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Chaos at UK airports over travel ban and COVID travel rules

  • Chaos erupts at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton airports due to closure of travel corridors
  • UK government require all arrivals to produce a negative coronavirus test
  • Ministers considering introducing Australia-style quarantine hotels to curb the spread of COVID-19
  • FCDO travel guidance to Europe for those needing to travel for essential reasons

Vast queues have formed at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton airports on Monday due to the implementation of new travel rules that requires all arrivals to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test to enter the UK.

UK ministers agreed to ramp up travel restrictions last week, closing all travel corridors and issuing new quarantine rules for those returning to Britain from abroad.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) clarified: “From 4 AM on January 18th anyone travelling to England, Scotland, or Wales – including Brits returning home from overseas – a negative coronavirus test must be taken within three days before departure and presented to border enforcement upon arrival.

The FCDO added: “Anyone that fails to comply with new travel rules could be prohibited from boarding their flights and face a GBP 500 fine.”

Airlines that fail to adhere to the new rules could also be met with hefty fines.

However, the UK government has made some exceptions, as children aged 11-years and under, travel crew, hauliers and travellers from the Common Travel Area (the Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man) will not be required to produce a test.

Until Thursday, arrivals from countries that do not have access to testing facilities, such as St Lucia, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda will also be exempt from the new travel rules.

Nonetheless, the new travel ban has triggered chaos at airports, with some travellers reportedly queuing for 90 minutes after landing due to the slow processing of tests and Passenger Locator Forms.

According to reports, one passenger described the situation as “chaotic,” adding that airports “could have been handled better.”

Another person said that some people were annoyed by the waiting times. They noted that the immigration hall temperature was stifling and staff members “were giving out water.”

However, a UK national returning from Dubai said that the long queues were testimony to “the checks being carried out properly”.

The UK government tightened COVID restrictions to reduce the transmission rate amid growing fears that new mutant strains being imported from other countries could undermine the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.

UK mandate negative COVID test

UK government introduce new quarantine rules due to spike in mutant strains

Ministers introduced the new restrictions to prevent the virus from spreading further, with recent cases in the UK higher than during the first peak in April.

The suspension of travel corridors comes days after reports that the government will be trialling COVID-19 passports, which would provide thousands of Brits who have already received their jab proof that they have been vaccinated.

However, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Emergency Committee has urged governments’ not to issue these so-called “COVID-19 passports”. At the same time, CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), Gloria Guevara, branded the decision as “discriminatory.”

The WHO said it would be unfair to require proof of vaccination when “the impact and effectiveness of vaccines on reducing transmission remain unknown, and the current availability of vaccines is too limited.”

One minister, Nadhim Zahawi, has denied claims that the UK would be trialling vaccine passports.

While the news regarding vaccine passports is mostly uncertain, Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, said that the government is considering introducing an Australia-style quarantine system for travellers entering the UK.

Besides those coming from the Common Travel Area, all arrivals have to quarantine for ten days, reduced to 5 if a second negative coronavirus test is produced.

However, Mr Raab said that the government is considering forcing travellers to isolate in specific “quarantine hotels”.

UK to introduce new “quarantine hotels” for all arrivals

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab confirmed that officials are making preparations to open Australia-style quarantine hotels – designated self-isolation buildings for travellers entering the UK.

According to a Sunday Times report, the government will ensure the isolation period is adhered to by implementing facial recognition technology and GPS systems in these quarantine hotels.

Mr Raab said that Public Health England would also be ramping up its capacity to check people to ensure quarantine rules are being followed.

When questioned about the government’s slow response to tightening border controls, Dominic Raab said: “I don’t accept that we have been too slow in this – we are broadly the same pace in terms of Canada and Germany.”

The more stringent restrictions are also expected to harm the aviation industry, which is already in economic turmoil due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gatwick Airport

Airlines and airports urge UK government to extend COVID lifeline

Airline stocks suffered a significant blow on Monday after the UK tightened COVID-19 travel rules and extended its travel ban to all countries on the corridors list.

British Airways’ parent company, International Airlines Group, (LON: IAG) suffered one of the steepest declines on the FTSE 100 today, with stock plummeting to a low of 156.50.

Simultaneously, Ryanair (LON: RYA) slumped to 15.15 and EasyJet (LON: EZJ) slipped to 795.37. While airline shares have recovered heading into New York trading hours, all remain in red territory.

Meanwhile, London’s blue-chip FTSE 100 Index is 0.22% lower as of 18:00 GMT at 6,720.65.

Airport Operators Association (AOA) Chief Executive, Karen Dee, said she understood that closing travel corridors are necessary for the sake of public health. However, she warned that it “only adds to the current near-complete shutdown of UK airports, which are vital for our post-pandemic prosperity.”

She added: “the new travel rules make the dire situation for UK airports and communities relying on the jobs and economic benefits that aviation brings, worse.”

According to recent data published by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the aviation industry will need anywhere between GBP 52BN and GBP 59BN to survive the pandemic.

On Sunday, the UK government said it would increase financial aid for airports and airlines following new travel regulations.

Under Secretary of State for Transport, Robert Courts said the government hopes to offer grants worth up to GBP 8M to eligible applicants before the end of the financial year.

Latest FCDO travel rules for Europe

While all travel from Britain has been suspended, some Britons need to travel for essential reasons. If you’re heading to Europe, we’ve outlined the FCDO’s latest travel guidance.

Spain

Spain recently extended its travel ban against the UK until February 2nd, with Spanish nationals or legal residents residing in Britain the only exception.

However, all arrivals must present a negative coronavirus test, taken within three days of arrival, a valid passport and residence papers where relevant to enable entry.

France

France tightened travel restrictions against the UK in mid-December after scientists confirmed the emergence of a new, more contagious mutant strain of the coronavirus.

Presently, only French nationals, EEA members and their family, residents of France, the EU or the EEA and those travelling for exceptional reasons are permitted to travel into the country.

France authorities also specified that from January 18th, those eligible for entry could only do so if they provide a valid PCR test. Arrivals will also be required to quarantine for seven days, after which another PCR test will need to be taken before they can leave their accommodation.

UK arrivals will also have to complete a sworn statement certifying that they do not have any COVID-19 symptoms.

Italy

The Italian government has restricted travel into Italy until March 5th, meaning only Italian nationals or those with residency can enter the country.

While those with exceptional circumstances may be permitted entry, these arrivals will have to download a self-declaration form and produce a negative COVID-19 rapid antigenic or molecular swab test taken no more than 72 hours before departure.

Portugal, Germany and Greece have enforced similar rules. For further information and guidance on travel, visit the government website.