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Extra travel restrictions threaten Christmas

Published:  06 December, 2021

Additional travel restrictions to the UK are threatening to deal an additional blow to the hospitality and foodservice industries as the government grapples with the march of the Omicron Covid variant.

From tomorrow (7 December), people heading to Britain will need to show evidence of a negative lateral flow or PCR Covid-19 test result, taken up to 48 hours before travel. This is in addition to all passengers arriving into Britain having to take a PCR test on or before day two after their arrival into the UK.

The introduction of pre-departure Covid tests has been met with an outcry from quarters of the travel industry, on which many of the UK’s retail and hospitality businesses rely, just as travel was just getting back on its feet.

Hospitality businesses are already suffering from a rash of cancellations of Christmas events as both Omnicron and the existing high levels of Delta variant contunue to worry would be restaurant-goers. 

According to data from both TfL and Eurocontrol (the organisation that coordinates civil military aviation in Europe), passenger journeys have been running at approximately 70% of 2019 levels since September, having stared the year at around 20%.

“Until Covid struck, it wasn’t obvious how much the foodservice sector relies on travel,” said Peter Backman, specialist on the eating and drink out market.

“The absence of travellers, caused by Covid lockdowns was a disaster for those businesses.”

Many of these travellers were hidden in plain sight, as an infrastructure of coffee shops, sandwich bars and fast-food outlets was created to cater for the needs of travellers, Backman added.

But the tourism within the country, not just en route, is also at risk from the more stringent rules.

Tourists looking to head to the UK to indulge in Christmas shopping or merriment in restaurants and bars will now have to weigh in the additional cost of travel, with many expected to cancel their trips rather than risk more costs and unpredictability.

Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, said the policy will act as a “major deterrent” to travel this Christmas and will be a “devastating blow for aviation and tourism”.

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA, the trade union for the transport and travel industries, said: “Travel companies are already saying that bookings are collapsing since the new restrictions were introduced last week – and they’ll become tougher from tomorrow.

“We fully understand that these measures are being introduced to try and contain the spread of the virus and have no issue with that.

“But the Government must provide bespoke support for our travel sector including a furlough scheme so that those employed in the sector don't pay with their jobs for containing the spread of the omicron variant.

“In addition, ministers must stop the naked profiteering of some testing companies at a time of a national health crisis by capping the price of PCR tests.

“Otherwise, there’s a very real risk that more workers in the travel trade will get the worst possible Christmas present – their P45.”