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Austria has joined France in tightening travel restrictions for British arrivals, just as the ski season gets underway.
From Saturday, all Britons wishing to visit the Alpine nation must present proof of full vaccination, a booster and a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of travel. While not an outright ban on visiting, like France, 54 per cent of Telegraph readers believe such rules will discourage them from taking a ski holiday this season, as the industry hits back on nations’ ‘knee jerk’ approaches at such a crucial time.
“These knee-jerk responses seem pointless, so we have to hope they quickly remove them when their omicron percentages match the UK’s in a week or so,” said Richard Sinclair, managing director of specialist travel agent SNO.
Operators, resorts and holidaymakers have been left “holding their breath” to see if the remaining departure over the New Year, to destinations that remain open to British skiers, will go ahead unscathed.
“The UK travel industry is financially on its knees,” said Charles Owen, founder of Seasonal Business in Travel which represents over 200 businesses operating in the mountains, as he joined calls for the chancellor to offer “tailored” support for the thousands of workers who rely on the winter months in order to survive.
Reports from the French Alps, where Britons are now banned, suggest businesses are set to lose 20 per cent or more of the season’s income over the coming festive weeks.
Once omicron becomes dominant on the continent, “it will be harder to justify these ill-conceived barriers to travel,” believes Sinclair. Today, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is expected to confirm research that suggests omicron causes far milder illness than delta and that booster vaccines provide “substantial” extra protection.
Scroll down for more updates.
Large gathering over Christmas in the US not safe, even if boosted, warns expert
Attending large family gatherings over Christmas is not safe, regardless of your vaccination status, according to top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci.
“There are many of these parties that have 30, 40, 50 people in which you do not know the vaccination status of individuals. Those are the kind of functions in the context of omicron that you do not want to go to,” Fauci said at a White House briefing.
Omicron is now the dominant variant in the US. Britons are still able to visit, as long as they follow testing rules for travellers.
Germany’s health minister expects surge in Covid cases around New Year’s Eve
Germany‘s health minister said he expects a surge in Covid cases around New Year’s Eve and that people will likely need a fourth vaccine shot to maintain the best immune response against Covid.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told public radio network WDR 2 that Germany had not yet seen a big, rapid wave of new infections from the omicron variant like some other European countries.
“That will change around New Year and in the first week of January,” Lauterbach said.
The government is urging Germans to limit their contacts over the holiday period and to get vaccinated, including with booster shots if they’ve already had their initial vaccines.
UK leading ski operator cancels holidays to Austria over New Year
Crystal Ski Holidays has been forced to cancel all ski trips to Austria departing on December 27. A statement read:
Unfortunately, due to the short notice of this announcement and the difficulty in getting a PCR test over the festive period, we’ve made the difficult decision to cancel our holidays to Austria departing on the December 27. We understand the huge disappointment this will cause. We know customers have been looking forward to their trip to the mountains with friends and family and we’ve emailed all affected customers with a re-booking incentive. Customers will receive a full refund back to their original payment method within 14 days. For customers that have already purchased their testing packages, please contact your supplier directly to make any changes.
Customers with bookings in early January (departing January 1 and January 8) can change their holiday fee-free until December 29. Families with teenagers aged 16 to 17 who now face difficulty getting into Austria will be contacted.
The operators has also suspended all holidays to France up to January 14.
Hotel bookings jump five-fold in Spain
The number of nights booked by tourists in Spanish hotels surged five-fold in November, compared to 2020.
But figures were still 20 per cent lower than in November 2019, data released on Thursday showed.
The number of nights booked rose to 14.8 million in November, up from 2.8 million in the same month in 2020, the National Statistics Department said on Thursday.
About 40 per cent of the hotel rooms were booked by Spanish residents, and most of the foreigners went to the Canary Islands
Reaction: Skiers still determined to hit the slopes
As discouraging as new rules brought in by Austria and France are for some skiers, many are pushing ahead with plans to ski this Christmas, according to Rupert Longsdon, founder of The Oxford Ski Company. He said:
We and it seems clients are not too concerned about the news as it seems there is a determination for Austria to stay open to skiing tourist as this is so important to the country. I think the uncertainty was worse than the reality. But yes we do all need to be boosted and tested to keep them happy. Not an unrealistic ask in my eyes.
You can still head to Austria and the new rules show the determination to have a winter season. Hopefully France will take note and realise they are the ones losing out and revers their restrictions to allow people to travel if vaccinated and tested.
Consumer confidence has been dented the past few weeks but clients have either travelled out early to avoid restrictions (France last week), moved bookings to later in the year, moved bookings from France to other countries.
There is a strong willingness to travel and that pent up demand is still there. I do of course recognise this has not worked out for all clients and share the huge disappointment for those that have been unable to get to the skiing.
England ‘out of step’ with devolved nations
Speaking to Times Radio, Vaughan Gething, Wales’ economy minister, said: “Scotland and Northern Ireland have taken relatively similar steps yesterday – it’s England that’s out of step with the other three nations.
“We’ve done this because of the clear public health advice we’ve got and because we are already starting to see a rise in cases.”
He added: “We are a little more cautious certainly than England is – but that’s because we think it’s the right call.”
Later in the interview, Mr Gething said he thinks England’s position will hold “for very much longer”.
Australia reinstates Covid curbs
Australia has reimposed a number of Covid restrictions as daily infections hit a new record, as the spread of omicron surges.
From Thursday masks will once again be mandatory indoors, there will be capacity limits in venues and contact tracing QR codes.
The changes will impact 17 million people in states including New South Wales and Victoria. “Today’s changes are modest, cautious and take a precautionary approach as we move through this holiday period to the end of January,” New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet told reporters.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has vowed never to return to lockdowns, saying Australians must now take personal responsibility for managing their health.
Denmark demands negative test
The government in Denmark is set to announce a requirement for all travellers to present a negative test to enter the country – following the likes of Finland, Italy and Greece.
The Nordic country is one of the nations worst affected by the omicron variant in Europe.
Previously fully vaccinated Britons had been able to visit restriction-free.
Before we begin, here’s a reminder of the top headlines from Wednesday:
- Sweden and Austria tighten entry restrictions for Britons
- Malaysia and Singapore: Asian countries shut up shop
- New Covid restrictions in Wales and Northern Ireland from Boxing Day
- On the slopes in Italy, where British skiers are still welcome
- USA could lift travel ban on southern African countries
- Thailand reinstates mandatory Covid hotel quarantine
- New Zealand delays reopening
- Comment: ‘Masks on planes forever? What a ludicrous travesty that would be’
Now, on with today’s news.