All international travel restrictions could end “very soon”, the health secretary has said.
In a little-noticed response to a question from a Midlands opposition MP, Sajid Javid made clear it was likely, as omicron becomes dominant, restrictions such as testing and self-isolation would no longer be needed.
Over the past two weeks the UK has revived the “red list” and hotel quarantine for arrivals from 11 African countries, introduced mandatory self-isolation for all incoming travellers until they get a negative PCR test result and brought back pre-departure tests.
Tahir Ali, who represents Birmingham Hall Green for Labour, asked Sajid Javid about the chances that nations in the Indian sub-continent could be put on the red list.
He said many of his constituents will have planned a visit during the school holidays to Kashmir, Pakistan, India or Bangladesh. He asked: “Do they go ahead with that?”
The health secretary responded: “It is just not possible to give a guarantee for any particular country that there will not potentially be any future measures.”
But he added: “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.”
While Mr Javid was answering a question about hotel quarantine, his response was emphatically about all travel restrictions. The Independent is waiting for clarification from the Department of Health and Social Care.
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 20 December 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.”
Nigel Wonnacott, head of external communications for Brittany Ferries, said: “Our hope is that the new variant proves less harmful than the dominant delta strain.
“If that is the case, and assuming community transmission is now inevitable, it would seem pointless to keep or even tighten international travel rules as we fear government may be planning.”
Charlie Cornish, chief executive of Manchester Airports Group, said: “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. “
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “This government, and successive health ministers, have a remarkable track record of keeping travel rules in place much longer than necessary, and causing immense grief to the sector.
“As omicron is already in the UK, Sajid Javid could do the right thing and remove the onerous restrictions now, as they are serving absolutely no purpose whatsoever.
“The government knows these rules are damaging confidence and putting off people from booking future trips. Removing them would help ministers improve their current standing in the court of public opinion, help the travel sector and enable consumers to see loved ones before Christmas.”