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There was fury among travellers today after Germany’s health minister announced that Britons will have to go into a two-week quarantine on arrival, even if they are fully vaccinated.   

The state’s health authority, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), announced that Britain had been added to its list of Covid high-risk countries as a ‘virus variant area’. 

From midnight on Sunday – or 11pm UK time – carriers such as airlines are banned from transporting British tourists to Germany 

Only German citizens and residents, their partners and children, and transit passengers will be allowed to travel to the country from the UK. 

Anyone entering Germany from Britain will need a negative PCR test and is required to quarantine for 14 days, regardless of vaccination status.

France has imposed similar restrictions, which came into force at 11pm on Friday. 

Taking to Twitter to express their frustration, scores of Britons with family in Germany expressed their anger. 

One wrote: ‘Second year running Germany has banned travellers from Britain meaning our Christmas / New Year plans are now ruined!’ 

Another added: ‘Well that’s my New Years plans out the window. The trials and tribulations of intercontinental living.’

A third, writing before the move was formally announced, said: ‘Waking up to news about Germany possibly restricting travel from the UK when I’m supposed to be flying home on Sunday (after 16 months of not seeing family and friends) is not the best start to the day.’ 

Germany last night said it would force all Britons entering the country to quarantine for two weeks, even if they are fully vaccinated, in a bid to stop the spread of the Omicron variant. Above: Travellers at Berlin airport yesterday

Germany last night said it would force all Britons entering the country to quarantine for two weeks, even if they are fully vaccinated, in a bid to stop the spread of the Omicron variant. Above: Travellers at Berlin airport yesterday

The state's health authority (pictured, German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach) announced late today that Britain had been added to its list of Covid high-risk countries as a 'virus variant area'

The state’s health authority (pictured, German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach) announced late today that Britain had been added to its list of Covid high-risk countries as a ‘virus variant area’

The RKI announced the new rules as it classified the UK as a virus variant area of concern, the highest Covid risk level, and said the restrictions could last until at least January 3. 

The UK is now considered a ‘variant zone’ of Covid-19, a category reserved for nations where the risk is the highest.

‘The United Kingdom and Northern Ireland are very strongly affected by Covid-19. A new variant, very contagious, has also been found,’ the Germany Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on its website.

More than 65,000 new Covid cases were confirmed in London over the past seven days, with 26,418 cases reported in the last 24 hours – the highest number since the start of the pandemic.

That is why these territories, including the Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands, have been placed for 14 days in the category of areas at very high risk, it said. 

 

Taking to Twitter to express their frustration, scores of Britons with family in Germany expressed their anger

Taking to Twitter to express their frustration, scores of Britons with family in Germany expressed their anger

Berlin’s new health minister Karl Lauterbach has already sounded the alarm in the face of the risk of a new wave that could soon sweep over the country, hard hit since the beginning of the autumn.

‘The more we can push back… the better,’ he said on Saturday.

Several other European countries, including France, have already taken steps to limit the entry of travellers from the United Kingdom. 

 

It comes amid mounting concerns over the soaring rates of Covid-19 driven by the spread of Omicron variant in the UK.  

Germany has reimposed its own health restrictions following high case numbers due to Omicron, barring unvaccinated individuals from restaurants and non-essential commerce. 

A rush of passengers travelling to France to beat the country’s ban on UK tourists led to a knock-on effect on freight traffic, resulting in long queues of lorries.

There were lengthy tailbacks on the M20 motorway in Kent heading to Dover and at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel on Saturday.

It followed queues at the Port of Dover a day earlier after many people brought their Christmas travel plans forward to avoid the new rules.

A spokeswoman for Eurotunnel said: ‘Congestion in Dover overnight and on the A20 into Dover this morning has led to a transfer of freight traffic to Eurotunnel.’

All lanes of approach towards the port of Dover were packed with vehicles last night as hopeful travellers made last ditch attempts to head to France before the midnight ban on tourists was enforced

All lanes of approach towards the port of Dover were packed with vehicles last night as hopeful travellers made last ditch attempts to head to France before the midnight ban on tourists was enforced

Passengers packed into Euston Station yesterday in a mass exodus in a bid to escape the capital before Christmas - with RAC warning 27million journeys will be made on Britain's road over the weekend

Passengers packed into Euston Station yesterday in a mass exodus in a bid to escape the capital before Christmas – with RAC warning 27million journeys will be made on Britain’s road over the weekend

Passengers queue to board Eurostar trains at St. Pancras International station, London, on Friday, ahead of increased restrictions for travellers to France from Britain

Passengers queue to board Eurostar trains at St. Pancras International station, London, on Friday, ahead of increased restrictions for travellers to France from Britain

Omicron Covid cases in South African ground zero ‘peaked on 6 December’

Omicron cases in the South African ground zero peaked on December 6 , experts believe, but are still rising in the rest of the country.

Three weeks after the start of the wave, cases of the variant reached their highest level in Gauteng according to expert Louis Rossouw, which was first to feel the full force of the variant. 

The rapid rise and fall of Omicron cases in Gauteng has mystified experts, and Covid cases in other areas of South Africa are now rising rapidly.  

Some experts also point to data from South Africa which shows that far fewer people are hospitalised by Omicron leading to speculation that it could cause milder symptoms.  

Three weeks after the start of the wave, cases of the variant reached their highest level in Gauteng, which was first to feel the full force of the variant. This is according to Louis Rossouw, who has written a scientific paper on the Omicron variant in the country

Three weeks after the start of the wave, cases of the variant reached their highest level in Gauteng, which was first to feel the full force of the variant. This is according to Louis Rossouw, who has written a scientific paper on the Omicron variant in the country

However pessimistic experts counter that South Africa’s high levels of immunity from infection and young population could be responsible for the lower hospitalisation numbers.   

A total of 68,181 tests were conducted in the last 24hrs, according to The National Institute For Communicable Diseases Of South Africa (NICD).

It said there were 20,713 new cases, representing a 30.4 per cent positivity rate and an increase of 20% on last week. 

Charts tracking the rate of Omicron across South Africa show cases are falling in Gauteng, while rising elsewhere.

After reaching a peak of 10,100 per day on December 7 on a seven-day moving average, cases are now around 8,000 per day, according to Louis Rossouw, who has written a scientific paper on the Omicron variant in the country.

A further 35 Covid-19 related deaths have been reported in South Africa, bringing the total fatalities to 90,297.

‘There is currently slow-moving traffic on the approach to J11A (Eurotunnel exit) on M20, but freight is flowing through the tunnel at normal rates and so this will disappear in the coming hours.’

She said all passengers who wanted to get to France through the Channel Tunnel before the deadline had been able to do so.

Under the new rules brought in due to the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, UK citizens now need a ‘compelling reason’ to enter France, with trips for tourism or business banned.

Hauliers, transport workers and French nationals are exempt from the new rules. 

The move comes after Britain recorded another 90,418 Covid cases and SAGE advisers told the government that mixing of households should be banned ‘very soon’ to stop the Omicron variant driving a wave of hospitalisations.

The number of coronavirus cases has risen by 36,345, or 67 per cent, in seven days – while experts call for a two-week ban on household mixing to prevent a further spiralling in positive test results.

However the number was lower than yesterday’s 93.045 cases, and many observers had been expecting the total to be well into six figures after days of warnings that the Omicron variant will drive cases up rapidly.

Deaths have fallen by five per cent on last week, to 125 from last Saturday’s 132 – but risen by 21 on yesterday’s UK total.

Government advisors are understood to be urging ministers to take action ‘immediately’ to stop a significant wave of hospitalisations and warn that it willl be at least a week before the effect of any action taken now is seen.

The aim of a ‘circuit breaker’ ban on household mixing would be to stop hospitalisations overwhelming the NHS until booster jabs can be given to all adults, which the government hopes to achieve in January.

Some critics of the SAGE message point to data from South Africa which shows that far fewer people are hospitalised by Omicron leading to speculation that it could cause milder symptoms.

They also say that the Omicron wave in the ‘ground-zero’ Gauteng region where the variant was first detected has peaked much more rapidly than previous waves. After rising rapidly for three weeks cases in Gauteng are now falling.

SAGE advisers counter that South Africa’s high levels of immunity from infection and young population could be responsible for the lower hospitalisation numbers.

Stephen Reicher, professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews and a member of Sage, said it was clear that Plan B measures alone would not be enough to stop the spiralling numbers of Omicron cases in the Uk and that the Government needs to ‘act now’.

He added: ‘Now, you could have it after Christmas, the problem is after Christmas it’s probably too late, it’s probably by then we will have had a huge surge of infections with all the impact upon society.’

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Tests for travellers before they arrive in England are to be scrapped, Boris Johnson has announced, with travel industry bosses already reporting a ‘massive surge’ in bookings. 

In what marks a huge boost for holidaymakers, the Prime Minister said in a Commons statement the Omicron variant is now so prevalent in the country that the measure is having limited impact on the spread of the disease.

He told MPs the requirement for travellers to self-isolate on arrival until they receive a negative PCR test is also being dropped. 

Instead, the rules will revert to the system in place in October, with travellers required to take a lateral flow test no later than the end of day two after their arrival.

The measures were originally introduced following the identification of the fast-spreading Omicron variant in South Africa last November.

Families are already booking half-term breaks since the end of PCRs means around a £300 saving for a family of four, 

Travel firms welcomed the news, with the boss of airline Jet2, Steve Heapy, revealing there had already been a ‘massive surge’ in web traffic and bookings following Mr Johnson’s announcement.

Overseas tests and day 2 PCR tests added hundreds of pounds to the cost of foreign breaks for families, discouraging many from embarking on trips abroad. 

Covid tests for travellers arriving in England are to be scrapped, Boris Johnson has announced, in a major boost for the beleaguered travel industry

Covid tests for travellers arriving in England are to be scrapped, Boris Johnson has announced, in a major boost for the beleaguered travel industry

In what marks a huge boost for holidaymakers, the Prime Minister said in a Commons statement the Omicron variant is now so prevalent in the country that the measure is having limited impact on the spread of the disease

In what marks a huge boost for holidaymakers, the Prime Minister said in a Commons statement the Omicron variant is now so prevalent in the country that the measure is having limited impact on the spread of the disease

Mr Johnson told the House: ‘When the Omicron variant was first identified, we rightly introduced travel restrictions to slow its arrival in our country.

Testing regime that has been scrapped as the Omicron threat dwindles:

Travelling home from another country has been a nightmare for may due to new restrictions amid Omicron.

The rules for the fully vaccinated, which will change from 4am on Friday, are…

Before travel: 

  • Take a test in the 2 days before travel to England
  • Book a PCR test to be taken after you arrive in England
  • Complete a passenger locator form

On arrival:

  • Take a PCR test
  • Take the test any time after arrival and before the end of day 2
  • Quarantine in your home or the place you are staying

‘But now Omicron is so prevalent, these measures are having limited impact on the growth in cases, while continuing to pose significant costs on our travel industry.

‘So I can announce that in England from 4am on Friday, we will be scrapping the pre-departure test, which discourages many from travelling for fear of being trapped overseas and incurring significant extra expense.’

The announcement – which covers those passengers who are fully vaccinated or are under the age of 18 – was broadly welcomed by the travel industry, which has been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the industry body Airlines UK, said it would be a ‘massive boost’ for the sector at a ‘critical’ time of the year.

‘People will now be able to book knowing that – for the fully vaccinated – all emergency testing restrictions have been removed,’ he said.

‘Today marks an important step towards learning to live alongside the virus, helping passengers and the travel sector look ahead to what will be an all-important spring and summer season.’

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren also welcomed the move but said the Government needed to go further.

‘This will make travel much simpler and easier and means our customers can book and travel with confidence,’ he said.

‘However, the Government must now urgently take the final step towards restriction-free travel and remove the last remaining unnecessary test for vaccinated travellers so flying does not become the preserve of the rich.’

Steve Heapy, CEO of Jet2.com and Jet2holidays said: ‘It is abundantly clear to everyone that travel testing requirements have had no impact on the spread of the Omicron variant, so this should represent the end of a set of measures that are not only disproportionate but futile too. 

‘That said, the removal of these travel restrictions is the news that our customers have been desperate to hear, and the massive surge in traffic and bookings tells us that holidays are very much back on for UK holidaymakers. 

‘Customers are jumping at the chance to book the holidays they have been looking forward to and we want to give them even more to smile about, which is why we are launching this sale.’

He added: ‘Whether it is a family holiday, a break with the other half or a group get together, we know how much everyone needs that well-deserved holiday. 

‘Holidays just got a lot easier and whether it is sun, ski or a leisure city holiday, we can see just what a shot in the arm today is for customer confidence.’ 

Travel firms welcomed the news of reduced testing, with the boss of airline Jet2, Steve Heapy (pictured), revealing there had already been a 'massive surge' in web traffic and bookings following Mr Johnson's announcement

Travel firms welcomed the news of reduced testing, with the boss of airline Jet2, Steve Heapy (pictured), revealing there had already been a ‘massive surge’ in web traffic and bookings following Mr Johnson’s announcement

Epidemiologist John Edmunds, a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the move to scrap overseas tests before arriving in England and day 2 PCR tests in favour of a single day 2 LFT test made sense.

‘When the prevalence is high, and it is incredibly high at the moment, almost everyone who tests positive with a lateral flow test will be a true positive,’ Edmunds said. 

‘There is really no need to confirm this with a PCR, a step that not only wastes time but costs a lot of money and uses up laboratory resources that could be better used elsewhere.’

A spokesman for Heathrow Airport said: ‘Although this is welcome news, there is still a long way back for aviation which remains the lifeblood of the UK’s economy, supporting millions of jobs in all four nations.’

The UK was the only country in Europe demanding that even fully-vaccinated holidaymakers take two tests when returning home.

Under the current rules, one rapid swab must be taken pre-return within 72 hours of travel to the UK and a post-arrival PCR test by day two.

Travellers must self-isolate until the results of this latter test are received, and can be stuck in quarantine for days if results are delayed.  

Under the current rules, one rapid swab must be taken pre-return within 72 hours of travel to the UK and a post-arrival PCR test by day two. Travellers must self-isolate until the results of this latter test are received, and can be stuck in quarantine for days if results are delayed.

Under the current rules, one rapid swab must be taken pre-return within 72 hours of travel to the UK and a post-arrival PCR test by day two. Travellers must self-isolate until the results of this latter test are received, and can be stuck in quarantine for days if results are delayed.

The quarantine rules were beefed-up at the end of November in a bid to stem the importation of Omicron.

They added hundreds of pounds in testing bills to the cost of foreign breaks for families.

They also increased fears about being stranded abroad if pre-return test results are positive.  As a result travel firms reported mass cancellations.

Prior to the November changes, travellers were required to take just one rapid test post-arrival by day two. 

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, which represents major carriers such as British Airways, Jet2 and easyJet, said yesterday it would also boost domestic tourism businesses because laxer rules will attract more foreign visitors.

He said: ‘This isn’t just about outbound holidays.

‘We’re losing billions in revenue from people who ordinarily would want to travel to the UK to spend money, including in our shops and restaurants.

‘This is a competition at the end of the day – we need to attract people to the UK, not put up a big ‘closed for business’ sign.

‘We can’t have international travel – and the hundreds of thousands of jobs and livelihoods that depend on it – being treated differently to hospitality and other domestic sectors.

The scrapping of overseas tests and day 2 PCR tests has already proved to be a boost for the travel industry with many families making bookings to go abroad (pictured: Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain, on May 1, 2021)

The scrapping of overseas tests and day 2 PCR tests has already proved to be a boost for the travel industry with many families making bookings to go abroad (pictured: Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain, on May 1, 2021)

‘If Omicron doesn’t warrant further restrictions at home, then the case for continuing with the emergency testing requirements for aviation is undermined, especially now it is the dominant variant in the UK.’

Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), told BBC Breakfast that lateral flows were very accurate when it came to recording a positive result. 

‘Of course, with a PCR test what happens is a number of those can get sent away for sequencing and then you get more information regarding the virus itself. 

‘So, that sort of information may potentially be lost, but only a subset of those PCR tests are sent away for sequencing anyway, so, hopefully, we won’t be losing the levels of information that we already have in this country that enables us to identify variants and so forth.’ 

He said it was ‘very, very important’ that if any changes were brought in regarding dropping some PCRs that people still recorded their results from lateral flows. 

Regarding the change to travel testing requirements, he said when there were very high numbers of cases in the UK, testing upon entry to the UK ‘becomes less important’ as cases are already circulating. ‘

So, again, that’s probably why the change is coming in to support the travel industry and reduce a lot of the testing requirements.’ 

Mr Hawkins added that the restrictions had a significant effect on the number of travellers using its services.

‘We have seen passenger numbers fall back by about a third between October and November,’ he said. 

‘Passengers responded to the lifting of travel restrictions very positively and we saw a good level of recovery coming through but the new measures at the end of November and December knocked that back by about a third. 

‘We were at about 60 per cent of travel levels compared to 2019 and we fell back to just above 40 per cent. 

‘We are seeing higher absences along with most other businesses and transport providers and it’s putting them under a certain amount of pressure. 

‘But January is generally a quieter month for us anyway, and the testing requirements have knocked back by our recovery by a third.

‘So we do have some headroom to absorb those kinds of pressures at the moment, but we’re keeping a very close eye on absence levels and trends over the coming weeks.’

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