Travel latest: Holidays off for all Britons as more than 13,000 hotels forced to close

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Holidays are now firmly off the cards for almost all the British Isles as tough new lockdown restrictions come into force.

From today, more than three-quarters of English residents will be living under the highest Tier 4 restrictions after Matt Hancock cited rising Covid infections while imposing harsher measures on another 20 million people.

This puts the whole of England, with the sole exception of the Isles of Scilly, into either Tier 3 or 4. Scotland, Wales and Ireland are currently all under a national lockdown.

Under both Tier 3 and 4, all hotels and hospitality venues must close, as well as non-essential shops. Restaurants, pubs and bars can only serve takeaway. The rules for Tier 4 instruct people to stay at home, with permission to leave only if there is a “reasonable excuse”. The guidance warns them not go abroad either, apart from “limited exceptions” such as work.

There are more than 13,000 hotels across the UK, all of which will begin 2021 closed, leaving an already reeling travel industry and countless small businesses in dire straits.

Speaking on Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would move “heaven and earth” to roll out the newly-approved Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine so that restrictions can “recede into the past” by spring.

Follow all the latest news below.

US to expand Covid-19 testing scheme for international arrivals

Federal agencies in the US are in discussions with airlines over how to boost overseas travel amid the pandemic, Bloomberg reports.

“Efforts are currently ongoing in the U.S. to assess the risk reduction associated with testing and other recommended preventative measures, determine what a feasible testing regime for air travel may look like, and gain some level of agreement on standards for a harmonized approach to testing for international air travel,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a statement on Wednesday.

As of last week, the CDC requires passengers arriving from the UK (though very few currently qualify for an exemption to the current ban on British arrivals) to test negative for Covid-19 prior to departure.

Airlines for America, a lobbying group, said it has been “advocating for the federal government to set a national standard on testing in order to lift travel restrictions” on flyers.

‘Only the rich will be able to travel if the Covid testing racket is allowed to continue’

Given the soaring costs of tests, families planning on going abroad may have to think again, writes Alexandra Phillips:

The thought of getting away from the horrors of the past year is a dream for millions. Yet international travel has returned to the bad old days of being a privilege of the rich. Where once low-cost airlines enabled ordinary families to jet off abroad, the risk of ever-changing rules and regulations, non-refundable flights and quarantines mean most people cannot roll the dice.

Nothing encapsulates this more than the great PCR rip off.

Like many crises, the pandemic has inspired an array of opportunistic swindlers to cash in on panic, from dodgy PPE vendors, to absurdly overpriced consultants. Yet it is the astronomical mark ups on PCR testing and a racket of fear surrounding guaranteed results that encapsulates the ugly exploitation of confusion and anxiety prevalent during this crisis.

Many countries demand a PCR test be conducted within 72 hours before arrival. These are similar kits to those in NHS drive-in centres, averaging around £10 per test, while WHO Europe estimated total costs, including processing, to be around €30. Yet the same service rendered privately in the UK can be 10 times more than that.

Read the rest here.

US records highest daily death toll

More than 3,900 people died of Covid-19 in the US on Wednesday, according to a count released by Johns Hopkins University, a new daily record for fatalities from the virus.

The Baltimore-based university said 3,927 people had died in the 24 hours before 8.30 pm on Thursday in the US, the worst-hit country in the world, while 189,671 new cases had been recorded.

That brought the US total to 19,715,899 infections and 341,845 deaths since the pandemic began.

A (blissful) postcard from Dubai

Here’s a report from a Briton, who wishes to remain anonymous, now spending New Year’s in Dubai, and not regretting it, by the sounds of things:

Dubai certainly provides some much-needed therapy for our family of four: myself and my husband, both of whom run our own business, and two teenagers in GCSE and A-Level years who have worked hard and missed so much of their social life this year. They deserve some sun on their faces and some fast-paced water sports to allow that adrenaline and joie de vivre to kick back in.

We travelled through a very calm, quiet London airport to Dubai which, on arrival, really does have it all: less than 7 hours flight, half an hour’s transfer to any one of the many fabulous luxury hotels, an average temperature of 26 degrees and glorious restaurants very much open to cater for all possible tastes.

Dubai has taken the pandemic very seriously: no one enters without a negative test, your temperature is taken everywhere and masks are mandatory in the street but somehow it doesn’t stop you allowing yourself to bask in the urban city and beach culture – once in a restaurant or on your sunlounger the mask can be discarded. No masks needed either for the teens in the water parks.

It’s here, Caesar’s Palace at Blue Waters, where we are most likely to start our New Year’s Eve, with a burger from Hell’s Kitchen, and then we’ll move to the beach where we’ll sit with our toes in the sand watching one of the Emirate’s legendary firework displays.

So on balance, I’m trying to assuage my guilt for being away when so many others aren’t, and looking on our holiday in this time of crisis less as a luxury, and more a much-needed dose of relaxation and fun.

Overcrowding at Dubai Airport

As the UK’s airports stand largely empty, there’s a veritable scrum at Dubai’s International Airport, the world’s busiest flight hub, as travellers dash across the globe over the New Year’s period.

Woah — immense overcrowding at Dubai Airport (which probably has more UK ‘Tier 4 lockdown’ residents there than in Tier 4 itself)

Note: While 50+ countries have cut air travel ties with UK due to global concern of new #COVID19 variant that spreads much faster — UAE has not.

— Alex Macheras (@AlexInAir) December 30, 2020

Isles of Scilly council warn locals to remain home, visitors to stay away

The Council of the Isles of Scilly urged islanders to stay local for their New Year’s Eve celebrations, stating:

Please consider whether the risk of spreading the virus on a single night out is worth jeopardising the massive effort made to keep our community and services safe so far this year.

As we have previously advised, just because you can do something, doesn’t necessarily mean you should, so please consider the Prime Minister’s advice to ‘see in the new year safely at home.

‘We strongly urge anyone planning to travel to the islands against this advice to reconsider, in light of what bringing the virus to the islands could mean for our community, particularly at this time of year.

Taiwan scales back New Year events after ‘UK variant’ detected

Major Taiwanese cities have scaled back New Year’s Eve events and are telling people to watch fireworks and other festivities from home, after the island’s first case of the highly infectious coronavirus variant originally discovered in Britain.

Taiwan has been credited with keeping the pandemic under control due to early prevention measures, including quarantines for every arrival from abroad; with its 800 confirmed cases, including seven deaths, almost all imported.

But the government has been unnerved by its first domestic transmission since April, confirmed this month, and the first case of the British variant, announced on Wednesday. It confirmed a second case today.

Citizens register to watch the New Years countdown concert in Taipei


Farewell to the EU

British travellers (the few that remain) are today marking their final voyages to the Continent as EU citizens…

Tokyo hit with record cases and fresh travel woes

Tokyo today recorded more than 1,300 new Covid-19 cases, with New Year’s Eve celebrations curtailed amid the country’s third wave.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has urged people to celebrate quietly, and avoid non-essential outings, adding that the Government may have to consider declaring a state of emergency.

Scores of flights were also cancelled as heavy snowfall hit several areas of Japan on Thursday. Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways cancelled or planned to cancel a total of around 140 flights, public broadcaster NHK reported, adding that a bullet train had suspended services in some parts of the northern Yamagata prefecture.

On Monday, Japan started barring the entry of non-resident foreign nationals after detecting variants of the virus from Britain and South Africa.

Swiss police probe 12 Britons suspected of fleeing ski resort quarantine

Swiss police are investigating 12 cases in which British tourists ignored quarantine orders aimed at containing new Covid-19 variants after hundreds of fellow nationals were believed to have fled the country.

On December 21, the government ordered people who had arrived from Britain and South Africa in the previous week into a 10-day quarantine, while temporarily halting flights, leading to some being stranded in resorts including Verbier, a popular destination for British skiers. They were supposed to stay indoors, away from other people.

The canton of Valais, where Verbier is located, sent 220 police to enforce restrictions, including operations in which they checked up on selected quarantined tourists.

“Of the 150 people who were checked at the holiday destinations, 138 guests consistently adhered to the quarantine,” Valais police said. “Investigations are currently underway in 12 cases where the tourists had already left the canton.”

Far more than a dozen left, however. Hundreds of Britons have fled quarantine in Verbier, with the health minister attributing the exodus to an “impossible situation”.

The new areas now in Tier 4

  • Leicester City
  • Leicestershire (Oadby and Wigston, Harborough, Hinckley and Bosworth, Blaby, Charnwood, North West Leicestershire, Melton)
  • Lincolnshire (City of Lincoln, Boston, South Kesteven, West Lindsey, North Kesteven, South Holland, East Lindsey)
  • Northamptonshire (Corby, Daventry, East Northamptonshire, Kettering, Northampton, South Northamptonshire, Wellingborough)
  • Derby and Derbyshire (Derby, Amber Valley, South Derbyshire, Bolsover, North East Derbyshire, Chesterfield, Erewash, Derbyshire Dales, High Peak)
  • Nottingham and Nottinghamshire (Gedling, Ashfield, Mansfield, Rushcliffe, Bassetlaw, Newark and Sherwood, Nottinghamshire, Broxtowe)
  • Birmingham and Black Country (Dudley, Birmingham, Sandwell, Walsall, Wolverhampton)
  • Coventry
  • Solihull
  • Warwickshire (Rugby, Nuneaton and Bedworth, Warwick, North Warwickshire, Stratford-upon-Avon)
  • Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent (East Staffordshire, Stafford, South Staffordshire, Cannock Chase, Lichfield, Staffordshire Moorlands, Newcastle under Lyme, Tamworth, Stoke-on-Trent)
  • Lancashire (Burnley, Pendle, Blackburn with Darwen, Ribble Valley, Blackpool, Preston, Hyndburn, Chorley, Fylde, Lancaster, Rossendale, South Ribble, West Lancashire, Wyre)
  • Cheshire and Warrington (Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, Warrington) Cumbria (Eden, Carlisle, South Lakeland, Barrow-in-Furness, Copeland, Allerdale)
  • Greater Manchester (Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, Wigan)
  • Tees Valley (Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, Stockton-on-Tees )
  • North East (County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside, Sunderland)
  • Gloucestershire (Gloucester, Forest of Dean, Cotswolds, Tewkesbury, Stroud, Cheltenham)
  • Somerset Council (Mendip, Sedgemoor, Somerset West and Taunton, South Somerset)
  • Swindon
  • Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole
  • Isle of Wight
  • New Forest

The areas now in Tier 3

  • Rutland
  • Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin
  • Worcestershire (Bromsgrove, Malvern Hills, Redditch, Worcester, Wychavon, Wyre Forest)
  • Herefordshire
  • Liverpool City Region (Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, Wirral, St Helens)
  • York & North Yorkshire (Scarborough, Hambleton, Richmondshire, Selby, Craven, Ryedale, Harrogate, City of York)
  • Bath and North East Somerset
  • Devon, Plymouth, Torbay (East Devon, Exeter, Mid Devon, North Devon, South Hams, Teignbridge, Torridge, West Devon, Plymouth, Torbay)
  • Cornwall
  • Dorset
  • Wiltshire

Scilly islanders fear ‘selfish people’ arriving to escape lockdown

Residents of the Isles of Scilly have said they are relieved to be the only area of England still in Tier 1, but fear “selfish people” travelling there to escape lockdown.

The islands’ 2,000-strong population remain under England’s most lenient restrictions, with all other parts of the country now in Tier 3 or 4.

Jonathan Smith, a councillor for St Martin’s who also runs a small organic fruit and vegetable farm, said remaining in the lowest tier of restrictions is a relief but “no great surprise” as they have had no recorded cases since September.

“It’s an interesting paradox that Scilly remains the only place left in Tier 1,” he told the PA news agency. “We are probably the place in the country for fewest options for travel, shopping and eating out in the winter months.”

What happened yesterday?

A recap of the main stories:

  • Countries extend bans on UK arrivals into 2021
  • AstraZeneca chief: We will vaccinate millions of people by April
  • 75% of England enters Tier 4
  • Holiday bookings surge expected after vaccine news
  • Change to entry requirements in Sweden
  • Seven dead as Croatia rocked by powerful 6.4 earthquake
  • Roadblocks in Wales to prevent travel
  • London Zoo will reopen tomorrow