Christmas getaways to Europe have been plunged into crisis after Switzerland announced it has banned all Britons with immediate effect amid concerns of the rising cases of the deadly Omicron Covid strain.
Switzerland has said that only Swiss nationals and permanent residents can enter, but a pre-departure negative test must be proven alongside a 10-day mandatory quarantine.
Israel announced earlier today it will shut its borders to all foreign nationals in a strict new measure to curb the spread of the virus, which is expected to come into effect at midnight on Sunday.
This news comes as tough new border restrictions in Spain will also require Brits to be fully-vaccinated to enter the country.
Christmas getaways to Europe have been plunged into crisis after Switzerland announced it has banned all Britons with immediate effect amid concerns of the rising cases of the deadly Omicron Covid strain, and Spain will only allow double-jabbed Brits in the country
Israel announced earlier today it will shut its borders to all foreign nationals in a strict new measure to curb the spread of the virus
Switzerland on Saturday widened quarantine requirements to stem the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant to travellers arriving from Britain, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Egypt and Malawi, where cases have been detected, its health ministry said.
On Friday, Switzerland banned direct flights from South Africa and the surrounding region due to the detection of a new COVID-19 variant, while also imposing restrictions on travel from other countries including Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium.
Entry from those countries would only be possible for Swiss citizens or those with a residence permit in Switzerland or the broader Schengen area.
This strengthens the previous restriction, announced just yesterday, which was that all flight passenger arrivals had to quarantine.
Now, following the detection of new Omicron cases, travellers from Britain, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Egypt and Malawi will need to present a negative COVID-19 test and quarantine for ten days as well, the Federal Office of Public Health said in a tweet.
It did not state whether travel from those countries would be limited to Swiss citizens and residents or not.
Two cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant have also been detected in the southern German state of Bavaria and in Italy, both neighbours of Switzerland, but Switzerland has thus far not imposed travel restrictions on any countries with which it shares borders.
Israel has slam shut its borders to all foreign nationals, in a strict new measure, and is mandating quarantine for all Israelis arriving from abroad.
Israel placed the southern African nations Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe on its ‘red list’ because of the discovery of the variant.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement from his office: ‘We are close to an emergency situation… we must act strongly and quickly.’
Another 39,567 Covid cases were recorded in the UK today – down 3.36 per cent from 40,941 posted last Saturday – while the number of people who have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid fell by 12.7 per cent from 150 last week to 131
Graphs shown at a Downing Street press conference on Saturday showed the number of people who have been jabbed
What do we know about the Omicron variant?
Scientists have said they are concerned about the B.1.1.529 variant, named by the World Health Organisation as Omicron, as it has around 30 different mutations – double the amount present in the Delta variant. The mutations contain features seen in all of the other variants but also traits that have not been seen before.
UK scientists first became aware of the new strain on November 23 after samples were uploaded on to a coronavirus variant tracking website from South Africa, Hong Kong and then Botswana.
On Friday, it was confirmed that cases had been identified in Israel and Belgium but currently there are no known cases in the UK.
Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told Good Morning Britain on Friday that sequencing is being carried out around the UK to determine if any cases have already been imported.
Work is also under way to see whether the new variant may be causing new infection in people who have already had coronavirus or a vaccine, or whether waning immunity may be playing a role.
Professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute in Oxford, has said the new variant will ‘almost certainly’ make vaccines less effective, though they would still offer protection.
Pfizer/BioNTech, which has produced a vaccine against Covid-19, is already studying the new variant’s ability to evade vaccines.
Spain has also announced a ban on unvaccinated Brit tourists after neighbour Portugal said it would demand proof of a negative coronavirus test to let even the double-jabbed enter the country.
Officials have said anyone over age 12 must have had both doses of the jab even though the UK’s vaccination rules don’t allow second doses for that age group, Spain will therefore consider them unvaccinated.
The tightening-up of regulations governing entry to the UK’s favourite foreign holiday destination comes into force on Wednesday, ending an exemption which means travellers without their Covid jabs could enter Spain with a negative test or proof of recovery from Covid.
The Spanish government confirmed the change in an official state bulletin published yesterday/on Saturday.
Antonio Mayor, President of Benidorm-based hotel association Hosbec, said he thought the effect would be ‘minimal’ on the Brit-popular Costa Blanca resort where the classic winter tourist is over 50 and double-jabbed.
But he added: ‘Anything that creates barriers is less tourism.’
Officials have said the move will not not affected the estimated 300,000 Brits living in Spain.
The country’s decision to tighten regulations follows Portugal’s announcement that visitors will have to show proof of a negative coronavirus test to entry the country from December 1, even if they are fully-vaccinated.
The decision was taken before confirmation the new Omicron coronavirus variant had been detected in several European countries.
Portugal confirmed today/yesterday (SUN) fines for those caught trying to dodge the new crackdown would face fines of between £255 and £680.
The measure is part of a package of new restrictions designed to tackle a new rise in the number of coronavirus cases.
Covid passports will become obligatory to enter restaurants, hotels and gyms in Portugal.
Discos have been told they must close between January 2 and 9 and the return to school after the festive season has been put back by a week to January 10.
Fines for airlines that transport anyone without proof of a Covid-19 test have been put at nearly £17,000.
Several regions of Spain have also started demanding Covid passports, or have indicated they will seek court authorisation to do so, for entry to places such as bars, nightclubs and hospitals.
Boris Johnson has reacted to the Omicron threat by enforcing day-two PCR tests for arrivals in Britain and making facemarks compulsory in shops and trains.
The PM has declared all arrivals to the country must self-isolate until they get a negative result from a gold-standard test – which can identify those carrying Omicron.
All contacts of people infected with the variant must stay at home for 10 days.
Omicron Covid variant DOES spread rapidly and can be transmitted between fully-vaccinated people, says UK government amid fears it makes jabs 40% less effective
The Omicron Covid-19 variant does spread rapidly and can be transmitted between full-vaccinated people, the UK government said at a press conference tonight.
It comes amid fears the new super-mutant strain makes jabs 40 per cent less effective after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the variant ‘might in part reduce the effectiveness of vaccines over time’.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said it is not yet clear how effective the vaccine will be as protection against it – but said those who are vaccinated or receive the booster jab will be less likely to become seriously ill.
He said it is ‘inevitable’ the Omicron variant will spread across the world over the next few days but added the majority of cases in the UK remain to be of the Delta variant.
He warned there is currently significant rates of transmission among young people but noted that rates among people aged over 60 and vulnerable groups are improving, meaning hospitalisations and deaths continue to decrease.