Millions of people across the UK have seen their Christmas travel plans undone as huge swathes of the country are placed under tough new restrictions in an effort to stop the spread of a new variation of coronavirus.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke yesterday of his “heavy heart” as he condemned 16 million people to Christmas without seeing their relatives. Wales was also plunged into strict new measures this morning, while Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a travel ban between Scotland and the rest of the UK.
Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at StrategicAero Research, told Telegraph Travel that the “the new restrictions come as no surprise” given the rates of infection but that “there are legitimate questions as to why it’s taken until the 11th hour for these to be enacted.”
“It’s a disastrous end to 2020 for the airline and travel business in what is arguably the most disastrous year the entire aviation industry has ever faced since World War 2.”
Images and videos were shared on social media that showed people scrambling to leave London ahead of the midnight tier change – despite those in the capital being advised against non-essential travel under Tier 3 rules. The new regulations will be in place until at least December 30.
Overnight the Dutch Government became the first to ban all passengers flights from Britain after finding a case of the new coronavirus strain in the Netherlands, and Belgium plans to introduce a similar ban from midnight.
Scroll down for the latest updates.
Who made Santa’s travel lists?
Which? travel editor Rory Boland has tweeted for those wondering about refunds on their trips this December.
Extra police brought in to patrol train stations
Extra transport officers will be deployed to ensure people who need to take essential journeys can “travel safely”, the Transport Secretary has said.
In a statement, Grant Shapps said:
It is incredibly important that people follow the guidance, stay at home and do not attempt to travel. Our focus must be stopping the spread of this virus, protecting lives and our NHS,” Grant Shapps said in a statement.
If you are in Tier 4, the law means you must stay at home and you cannot stay overnight away from home. Across the rest of the country, you must stay local. Follow the guidance and please do not come to a station unless you are permitted to travel.
Extra BTP [British Transport Police] officers are being deployed to ensure only those who need to take essential journeys can travel safely.
Sir Peter Hendy, the Government’s Christmas transport tsar, said people must follow the guidance and “stay at home”:
At stations we will be deploying extra staff, announcements will make the law clear, and additional BTP officers are in place to ensure that only essential journeys take place,” he said in a statement.
People considering driving should also stay at home or stay local. The new restrictions mean that people should not travel into or out of Tier 4 areas, and across the country you should stay local.
You should play your part in tackling the spread of this virus.
Police expected to enforce new restrictions
Asked if the police will use roadblocks and question people on trains, Matt Hancock said he has spoken to the Home Secretary and the British Transport Police has the responsibility to police the transport system.
Mr Hancock told the Andrew Marr Show he hoped the new restrictions would be enforced by consent, but added: “Of course it is the police’s responsibility to police the law and the law came into force in the early hours of this morning”.
In Scotland, where cross-border travel has been banned for several weeks, assistant chief constable Alan Spiers said that enforcement will be used “as a last resort”.
“The vast majority of the public have been complying and so the policing approach we adopted from the outset will not change. Our officers will continue to engage with the public, explain the legislation and guidance, and encourage compliance,” he added.
Belgium closing borders to UK travellers
The prime minister of Belgium has announced that the country’s borders will close at midnight (11am GMT) to people travelling from the UK.
Alexander De Croo said that the decision had been taken “as a precautionary measure”, and follows a similar ban by the Dutch government.
This ban will apply not just to air passengers but also to those arriving by car or train – including the Eurostar that runs from London. Restrictions will be in place for at least the next 24 hours.
Anyone arriving in Belgium from the UK today will have to quarantine. They will also face additional checks to ensures that they are not infected.
Lockdown not inevitable
A new national lockdown is not inevitable in Britain to stop the spread of a new variant of coronavirus, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, adding that tighter restrictions in London and southeast England should help curb the disease.
Asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show whether a national lockdown was inevitable, Hancock said: “Not necessarily, one of the reasons we brought in the strict travel movements in Tier 4 […] is to try to stop this new variant from spreading.”
Daily Covid-19 figures hit record high in South Korea
South Korea has recorded a new daily high of 1,097 coronavirus cases today, including an outbreak in a Seoul prison that infected 188, as the country’s latest wave of Covid-19 worsens.
South Korea’s efficient track and trace system during the early stages of the pandemic made it a success story amid rising rates around the world.
But a recent surge has seen infections over 1,000 for a fifth consecutive day, with some health experts criticising the government for being too loose with social distancing rules.
Covid-19 tests to be offered to everyone in Austria
Austria will roll out coronavirus testing across the country, with those getting a negative result allowed “more freedoms”.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that those who take part would be allowed to visit restaurants, hotels and other attractions, with tests expected on arrival and police checking randomly in other areas.
These measures are “the only possible way to re-open tourism, cultural life, restaurants and cafes during the pandemic and at the same time avoid numbers exploding again”, he added.
While normality might return next summer, Mr Kurz said that the first half of 2021 was looking “very, very gloomy”.
What are the rules for non-essential shops across the tiers?
London and areas of the South East of England have now been placed under new tier four measures, Boris Johnson announced on Saturday afternoon.
Under the new tier four restrictions, non-essential shops will have to close from midnight on December 19.
In tier one, two and three areas throughout the rest of England, shops can remain open.
More Swiss regions close ski areas
Seven of Switzerland’s 26 cantons – or states – have decided to close their ski areas between December 22-29.
Lucerne, which has six resorts, said it was making the decision to shut down over Christmas due to the “very tense epidemiological situation”. Schwyz, Nidwalden, Zug, Appenzell Inner Rhodes, Zurich and St Gallen have all followed this decision.
In the Zurich canton, the Minister for Health, Natalie Rickli, says that hospitals “are hardly in a position to care for accident victims from the ski areas.”
Not happy with London’s exodus
The behaviour at London’s railway stations last night has left some people deeply unimpressed.
Boris Johnson had no choice but to tighten restrictions
With the R rate above one, hospitals struggling, and a new strain spreading across the South East, the PM’s hands were tied, writes Paul Nuki, The Telegraph’s global health security editor.
The Prime Minister may be famed for his boosterism but he was left with no choice other than to act on Saturday and tighten restrictions across the country for Christmas.
Virtually every shred of data was stacked against him. The R rate across the country has again moved above one, meaning the epidemic is growing exponentially. Hospitals in many areas are already struggling. And in London and the South East, where cases are up by over 50 per cent, a new strain of the virus is rapidly carving out a foothold for itself.
The new rules (a full lockdown for the capital and much of the South East of the country, and household mixing limited to just Christmas Day for other areas) aim to stop the virus moving between households and generations. It is also designed to try and stop the new, faster-moving strain of the virus being carried across the country.
“When the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our methods of defence,” said the Prime Minister.
Critics will say the Government should have acted sooner. They point not just to upward trending UK data but the experience in Europe where the epidemic has also been growing rapidly, even without the new mutation for weeks now.
Londonders fleeing the capital were ‘irresponsible’
Asked about the scenes of passengers fleeing London by Sophy Ridge on Sky News, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said:
This was clearly totally irresponsible behaviour, the Chief Medical Officer was absolutely clear that people should unpack their bags.
I think that it’s relatively small numbers and the large vast majority of people throughout this whole pandemic have followed the rules, been responsible and played their part.
He added: “It is more important than ever that people are responsible, not only follow the rules but restrict social contact as much as possible”.
Can I go on holiday? Latest advice as travel is prohibited for Tier 4
Millions of people in England will not be permitted to travel abroad until at least December 30 following an emergency announcement by Boris Johnson yesterday.
Some 16 million people in England entered Tier 4 restrictions today and will be prohibited from travel overseas, except for limited exceptions, such as work purposes. The new restrictions are an effort to combat the spread of a new, more infectious, strain of coronavirus.
Those in Tier 4 should also not leave their area to travel to other parts of the UK, and Tier 4 residents must not stay overnight away from home.
Help needed to save the travel industry
Urgent clarity is needed for the travel sector following the Tier 4 announcements yesterday, according to Julia Lo Bue-Said.
The chief executive of Advantage Travel Partnership, said:
Following yesterday’s announcement that Christmas rules will be tightened across the UK and the introduction of Tier 4, it is unclear from the rules what travel agents should be advising their customers who are due to travel. We’ve already seen some operators and airlines making cancellations from London airports who we understand are in Tier 4 on the back of the Prime Minister announcing that travel abroad will not be allowed. We don’t know if this means that all flights from London airports in Tier 4 will be cancelled or what position this leaves travellers in if their flight is still operating but they choose not to travel.
As an industry we urgently need clarity on this, especially coming up to a period where many people were due to travel, both for holidays and to visit loved ones. Given that many people will be due to travel over the next few days from London airports, this new tier will cause absolute disarray for travellers and the industry which has already been decimated with nine months of hardship.
What’s more, with non-essential retail shops in Tier 4 now being forced to close again under the new rules, this only further demonstrates that urgent support is needed for travel agents as recognised recently by the Scottish government on the back of lobbying by the SPAA (Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association). A targeted financial support package is desperately needed to save the travel industry, without which we will see more job losses and business failures.
Australian Covid-19 cluster continues to grow
Sydney‘s coronavirus outbreak grew to around 70 on Sunday, forcing authorities to introduce stricter social distancing rules across the city, and more states to close borders or impose quarantine measures on its residents.
The neighbouring state of Victoria will close its border to Sydney from midnight tonight, and the state of South Australia state has introduced a 14-day quarantine for all arrivals from Sydney, and banned travellers from the affected suburbs.
The island state of Tasmania took a similar step on Saturday, while Western Australia state imposed a hard border closure. About a quarter of a million people in Sydney’s northern beach suburbs, where the outbreak has occurred, have been put into a strict lockdown until Christmas Eve.
Northern Ireland urged to consider one-day Christmas bubbles
Christmas bubbles should be as small as possible, and people in Northern Ireland should consider forming them for December 25 only amid an “aggressive new strain” of Covid-19.
First Minister Arlene Foster, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Health Minister Robin Swann met with chief medical officer Michael McBride and chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young on Saturday as rules were tightened in other parts of the UK.
Ms O’Neill said: “Christmas bubbling arrangements are in place for those who feel they need to come together.
“If you must avail of them, then please consider doing so for one day only, Christmas Day. Keep your bubble as small as possible and meet for the shortest amount of time you can. We are clearly very worried about the Covid-19 situation that is unfolding. The speed at which this variant strain of the virus is spreading is deeply concerning.”
Mayor of London: Changes have led to ‘anguish, despair, sadness and disappointment’
London mayor Sadiq Khan said the introduction of Tier 4 restrictions was “devastating”.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, he said:
This 11th-hour announcement is a bitter blow for families who were looking forward to spending time with their families, to businesses who had planned for a decent few days, particularly in the retail sector because of the awful year they’ve had.
It’s the chop-change, stop-start, that’s led to so much anguish, despair, sadness and disappointment and I’m afraid it makes it really difficult for people like me to ask people to listen to us when we keep on changing our minds.
The concern isn’t with the decision taken – I think it’s the right thing to do; it follows the science and the medical advice. Our criticism and concern as Londoners, people looking forward to having a decent Christmas after an awful year, is as recently as two days ago the Government was saying that we would still have the rules relaxed.
Covid-19 cases reach new daily record in Thailand
Thailand reported more than 500 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, the country’s highest daily tally.
The 548 new cases, most of them connected with an outbreak at a wholesale seafood market on the outskirts of Bangkok, come after the country saw only a small number of infections over the past several months due to strict border and quarantine controls.
Health officials said 516 of the new cases, most of them migrant workers from Myanmar, were found in connection with the outbreak at the Klang Koong shrimp market in Samut Sakhon province.
All of those infections were linked to a 67-year-old seafood vendor who tested positive earlier, the director-general of the Department of Medical Sciences, Opas Karnkawinpong, said in a news conference broadcast to all TV channels on Saturday night.
‘Fear and loathing of Londoners is about to get even more intense’
Rob Crossan on how Covid has triggered a renewed anti-London zeal – and this was before the capital was found itself in Tier 4.
It would appear that Covid has worked its malignant magic in other ways too. As a state-school educated northerner, I grew up with the majority of my friends and family having an opinion of London that ranged from the mildly fearful to the downright contemptuous.
But that was in the late 1980s, when economic disparities between the north and the south were at their most polarising.
Since then, I’ve noticed attitudes soften. But the combination of Brexit and now Covid has triggered a renewed anti-London zeal that takes me back to the dark days of Scargill and Derek Hatton.London-bashing is an easy and popular sport. And dislike of capital cities by those who live beyond it is a trait far from unique to the UK. But government tactics to fight Covid have had the concomitant effect of creating an increasingly widespread attitude of hatred and fear masquerading under the (face) mask of medical precaution.
The travel chaos means further bad news for the weather-beaten hospitality industry.
Andrew Stembridge, the executive director of Iconic Luxury Hotels, told Telegraph Travel:
This latest news from Number 10 has put an end to any remaining optimism we might have had for festive trading. This week has turned into a complete nightmare starting with the closure of The Mayfair Townhouse – when London was initially put into Tier 3 having only opened its doors for the first time 14 days ago.
When Berkshire was also put into Tier 3 we took the decision to keep Cliveden open on a bed and breakfast basis for guests visiting family bubbles over the Christmas break however we can’t even do this now. Clearly the escalation to Tier 4 changes everything again and although our Hampshire and Worcestershire properties, namely Chewton Glen and Lygon Arms, can remain open, cancellations have been flooding in, since the news broke at this afternoon’s press conference.
It is particularly devastating as our teams have worked tirelessly to reimagine our Christmas packages to ensure they are Covid-secure and we have demonstrated throughout the year that our hotels are safe. Statistically hotels and restaurants have been proven to be safe and hence yet again the decisions by Government seem to be nonsensical.
US could lift UK travel ban as early as next week
Donald Trump could lift the US travel ban on the UK and Europe as early as next week, say industry and aviation sources.
The US Department of Homeland Security is understood to have recommended the move which could be authorised by the President through an executive order next Tuesday, according to senior sources in the travel industry.
Mr Trump has been considering the plan since late November, after the introduction of the ban on Britain, Ireland and 26 other European countries at the start of the pandemic in a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus. The plan has won the backing of White House coronavirus task-force members, public health and other federal agencies, according to officials, but Mr Trump has yet to make a final decision and sign it off.
However, with the UK now under strict new travel regulations from today, these changes have less immediate impact than they otherwise would.
The latest Foreign Office advice
This is what the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office have said as part of their most recent Covid-19 travel guidance:
Following identification of a new variant of the virus, international travel from your area may be increasingly restricted because of domestic regulations. Different rules apply in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. For example, those in Tier 4 areas in England will not be permitted to travel abroad apart from limited exceptions, such as work purposes. Follow all the rules that apply to you.
Other countries have closed borders, and may restrict movement or bring in new quarantine rules with little warning. Check our advice on things to consider, and be prepared to stay overseas longer than planned.
Before you return to the UK you must provide your journey and contact details. Also check if you need to self isolate.
Tier 4 and the Christmas lockdown: How it affects you
Boris Johnson was forced to introduce a new tier with tougher restrictions on Saturday as he warned that a new variant of the virus was spreading “significantly more easily” among the population.
The Prime Minister told the nation: “When the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our methods of defence.”
He placed 16.4 million people across London, the South East and East of England into new Tier 4 restrictions which closely resemble November’s lockdown.
It came after he received alarming new evidence that a variant strain of Covid-19 – called VUI2020/12/01 – was ripping through areas in Tier 3, where restrictions were failing to control the spread. For the rest of the country, the five-day window to form a Christmas bubble has been scaled back to just one 24-hour period.
Rail chaos as Londoners scramble to leave Tier 4
Passengers faced packed train carriages out of London as many attempted to flee the capital following the announcement of tougher coronavirus restrictions.
Travellers were told that social distancing “will not be possible” due to the volume of people on board, and those that felt “uncomfortable” should not stay on the train.
It came after Boris Johnson made the shock announcement that large parts of eastern and south-east England, including London, would be placed under Tier 4 restrictions.
By 7pm on Saturday evening, there were no trains available online from several London stations including Paddington, Kings Cross and Euston.
‘Sad end to a pretty miserable year’
Paul Charles, the chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, told Telegraph Travel:
It’s a sad but clearly necessary decision, bearing in mind the speed with which this new strain travels. It’s heartbreaking for so many people, not just those staying in the UK, but also for those who booked to travel overseas from tomorrow to places like Dubai and Maldives after corridors were recently opened.
These restrictions will be in place for some time and will be terrible news for cottage owners who’ve rented out their places over Christmas and New Year; for airlines who will have to refund so many passengers; and for hotels who were hoping to be full with guests from Tier 4 areas. It’s a very sad end to a pretty miserable year. 2021 can only get better.
‘Providing certainty to those travelling over Christmas’
In light of yesterday’s news, this from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has not aged well…
Airlines react to new travel restrictions
A spokesman for EasyJet said:
EasyJet plans to fly its current schedule over the coming days, however, following the UK Government’s announcement implementing Tier 4 restrictions which includes advice against travelling abroad, we understand some customers may now need to change their flights.
Impacted customers in Tier 4 areas have the option of transferring to an alternative flight free of charge, receiving a voucher or receiving a refund. This policy applies to any flights up until 30 December.
All other customers can make changes to their booking without incurring a change fee up to 14 days before departure online via Manage Bookings at easyjet.com.
A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said:
We’re aware of the latest guidance issued by the UK Government regarding Tier 4 restrictions in London and South East, including an advisory against non-essential travel.
Our teams will be in contact with any customers whose flights may be affected, to provide their options. Any customers who made their booking through a third party or travel agent, should contact them directly with any questions.
If we need to cancel a customer’s flight, customers will have the option to rebook or request a refund. To simplify the options for Virgin Atlantic customers, and to provide immediate peace of mind, where a flight is cancelled, we’re automatically providing a customer credit equal to the value of the trip. This credit can be used to rebook on alternative dates, allowing for two date changes, a destination change and name change, for travel all the way until December 31, 2022. If the flight is still scheduled to operate, customers have the option to rebook, with a name change and two date change fees waived, for a new travel date up until December 31, 2022.
Following the UK Government’s decision to introduce new restrictions for Tier 4 in England we will be cancelling our flights departing from Luton airport from December 20-30. We will be in direct contact with these customers to offer them a full refund or the option to amend their booking.
Any customers that live in Tier 4 and are due to depart in the next 14 days will be entitled to cancel and receive a full refund or amend for free to any holiday that’s currently on sale.
Customers with a holiday that is due to depart in the next 14 days and is no longer able to operate will be contacted by a member of our team and will receive a full refund or the option to amend for free to any holiday that’s currently on sale.
The Netherlands bans UK flights
The Netherlands has banned all passenger flights from Britain after the new variant of the coronavirus that is circulating in the UK was found to have spread to other countries.
The ban, which began at 5am GMT this morning and lasts until January 1, came hours after Britain announced a stay at home order for part of the country to slow the new variant.
The Dutch government took action after finding the first case of the new, more infectious coronavirus strain.
The health ministry said in a statement:
An infectious mutation of the Covid-19 virus is circulating in the United Kingdom. It is said to spread more easily and faster and is more difficult to detect
The Dutch public health body, the RIVM, therefore “recommends that any introduction of this virus strain from the United Kingdom be limited as much as possible by limiting and/or controlling passenger movements”.
Here’s a reminder of the latest news as the majority of the UK wakes to find itself under new rules that prevent non-essential travel, Christmas plans in tatters and
- Those in Tier 4 areas should also not leave their area to travel to other parts of the UK, and Tier 4 residents must not stay overnight away from home.
- In Tiers 2 and 3, international travel is allowed, but the advice is still to only travel when necessary.
- England’s new rules are in place until at least December 30
- Travel between Wales and the rest of the UK will also be banned.
- Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has also introduced a travel ban between Scotland and the rest of the UK, including over the festive period.
Follow the latest travel news here throughout the day.