People arriving in Scotland from abroad will need to take a pre-departure Covid test to help stem the spread of the Omicron variant, the Scottish Government announced on Saturday.
International travellers will have to provide provide proof of a negative PCR or lateral flow test taken two days before travelling, in addition to a negative PCR test on or before day two after arrival, under measures agreed on a four nations basis.
The requirement comes into effect at 4am on Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile, Nigeria has been added to the red list for international travel from 4am on Monday morning, meaning all travellers returning to Scotland from Nigeria will be required to quarantine on their arrival in managed accommodation for 10 days.
The changes were informed by a UK Health Security Agency risk assessment.
Transport secretary Michael Matheson said: “It is essential we take steps now to keep people safe, protect the roll out of the booster programme and reduce the chances of unsustainable pressure being placed on the NHS over the winter.
“We have always said it may be necessary to quickly implement fresh measures to protect public health in Scotland, particularly with regards to international travel, and these restrictions are proportionate and necessary to that aim.
“We fully understand the impact the changes will have on staff and businesses in the travel and aviation sectors, particularly as the new variant came at a time when we were beginning to see some signs of recovery. We will not keep the restrictions in place any longer than is necessary.”
The announcement will be seen as evidence of the mounting concern within Whitehall of the threat posed by the Omicron variant.
However, the requirement for pre-departure tests was greeted with anger and dismay across the travel sector – just as bookings were picking up with the approach of the Christmas break.
Joanne Dooey, president of The Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA) – the professional body for travel agents and the travel sector in Scotland, said: “Tonight’s news is the early Christmas present none of us in the travel sector wanted or needed. It’s a crushing blow for the travel sector in Scotland and travel agents are truly battle weary.
“The confidence which was returning to international travel will be stamped out following this announcement. The reintroduction of pre departure tests from Tuesday means that anyone travelling back into Scotland must take a test before they leave their destination, within 48 hours of travel back into the UK, or risk being unable to travel back and quarantining on foreign soil at their own expense.
“It leaves everyone currently overseas, who has a scheduled return to the UK from 4am this Tuesday, scrambling to find testing which meets the Scottish government regulations.
“We expect that travel agents’ phones will be ringing off the hook with customers who wish to cancel or postpone their holidays, business trips and Christmas visits to families overseas.”
The Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee said it was a “devastating blow” for aviation and tourism.
“Pre-departure tests acts as a major deterrent to travel and most of the limited remaining demand following the reintroduction of self-isolation will now fall away, just as airports were hoping for a small uplift over the Christmas holiday,” she said.
“Travel and aviation are the only sectors hit with any operating restrictions in response to the Omicron variant.
“The UK and devolved governments should have done the right thing and, alongside the restrictions, announced support for our businesses and our staff to get through another period of shutdown.
“Hundreds of thousands of jobs rely on air travel – government must recognise this and provide the support needed to safeguard this critical infrastructure upon which our economic recovery from the pandemic depends.”
On Sunday, deputy prime minister Dominic Raab defended the UK Government’s decision to re-introduce Covid pre-departure tests following the emergence of the Omicron variant.
Raab told Sky News’s Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme: “I know that is a burden for the travel industry but we have made huge, huge strides in this country.
“We have got to take the measures targeted forensically to stop the new variant seeding in this country to create a bigger problem.
“We have taken a balanced approach but we are always alert to extra risk that takes us back not forward.”