Travel news latest: Covid-related staff shortages threaten Christmas travel chaos

Huge numbers of transport staff forced off work due to isolating with Covid could cause travel chaos this Christmas as the omicron variant continues to spread at a rapid rate. 

Already, reports have emerged of cancelled flights and issues at baggage reclaim as UK airports grapple with staff absences. At least six British Airways flights from Heathrow were axed yesterday, and there have been reports of long lines at border control. The airline blamed a combination of fog and staff shortages for the delays and the baggage issues.

Passengers have taken to social media to complain, with Twitter user Elliott Sands claiming he waited three hours at Heathrow only to be told he wouldn’t be receiving his luggage. 

Meanwhile, long-distance train companies have warned of cancellations and delays over the festive period. East Coast Main Line operator LNER has cancelled 16 trains a day until Christmas Eve between London, Lincoln and Leeds due to “an increased level of absence in drivers and train managers due to coronavirus”. Similarly, Avanti West Coast, which operates between London and Scotland, said passengers could face short-notice disruption due to train crew availability.

Covid self-isolation rules have also forced major UK attractions to temporarily shut, with both Edinburgh Castle and the Natural History Museum closing their doors this week. 

Scroll down for the latest updates.

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9:12AM

British Airways cancels Bangkok flights until October 2022

British Airways has suspended all flights to Bangkok until October 2022, in signs that confidence in travel to Asia remains low. 

The carrier has also cancelled its flights to Hong Kong until March 2022, after it was announced that UK arrivals, including cabin crew,  must quarantine in a government-run centre.  

In a statement the airline said:

We apologise to customers whose travel plans are disrupted. Where a customer’s flight is cancelled, we always contact them to offer options including a full refund. Customers who are unable to travel, or choose not to, can also continue to change their flights or request a voucher for future use as part of our Book with Confidence policy, which has been available since the beginning of the pandemic.

8:59AM

Feature: ‘Being quarantined in a Maldives villa sounds dreamy – but it’s turning into a nightmare’

A luxury beach resort on an Indian Ocean island quickly became a ‘tropical Alcatraz’ after a Covid test came back positive, writes Tamara Abraham.

Tamara and her family are trapped in a Maldivian beach villa with their toddlers – but supplies are running out and there's little clarity on what's next

Tamara and her family are trapped in a Maldivian beach villa with their toddlers – but supplies are running out and there’s little clarity on what’s next

I am writing this on the deck of my Maldives beach villa, looking out at pristine white sand fringed with palm trees and turquoise sea. It is idyllic, exactly what I hoped for when we booked a last-minute package break earlier this month with my parents, as well as my sister and her family.

There is a catch though. I’m not allowed to leave. No sunbathing on the sand, no swimming in the sea, and definitely no wandering along the beach. A Maldives Health Protection Agency (HPA) official patrols the area with a clipboard to check. We had been due to fly home on Saturday, refreshed, restored and ready for a busy Christmas period during which we would be juggling work and family commitments, but after my mother tested positive for Covid in her pre-departure PCR (actually, my father was summoned and informed of her results; gender equality still has some way to go here), we were all put into compulsory quarantine ‘because we share a booking reference number’. 

Read the full story.

8:45AM

Breaking: Thailand reinstates mandatory Covid quarantine

Reuters reports that Thailand will reinstate its mandatory quarantine period for foreign visitors from Tuesday.

A government spokeswoman said the measure will return due to concerns over the spread of the omicron variant.

It has not been confirmed whether Thailand will revert to its ‘sandbox’ scheme, where visitors could visit certain areas of the country, such as the island of Phuket, without the need to isolate.

Thailand has only been open for quarantine-free travel since November.

8:37AM

Taiwan’s ‘zero-Covid’ strategy: How much longer can it keep out variants?

Taoyuan International Airport 

Taoyuan International Airport 

Credit:
 REUTERS

Like the Delta variant before it, Omicron was allowed to enter the UK and freely circulate. But since the start of the pandemic, Taiwan has been spared from a devastating Covid-19 death toll through pursuing a “zero Covid” strategy with tight border controls and 14-day quarantines.

Taiwan’s first line of defence begins at Taoyuan International Airport – which handled 46.5 million passengers in 2018, making it the world’s 11th busiest airport.

When Pieter Funnekotter, a Canadian businessman, landed there in November, returning from a work trip to Nigeria and India, he said the corridors were deserted.

Passengers were first met on the jet bridge by officials in PPE who separated people from Taiwan’s “red list” of high-risk countries, which until recently included the UK, to be shepherded to government quarantine centres.

Others continued as normal to the first of several document checks before immigration where everyone is required to provide a working mobile phone for the authorities to carry out quarantine health checks. Sim cards can be purchased and phones rented out.

Read on, here. 

8:30AM

Kuwait to make Covid booster jab compulsory for incoming travellers

Kuwait will require arriving travellers to have had a Covid booster jab if more than nine months have passed since their second dose of a vaccine, reports Reuters.

Kuwait will also all require incoming travellers to quarantine at home until they receive a negative PCR test result.

Other countries to take into account booster doses include Austria, which requires travellers who have not received a third jab to take a Covid test.

8:22AM

Qatar cabin crew don full PPE over omicron fears

Reports have emerged that from today Qatar Airways cabin crew will wear full PPE on board flights due to fears over the highly contagious omicron variant.

8:13AM

What happened yesterday?

A recap of yesterday’s top stories:

  • Thailand considers ending quarantine-free travel
  • Germany bans UK arrivals and plans to limit social gatherings after Christmas
  • Switzerland tightens restrictions on unvaccinated
  • Greece’s new testing rules come into force
  • Italy considers increased measures amid omicron fears ​
  • Natural History Museum closes due to Covid-19

Now, on with today’s travel news.

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