Compulsory PCR tests for everyone arriving in the UK have been described as a “huge blow” for the travel industry.
It is hoped the measures will buy scientists time to learn more about the Omicron variant, but there are fears it will also affect the recovery of an industry hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
ABTA said the added cost of testing will affect customer demand for holidays – creating fresh uncertainty for consumers.
Ten countries are now on the government’s red list for travel: South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.
From 4am today, arrivals from all of these countries now need to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days at a cost of £2,285.
An ABTA spokesman said: “While ABTA understands that this is a rapidly evolving situation and public health must come first, the decision to require all arrivals to take a PCR test and self-isolate until a negative result is returned is a huge blow for travel businesses, many of whom were only just starting to get back on their feet after 20 months of severe restrictions.
“These changes will add cost to people’s holidays, which will undoubtedly impact consumer demand and hold back the industry’s recovery, so it’s vital that this decision is kept under careful review and restrictions are lifted promptly if it becomes clear there is not a risk to the UK vaccination programme.”
The government is also being urged to consider offering tailored support for businesses in the travel sector.
There are also concerns about whether private testing companies will be able to cope with the sudden rise in demand, with Which? Travel editor Rory Boland claiming this industry “isn’t fit for purpose”.
He claimed many firms have failed to provide tests on time, and called on the government to properly regulate the marketplace so “consumers can have confidence they are booking with a provider they can rely on”.
Dr Nathalie MacDermott, National Institute for Health Research academic clinical lecturer at King’s College London, said banning flights from the countries most affected by this variant is “never a decision that should be taken lightly”.
She added: “But for a brief period it can buy the time needed to better understand the threat posed by this new variant and ensure the implementation of more robust identification and targeted contact tracing for individuals arriving from those countries now placed on the red list.”
Over the weekend, Britons were urgently trying to get back from southern Africa to avoid the new quarantine measures – and with direct flights suspended, many had to travel via other countries.
Chaotic scenes were reported at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport after 61 COVID-19 cases were detected among people who had flown in from South Africa on Friday, with Britons among those affected.
On Friday, the FTSE 100 index suffered its biggest one-day sell-off in percentage terms since June 2020, with shares in major airlines plummeting.