walking britain UK Regent street covid
Illustrative file image Image Credit: Reuters

London: Britain's government tightened travel restrictions Saturday amid concerns about the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, saying all travellers arriving in England will need to take a COVID-19 test before they board their flight.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the new rules will apply from 4am London time Tuesday (Dec. 7). Travellers will be allowed to take either an instant test or a PCR test. After Omicron was detected in the UK a week ago, the government added a required PCR test within two days of arrival, requiring travellers to self-isolate until they received a negative result.

"In light of the most recent data, we are taking further action to slow the incursion of the Omicron variant," he said in a tweet. More than 150 people across the UK have been identified with the new variant.

Javid also added Nigeria to the UK's travel "red list," which means that arrivals from there will be banned except for U.K. and Irish residents, and those travellers must isolate in designated quarantine facilities at their own expense. He said there was a "significant number'' of Omicron cases linked to travel with Nigeria, with 27 cases recorded in England.

Karen Dee, the chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, said the new measures will be a "major deterrent'' to travel, just as airports and the travel industry were hoping for a small uplift over the festive season.

"This is a devastating blow for aviation and tourism,'' she said

Authorities recorded another 42,848 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.K. as of Saturday, with 127 more deaths. With over 145,000 COVID-19 deaths in the pandemic, Britain has the second-highest virus death toll in Europe after Russia.