UK travel tests ‘too late’ to stop Omicron spread

Government has ordered all passengers to take Covid-19 tests amid fear of surge in cases

Passengers arrive at Heathrow Airport, London, December 5, 2021.
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New measures to test passengers travelling to the UK for Covid-19 have come too late to stop the spread of the Omicron variant, according to a government science adviser.

Travellers arriving in England from Tuesday will be required to take a coronavirus test before they leave following new data showing an increase in the number of cases of the new strain linked to foreign travel.

But Prof Mark Woolhouse, who is a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling which advises the UK Government, said the measures would not make much of a difference as the variant is already spreading “pretty rapidly”. The UK reported 86 new cases on Sunday taking the total to 246.

“I think that may be a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted,” he told the BBC.

“If Omicron is here in the UK, and it certainly is, if there’s community transmission in the UK, and it certainly looks that way, then it’s that community transmission that will drive a next wave.

“The cases that are being imported are important, we want to detect those and isolate any positive cases we find, as we would for any case anywhere.

“But I think it’s too late to make a material difference to the course of the Omicron wave, if we’re going to have one.”

The travel sector said the return of pre-departure tests was another "hammer blow" for an industry which was only beginning to pick up again after the devastation wreaked by the pandemic.

Industry officials called the move premature.

“I know that is a burden for the travel industry but we have made huge, huge strides in this country,” Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told Sky News.

“We have got to take the measures targeted forensically to stop the new variant seeding in this country to create a bigger problem.

Statistician Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter said it appeared that the Omicron may be less severe than other variants, but more data was needed.

Updated: December 05, 2021, 11:29 PM