Omicron in Scotland: Pre-flight tests for international passengers will cause 'incalculable' damage to Scottish travel sector
The travel industry has reacted with anger at new Covid guidance that requires vaccinated air passengers to prove they do not have the virus before boarding flights to the UK from abroad.
Airline holiday operators in Scotland have branded the new measures, brought in to help stem the spread of the newly identified Omicron variant, “premature” and “a crushing blow” for travellers and the sector.
The Scottish and UK governments announced on Saturday that international travellers will have to provide a negative pre-departure test, taken two days before flying.
It came as Omicron cases in Scotland jumped by 18 in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 48.
A case of the new variant was recorded in NHS Lothian for the first time, while almost half of Scotland’s cases, 23, are in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde which recorded 12 more cases in 24 hours.
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, meanwhile, said people across Scotland should continue with their Christmas plans but “make them safer” amid concern about the new variant.The new travel requirements, which come into force at 4am on Tuesday, come on top of the existing guidelines, which demand a negative PCR test taken within two days of arrival on UK soil.
Early signs from travel agents suggest people have already begun altering holiday plans.
Joanne Dooey, president of the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association, warned of “incalculable” damage to an industry already on its knees as a result of the pandemic and potential chaos for people currently overseas or planning foreign trips over the festive period.
“It’s a crushing blow for the travel sector in Scotland and travel agents are truly battle-weary,” she said.
“The confidence which was returning to international travel will be stamped out following this announcement.
“The reintroduction of pre-departure tests from Tuesday means that anyone travelling back into Scotland must take a test before they leave their destination, within 48 hours of travel back into the UK, or risk being unable to travel back and quarantining on foreign soil at their own expense.
“It leaves everyone currently overseas, who has a scheduled return to the UK from 4am this Tuesday, scrambling to find testing which meets the Scottish government regulations.
“We expect that travel agents’ phones will be ringing off the hook with customers who wish to cancel or postpone their holidays, business trips and Christmas visits to families overseas.”
A spokesman for Edinburgh Airport said: “We understand the need for restrictions to allow time for scientists to find out more, but they must be proportionate and discussed in a way that is constructive and informative.
“Unfortunately they are currently presented in a reactionary manner and that is proving damaging to the recovery of the industry.
“Passenger confidence is key and the swift move to call for increased restrictions only serves to make a fragile situation even worse, with passengers already cancelling flights or simply not showing up.
“This is not sustainable and does not provide solid foundations to plan a recovery from.
“There must be more recognition of the fragility of travel, its importance to our economic recovery and the need to support it.”
Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade, has called for the new rules to be removed until research proves they are necessary.
He said: “It is premature to hit millions of passengers and industry before we see the full data.
“We don’t have the clinical evidence.
“The red list extension made complete sense – that’s what it’s there for – but we know from experience that blanket restrictions do not stop the importation of variants.
“It’s already here.”
Nigeria has also been added to the international travel red list, effective from 4am on Monday, meaning passengers returning to Scotland from the country must quarantine on arrival and stay in managed accommodation for 10 days.
Nigeria joins Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe on the list.
Transport secretary Michael Matheson said: “It is essential we take steps now to keep people safe, protect the roll-out of the booster programme and reduce the chances of unsustainable pressure being placed on the NHS over the winter.
“We have always said it may be necessary to quickly implement fresh measures to protect public health in Scotland, particularly with regards to international travel, and these restrictions are proportionate and necessary to that aim.”
He said the restrictions would not remain in place any longer than necessary.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon previously confirmed there were now several sources of the new variant in Scotland as it spread in the community, including a Steps concert at the Hydro in Glasgow on Monday November 22.
Mr Yousaf said he was not going to tell people not to invite their grandmother for Christmas dinner, but urged those meeting indoors to ask people to take lateral flow tests before arrival and ensure adequate ventilation.
He said: “You don’t have to cancel your (Christmas) plans but definitely make them safer. That’s what I’m going to do.
“Me and my constituency office are going to go to a restaurant for lunch but have all agreed that we will be doing lateral flow tests before then on the day.
“The same for Christmas dinner with my family. We’ll have my mother-in-law and some other relatives over and they’ll all be doing lateral flow devices.
“I’ll not be taking their Covid certification at the door but we’ll just be doing what we can to make our plans a bit safer.
“We’re asking people to exercise their judgment and make their Christmas plans as safe as they possibly can.”
Questioned if people should limit the numbers they invite at Christmas, he said they should take precautions but that he would not stipulate who people could have over for Christmas dinner.
“I’m not going to say to people that you shouldn’t invite their cousin, that you shouldn’t invite their granny to Christmas dinner,” he said.
“What I’m saying is, take the precautions that we’re asking you to.”
He added: “Adjust your plans to make them safer but I’m not going to sit here and tell you not to invite your granny to Christmas dinner.”
Scotland recorded one coronavirus-linked death and 2,067 new cases in the past 24 hours, according to the latest data released on Sunday afternoon.
The Scottish Government said Public Health Scotland was aware of an “ongoing processing issue with UK Government lab tests which may impact on cases and tests” in the daily figures and investigations were under way to resolve the problem.
The death toll under the daily measure, of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days, was 9,649, but the Scottish Government said registry offices were generally closed at the weekend which could impact registrations.
The daily test positivity rate was 9.6 per cent, up from 7.6 per cent the previous day.
There were 586 people in hospital with recently confirmed Covid-19 as of Saturday night and, of these, 45 were in intensive care.
So far, 4,352,104 people had received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccination, 3,958,162 had had a second, and 1,859,735 had been given a third dose or booster.
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