida has said.

The announcement sees Japan become the second country after Israel to close its borders amid fears that Omicron may be more transmissible than previous variants of the coronavirus.

“We are taking measures with a strong sense of urgency,” Mr Kishida said, adding that his government was tightening border controls due to the “rapid spread” of omicron around the world.

Mr Kishida said Japan will go ahead with providing booster jabs to its vulnerable population, three quarters of which is already fully vaccinated.

Japan closes borders to all foreign visitors in response to Omicron Covid variant

Four more African countries added to UK red list

Monday 29 November 2021 09:53 , Lucy Thackray

The UK has added four more African countries to its red list, following the six added last Thursday.

Angola, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia were all transferred to the high-risk list effective from 4am on Sunday 28 November, meaning arrivals into the UK from those countries must pay to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days.

The changes were announced in a statement from the Department of Health, which said that two cases of the omicron coronavirus variant had been detected in the UK in Chelmsford and Nottingham.

Anyone who has returned from the four new red list countries within the past four days - even if they arrived before the Sunday deadline - must self-isolate at home and get a PCR test, said the Department.

Read the full story:

Four more African countries added to UK red list

Switzerland imposes 10-day quarantine on UK travellers

Monday 29 November 2021 10:26 , Helen Coffey

Switzerland has announced it will impose a 10-day quarantine on all arrivals from the UK in response to fears over the omicron coronavirus variant.

The country’s Federal Office of Public Health announced on Saturday that arrivals from the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Egypt and Malawi, as well as Britain, would need to present a negative Covid test and self-isolate on arrival.

“UPDATE - The UK has been added to Switzerland’s risk country list,” tweeted the Swiss embassy.

“When boarding a plane and entering Switzerland, all persons travelling from the UK must present a negative Covid-19 test and quarantine for 10 days.”

Switzerland imposes 10-day quarantine on UK travellers

Couple who escaped Covid quarantine hotel arrested by Dutch police

Monday 29 November 2021 10:53 , Sravasti Dasgupta

A couple were arrested and taken from a plane in the Netherlands after fleeing a quarantine hotel and attempting to leave the country.

The couple - a Spanish man aged 30 and a Portuguese woman, 28 - were arrested on a plane bound for Spain, said police.

Public health authority spokesperson Stefanie van Waardenburg said that one of the members of the couple had tested positive for Covid-19 and was in isolation while the other person was negative but in quarantine.

“The arrests took place in a plane that was about to take off. They were on a plane that was about to depart for Spain,” officials said.

Couple who escaped Covid quarantine hotel arrested by Dutch police

EasyJet passengers have until midnight tomorrow to cancel their holiday

Monday 29 November 2021 11:07 , Helen Coffey

EasyJet customers due to travel up to 17 December have until midnight on Tuesday (30 November) to cancel their holiday online in exchange for credit.

The holiday company introduced the policy in response to the UK government’s announcement that it is re-introducing measures such as PCR tests for all arrivals into the UK.

All easyJet holidays customers can make changes to their booking up to 28 days before departure; any customers with an easyJet holidays booking through a travel agent or third party should contact their agent to discuss their options.

Matt Callaghan, director of customer and operations at easyJet holidays, said: “We know this news might have affected some of our customers with imminent travel plans so, as ever, we want to be on their side and give even more flexibility at this time.

“That’s why we’re allowing cancellation for easyJet holidays credit or a free amend for travel agent bookings for anyone due to travel between now and mid December, allowing them to rebook when the time is right for them.

“We’re contacting our customers and trade agents with details of how to do this. Customers can, of course, keep their holiday booking, this is just about giving further reassurance to anyone who wants to make a change to their plans.”

BREAKING: Scottish and Welsh governments demand Boris Johnson increases number of self-isolation days for travellers

Monday 29 November 2021 11:17 , Adam Forrest

The Scottish and Welsh government have urged Downing Street to bring in “tougher” travel rules to tackle the spread of the omicron variant of Covid-19 across the UK.

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon said she and Welsh counterpart Mark Drakeford had written to Boris Johnson to demand a “tightening” of rules so arrivals in UK have to self-isolate for eight days.

The SNP leader and Welsh Labour leader have also requested that arrivals take a PCR test on day eight as well as day two.

Read the full story:

Scottish and Welsh governments demand ‘tougher’ travel rules to tackle Omicron

What are the new rules for travelling to Spain?

Monday 29 November 2021 11:51 , Lucy Thackray

Having widely opened to British travellers over summer 2021, Spain is once again tightening its travel restrictions in the face of the new omicron variant of Covid-19.

Spain and its islands have long been a favourite destination for Britons, with more than 18 million holidaymakers visiting this Mediterranean hotspot in a normal year. However, the coronavirus pandemic has decimated the travel industry.

So can you book a Spanish getaway this winter – and what are the current rules on travel?

Read our full explainer for everything you need to know:

Can I travel to Spain from the UK? All the rules you need to know

Morocco suspends all inbound international flights

Monday 29 November 2021 12:38 , Helen Coffey

Morocco has declared it will suspend all international inbound flights from today (29 November).

The strict measure will initially be in place for two weeks and was introduced in response to fears over the newly identified omicron coronavirus variant.

Countries worldwide are tightening border controls over concerns that the variant could potentially be more transmissible than those that have gone before and, more worryingly, could reduce the efficacy of current vaccines.

Morocco’s Foreign Ministry tweeted that the decision to halt incoming flights was to “preserve the achievements realised by Morocco in the fight against the pandemic, and to protect the health of citizens.”

Morocco suspends all inbound international flights

Industry must ‘stay positive and not overreact’, says Kuoni boss

Monday 29 November 2021 13:20 , Lucy Thackray

The travel industry should stay positive in the face of the omicron variant of Covid-19, the CEO of Der Touristik, parent company of Kuoni, has said.

Derek Jones tweeted: “I think it’s important that the travel sector stays positive and doesn’t overreact to the Omicron variant.

“We were all aware there was a high chance of new variants creating bumps on the road to recovery. Travel in a world with Covid is going to be trickier than it used to be.”

Jones’s comments come as the travel industry scrambles to refund or reorganise holidays to a number of destinations which have tightened their entry rules for UK visitors this week.

Switzerland has reimposed a 10-day quarantine on any Britons entering the country going forward, while Spain has banned unvaccinated UK travellers from 1 December.

Omicron variant ‘blow to tourism industry'

Monday 29 November 2021 13:51 , Helen Coffey

The travel bans sparked by the new omicron virus variant could have a “substantial” economic impact, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

Ana Nicholls, industry operations director at EIU, said of the variant: “Scientists still need to work out how transmissible it is, how bad the symptoms are, and whether vaccines are still effective. If the news proves to be bad, then the economic impact could be substantial.

“In terms of the travel industry, the EIU had been expecting that global international arrivals would get back to 2019 levels by late 2023 or early 2024. We do not expect the Omicron variant to materially delay this forecast, but it will delay the pace of recovery over the next few months. The travel bans are not the only problem; even where travel is still permitted, there will still be stricter rules on testing, vaccine passports and quarantines, with even more confusion over how and when these are brought into effect in different countries.

“Given how many travellers were already being deterred by the sheer paperwork involved in travelling, changing those rules again will put more people off. Further restrictions would have an even bigger impact.”

She added that, for South Africa in particular, this is “a blow to its tourism industry just as it was starting to recover”.

Can Brits still go skiing in France if flying into Switzerland?

Monday 29 November 2021 14:16 , Lucy Thackray

From 27 November 2021, Switzerland changed its travel entry rules for visitors from the UK.

While Britons had previously been allowed into the country with proof of full vaccination, from 27 November all UK visitors will have to show both a negative PCR test result, taken within the 72 hours prior to arrival, and self-isolate for 10 days.

This is because the UK is on the country’s list of nations with a “variant of concern”, following the detection of multiple cases of the omicron variant of Covid-19, and it means that winter holidays to ski resorts in the Swiss Alps will be wiped out by the mandatory quarantine.

But the rules are even trickier for those who may be flying into Switzerland but travelling on to other countries - for example, by arriving in Geneva to catch a transfer to ski resorts in the French Alps.

Read our full explainer for all the latest rules for transiting travellers:

Can I still go skiing in France if flying into Switzerland?

Australia delays border reopening in response to omicron threat

Monday 29 November 2021 14:57 , Helen Coffey

Australia has announced it will delay the planned reopening of its borders to international travellers, set for 1 December, by at least two weeks.

The decision was taken by the government after the country identified its first cases of the omicron variant of coronavirus, which is causing nations around the world to tighten entry restrictions.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had previously announced that the country would open up to foreign visitors with eligible visas – including refugees, students and those on the popular working holidaymakers visa – from 1 December.

However, after an emergency meeting between Mr Morrison and his national security committee, the decision was taken to postpone the lifting of the travel ban, based on advice from the chief health officer.

Travel expert Simon Calder to answer your questions in live event

Monday 29 November 2021 15:09 , Helen Coffey

Wondering what the future of travel holds in a world blighted by a whole new variant, alongside the stumbling blocks of booster jabs, Covid tests and post-Brexit passport red tape?

Join The Independent for a free live event with esteemed travel correspondent Simon Calder, as he takes a deep dive into what 2022 could look like for holidays.

In this virtual live event, Simon will be on-hand to look at the most pressing travel issues for Brits and answer your burning holiday questions. Taking place over Zoom on Wednesday 1 December from 6.30-7.30pm, it’s completely free to attend - just click to sign up below in advance:

Travelling without traffic lights

No 10 rejects Scotland and Wales’ call for tougher rules in face of omicron

Monday 29 November 2021 15:20 , Andy Gregory

Downing Street has rejected the calls from Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford for the self-isolation period for travellers to be extended until the result of a test on day eight after arriving in the UK.

Extending the requirements would have a “detrimental effect” on the travel industry, Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said.

“We believe that the approach we’ve taken is the proportionate one to the evidence that we currently have available about this variant,” he said.

“Introducing further isolation requirements and testing requirements would have a detrimental effect on the travel individually industry and indeed those who are planning to go travelling.”

Omicron variant could be in Northern Ireland

Monday 29 November 2021 15:48 , Helen Coffey

The new Omicron variant of Covid-19 may already be in Northern Ireland, the Stormont health minister has said.

Cases of the new strain have been confirmed in England and Scotland, while Irish Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said it is “likely” that it is already in Ireland.

Robin Swann told the Northern Ireland Assembly that, while there are currently no confirmed cases of Omicron in the region, that is “highly likely” to change in the coming days.

“The Public Health Agency (PHA) is undertaking detailed risk assessments of some returning travellers from red-listed countries and is advising on any immediate public health actions which are required to slow the introduction of this variant and to limit its spread in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“In light of the cases identified in England and Scotland, it is to be expected that there may already be cases of the variant in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Swann said all new international arrivals into Northern Ireland will have to undergo a PCR test.

“All arrivals into Northern Ireland from non-red list countries, including those who are fully vaccinated, will now be required to self-isolate for 10 days unless they receive a negative test result, with a PCR test to be undertaken on or before day two,” he said.

“We will keep all these arrangements under review and will consider what additional measures may be necessary in coming days.”

Reporting by agencies

Fire shoots from Ryanair plane as it hits flock of herons

Monday 29 November 2021 16:20 , Lucy Thackray

Flames shot from a Ryanair plane last week as it collided with a flock of herons on descent into Bologna, Italy, damaging one of its engines.

Flight FR1194 was arriving into the Italian city at around 11.30pm when the dramatic bird strike occurred, with some of the herons being sucked into the aircraft’s right engine, and others hitting the cockpit windscreen.

The pilots’ view on landing was obscured by the splattered debris caused by the collision, but they managed to land the aircraft safely, with no injuries onboard.

Read the full story:

Fire shoots from Ryanair plane as it hits flock of herons

‘This is the world we live in now’ - industry figures respond to travel turbulence

Monday 29 November 2021 16:23 , Lucy Thackray

Speaking at a filmed webinar for Travel Weekly earlier today, Jet2’s Head of Trade Alan Cross and other travel industry bosses seemed resigned to the back-and-forth nature of destinations opening and closing to UK travellers.

“There is going to be customer confidence knocked, there’s going to be additional cost, but this is the world we live in,” said Cross.

“Things are going to change and things are going to evolve, and we need to appreciate that is the world we live in now,” he continued.

“The communication is ridiculous and stupid and ill-thought-through, as always - but guess what, that’s how it happens,” agreed Caribtours CEO Paul Cleary.

Cleary called the switch to PCR testing “not welcome” but reminded viewers that many non-red-list countries are still open, saying: “Our priority is to keep people travelling, communicate and help them navigate this extra layer of hassle.”

South African president calls for UK to lift travel ban

Monday 29 November 2021 16:58 , Lucy Thackray

“We are deeply disappointed by the decision of several countries to prohibit travel,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has said in a televised address to the nation earlier today.

In a press confidence about the omicron variant, Ramaphosa said the bans were “not informed by science,” and called for the measures - from the UK, EU and US among others - to be lifted.

The president’s calls echo comments from the World Health Organisation’s Africa director, Matshidiso Moeti, on Sunday, who said: “With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity.”

The UK added South Africa, along with five other African countries, to its red list on 28 November following a surge in cases caused by the omicron variant.

Read the full story here:

Red list: What the ban on six Southern African countries means for travellers

All ‘omicron restrictions’ will be reviewed in three weeks, says Javid

Monday 29 November 2021 17:26 , Lucy Thackray

The health secretary has said that all new travel restrictions related to the omicron variant will be reviewed in three weeks’ time.

Speaking in the House of Commons earlier today, Sajid Javid confirmed that the current restrictions will be reviewed in three weeks, saying: “If this variant is no more dangerous than Delta, then we won’t keep measures in place for a day longer than necessary.”

Mr Javid confirmed that there will be a three-week review despite the fact that Parliament will be in recess the week of 17 December.

The health secretary said that, by this point, we will have more information from track and trace and authorities from abroad about the effectiveness of existing vaccines against the new variant.

The news comes as the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) announces that all Britons from age 12 and up should now be eligible to have their second dose of the vaccine - an important point for families hoping to travel in the coming months, since countries such as Spain and Poland have banned unvaccinated travellers aged 12 and over.

Read the full story:

Covid booster vaccine rolled out to all over-18s

Spain reports first case of omicron variant

Monday 29 November 2021 17:50 , Lucy Thackray

Spain has reported its first case of the omicron variant.

The traveller was a 51-year-old who had flown back to Madrid from South Africa, via Amsterdam, said a statement from Madrid’s regional government.

“The patient has light symptoms and is undergoing quarantine,” the statement added.

The microbiology unit at Madrid’s Gregorio Maranon hospital, who detected and sequenced the case, tweeted: “It was confirmed today by sequencing. We have managed to set up an ultra-fast procedure that allows us to have the result in the same day. The patient is fine.”

The country slapped a surprise travel ban on all unvaccinated travellers from the UK aged 12 and over from Sunday after several omicron cases were detected in the country.

Previously, Spain had allowed in any tourist with either a negative PCR test result or proof of vaccination.

Read the full story here:

Can I travel to Spain from the UK? All the rules you need to know

Inbound tourism firms ‘skating on thin ice'

Monday 29 November 2021 19:19 , Liam James

The number of international visitors to the UK is expected to be down 75 per cent in November and December compared with the same period in 2019, refelecting a loss of tourism revenue in the billions.

In a poll of members of tourism association UKInbound, 89 per cent said the number of international arrivals would be lower than 2019 figures.

Joss Croft, boss of UKInbound, said the inbound tourism sector was already struggling but the announcement of new Covid restrictions had sent “shockwaves” through the industry.

“With annual revenues down 93 per cent and international visitors expected to be down 75 per cent during a critical part of the year, Christmas, businesses are skating on thin ice,” he said.

US will ‘continue to assess' whether more travel restrictions needed

Monday 29 November 2021 19:52 , Liam James

The US will continue to assess whether further travel restrictions are needed in response to the omicron variant, the government said.

The White House said it would currently recommend making no changes to holiday plans.

A travel ban covering southern African countries came into effect today.

Portugal detects 13 cases of omicron variant

Monday 29 November 2021 20:25 , Liam James

Portugal has identified 13 cases of the new omicron coronavirus variant, health authorities said.

All infected people are team members of a professional football club Belenenses SAD, based in Lisbon.

One player had recently travelled to South Africa.

Couple who escaped Covid quarantine hotel arrested by Dutch police

Monday 29 November 2021 20:57 , Liam James

A couple were arrested and taken from a plane in the Netherlands after fleeing a quarantine hotel and attempting to leave the country.

The couple - a Spanish man aged 30 and a Portuguese woman, 28 - were arrested on a plane bound for Spain, said police.

Public health authority spokesperson Stefanie van Waardenburg said that one of the members of the couple had tested positive for Covid-19 and was in isolation while the other person was negative but in quarantine.

“The arrests took place in a plane that was about to take off. They were on a plane that was about to depart for Spain,” officials said.

Couple who escaped Covid quarantine hotel arrested by Dutch police

EasyJet passengers have until midnight tomorrow to cancel their holiday #ICYMI

Monday 29 November 2021 21:43 , Liam James

EasyJet customers due to travel up to 17 December have until midnight on Tuesday (30 November) to cancel their holiday online in exchange for credit.

The holiday company introduced the policy in response to the UK government’s announcement that it is re-introducing measures such as PCR tests for all arrivals into the UK.

All easyJet holidays customers can make changes to their booking up to 28 days before departure; any customers with an easyJet holidays booking through a travel agent or third party should contact their agent to discuss their options.

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