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.
Scroll down for the latest updates.
And the scene from London Euston
Twitter is losing their shit over tier 4 and the usual virtue signallers are proudly declaring they’ve “cancelled” their plans last minute.
Meanwhile, in the *real world*, Euston station tonight: pic.twitter.com/GA0dVlvQfE
— Sarah ✨ (@SarahA775) December 19, 2020
“England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said people considering leaving Tier 4 areas now should unpack their bag and stay at home.”
Tier 4 Londoners in St Pancras right now: pic.twitter.com/tOQ39RT4ei
— Sean Spooner (@spoonersean) December 19, 2020
Packed trains out of London
This was the scene last night at St Pancras
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.
Charlie Hymas has the full story.
How do you police Tier 4?
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.
Here’s the moment Boris Johnson announced Tier 4
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.
Here’s what we know so far.
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.
What does each tier mean, and which am I in?
‘Providing certainty to those travelling over Christmas’
In light of yesterday’s news, this from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has not aged well…
Providing certainty to those travelling over Xmas, we will only make EMERGENCY removals to the #TravelCorridor list if needed for the next two weeks. Next regular update 7th Jan 🎅✈️
— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) December 17, 2020
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.