Travel news latest: Pre-departure tests set to be scrapped

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​The pre-departure and Day 2 PCR testing introduced for UK arrivals late last year had “little to no impact” on omicron case rates, compared to if the previous policy of a single Day 2 lateral flow test had remained in place, according to new research. 

These findings come ahead of Wednesday’s Covid travel update in which pre-departure tests are expected to be axed – but costlier Day 2 PCRs are tipped to remain. Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, is due to announce any changes this afternoon.

“The Health Secretary rightly acknowledged as early as December 8 that the value of any form of restrictions was significantly reduced once omicron became dominant in the UK,” said Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, and Charlie Cornish, chief executive of Manchester Airlines Group (MAG), in a joint statement as travel bosses call for all travel testing to be scrapped. 

“This latest research by Oxera and Edge Health clearly supports the position that travel testing requirements can be removed in full without impacting overall case rates and hospitalisations in the UK,” added the statement. Both industry organisations backed the report.

Tim Hawkins, chief strategy officer at MAG, told Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have seen passenger numbers fall back by almost a third following the new measures […] this report shows that is a basis for taking out all tests.” 

Scroll down for the latest updates.

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Goldman strategists expect a tourism revival this year

Strategists from Goldman Sachs expect a tourism revival in the second half of 2022, with the Thai baht, New Zealand dollar and Egyptian equities among their top bets, reports Bloomberg.

The firm predicts that the manufacturing-led economic recovery will shift to one driven by leisure and tourism as foreign visitors return after enduring nearly two of the coronavirus pandemic.  

“We think you’re going to see a transition to a recovery driven by services and travel, and leisure would be an important part of that once the latest omicron wave fades,” Kamakshya Trivedi, Goldman’s co-head of global foreign exchange, rates and emerging-market strategy research, said in an interview.  

In Thailand, where tourism accounted for a fifth of the nation’s pre-pandemic economy, the government is aiming to treat Covid-19 as endemic in 2022 by resuming normal activities, increasing immunisations and reducing hospitalsations, a senior health official said on Tuesday. 

In Spain, there are signs the industry is getting back on its feet, with tourists spending 678pc more in November than they did a year ago.

Covid infects 214 on five cruise ships in Brazilian waters

Five cruise ships in Brazilian waters have reported 214 cases  among their crew and passengers, including two ships that are in quarantine in the port of Santos, health regulator Anvisa said on Tuesday.

Two ships run by the Swiss-Italian cruise line MSC Cruises, each with more than 3,000 passengers are due to arrive in Rio de Janeiro and Santos this week, the regulator said.

The MSC Seaside arriving on Thursday in Santos has reported 65 cases among crew members and 25 among passengers, while the MSC Preziosa due in Rio on Wednesday has 25 crew with COVID-19 and 8 passengers infected, Anvisa said.

Cruise ship companies suspended operations in Brazil until Jan. 21 after health authorities recommended against cruise ship travel following several offshore outbreaks of the coronavirus.

Industry association CLIA said no ships will cast off during the “voluntary” suspension period, while those at sea will complete their voyages.

How to prove you’ve recovered from Covid in order to travel

If you have recovered from Covid, you may be exempt from testing – or even vaccination – requirements when travelling overseas. The likes of Iceland, Croatia and Turkey accept proof of recovery in lieu of a negative pre-travel Covid test result, in recognition of the immunity booster that a natural infection grants. But where can you get that all-important certification? And which countries accept it instead of a test?

Here’s everything that travellers need to know

Moroccan tour operators protest pandemic restrictions

Moroccan tour operators threatened with bankruptcy due to border closures protested Tuesday, calling for the tourism industry to be “saved”.

protest in morocco

Members of the National Association of Travel Agencies of Morocco (ANAVM) protest against the closing of the borders during a demonstration in Rabat on January 4

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About 200 industry workers demonstrated in front of the tourism ministry in Rabat, demanding the reopening of borders and talks with the authorities, citing the “dramatic collapse” of the industry in the wake of the pandemic.   

Morocco suspended all passenger flights from November 29 until January 31 as a result of rising infections of the omicron variant worldwide. The restrictions have dealt a punishing blow to the country’s vital tourism sector, already on its knees after two lost seasons because of the pandemic.

Lahcen Zelmat, head of the national federation of the hotel industry, said the situation for tourism was “catastrophic” and called for borders to be reopened and bank loan payments to be delayed.

Raja Ould Hamada, the owner of a travel agency in Marrakesh, said the most recent border closure was a “fatal blow” to the industry, claiming “other competing countries” such as Egypt, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates had benefitted.

Rabat recently promised a 2,000-dirham (about $216) monthly allowance to tourism workers for the final quarter of 2021.

Reminder: Germany has dropped quarantine for UK arrivals    

Germany has eased travel from the UK and South Africa by dropping them from its list of so-called areas of variants of concern.

Vaccinated travellers from those countries will no longer need to quarantine in Germany if they can show a negative test result before arrival.

CDC keeps UK at top of ‘do not travel’ list

The UK has remained on the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Level 4 category since July 19. 

This list, which rates countries on Covid-19 levels and risk of travel, was updated on January 4.

Aruba was the only new destination to be added to the ‘do not travel’ category. 

There are 80 countries in this category, including France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the UK.

‘Cruise to nowhere’ ordered back to port in Hong Kong

A Hong Kong cruise ship carrying 3,700 people was ordered back to port on Wednesday for virus testing after nine people were found to be close contacts in an omicron variant outbreak.  

spectrum of seas in hong kong

Spectrum of the Seas docked at a terminal in Hong Kong on Wednesday

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Contact tracing efforts have reached the “Spectrum of the Seas”, one of the vessels offering cooped-up Hong Kongers a “cruise to nowhere” that sails into international waters for short trips.  

Health authorities said nine people on the cruise were classified as close contacts and ordered the ship back to port a day early. 

All on board, including 2,500 passengers and 1,200 crew, must test negative before they can disembark.

Hong Kong bans flights from eight countries, including UK

Hong Kong announced strict new Covid controls on Wednesday, including banning flights from eight destinations, shutting bars and gyms and cancelling evening restaurant dining after the omicron variant was detected within the city.

Like mainland China, Hong Kong has maintained some of the world’s harshest measures throughout the pandemic. These have included virtually closed borders, weeks-long quarantines, targeted lockdowns and mass testing.

The city has recorded 114 Omicron cases as of Tuesday evening, with the vast majority identified at the airport or during the 21-day hotel quarantine that is mandatory for most arrivals. A small community outbreak traced to Cathay Pacific airline staff in recent days has sparked the imposition of tough new measures.

Fights from Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, UK and US will be banned from midnight on Friday for the next two weeks.

The latest rules take effect on Saturday.

testing area in hong kong

A testing area in Tsui Ning Garden, Hong Kong, on Tuesday

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 Israel reports all-time high for new cases, despite border closures

Israel has recorded its highest-ever number of new Covid-19 infections, driven by the omicron variant, despite restrictions on travel and required quarantines, the government reported on Wednesday.  

The record of 11,978 cases diagnosed on Tuesday marks the most new infections reported in a single day since the start of the pandemic. The previous record was set Sept. 2 with 11,345 new infections logged during the delta variant’s wave. 

The rapid climb in infections has pushed Israeli leaders far from the clear protocol of vaccinations, testing, quarantining and contact tracing that characterised the government’s response early in the pandemic. The country’s speedy vaccination early on made Israel a world leader.  

Now, Israel is believed to be the first country to offer a 4th vaccination to people 60 and older, as well as those with compromised immune systems.

 Israel is rapidly changing rules and practices to adapt, including scaling back quarantines to keep the economy from shutting down. More changes are expected. The demand for testing, for example, is likely to prompt the government to focus tests on high-risk groups, such as older people.  

What can we expect from today’s travel update? 

Costly and stressful testing requirements could be reduced or even scrapped in the latest update.

ski slope

Many destinations have tightened their borders following the discovery, and spread of, omicron 

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Pre-departure tests for travel to the UK could be axed following the January 5 update.

A number of senior figures in the Government are pushing for this test requirement to be dropped, with ministers insisting that the rapid spread of the omicron variant has made it pointless.  

Here’ a reminder of the current rules.

You’ll need a Covid booster vaccine to travel abroad, warns Boris Johnson

Booster vaccines are likely to be needed for travel to many countries within weeks, Boris Johnson warned as he urged people to come forward for a third jab.

Mr Johnson said the travel requirement was likely to become “the norm” very soon, adding that it would be “very much to people’s advantage” to take up the jabs.

Third vaccines are also set to be needed for vaccine passports in England after everyone has been offered a third vaccine. That milestone has now been reached – but more than nine million eligible people have yet to take up the offer.

On Tuesday night, Mr Johnson said the Government would “give people plenty of time” before requiring a third jab for vaccine passports and urged millions to come forward.

Read the full story.

Sage member signals support for eased travel testing rules 

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 potential 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.”

The key stories from Tuesday

Here’s a recap: 

  • Pre-departure tests likely to be scrapped
  • Germany has ditched its mandatory requirement for UK arrivals to quarantine
  • Maya Bay, made famous by The Beach, has reopened after a three-year closure, but Thailand says it has no plans to resume quarantine-free travel
  • Israel is to start reopening its borders after its temporary omicron closure, but not yet to Britons
  • The French ban on UK tourists is costing ski resorts 600 million euros, according to one estimate

Now onto today’s news.

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