Ryanair boss demands ‘test before travel’ scheme ends in February

Even before details of the UK’s “test before travel” scheme have been revealed, Ryanair’s chief executive has demanded that it ends in February – at the same time as the most vulnerable have been vaccinated.

The government is to require travellers by air, rail and sea to the UK to produce evidence of a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours of departure.

The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, is expected to announce more details this week, with speculation that the scheme will take effect next Monday, 18 January.

Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, said it should last only four weeks – ending in mid-February at the same time of the UK government’s target to vaccinate the most vulnerable 14 million.

Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme, he said Ryanair plans to run “about 10 or 20 flights” per day compared with a normal daily schedule of 2,000 while the current restrictions apply.

Mr O’Leary criticised what he called “government mismanagement” of the coronavirus pandemic.

“On the one hand Boris Johnson is telling us that all the high-risk groups will be vaccinated by the middle of February, yet at the same time they’re introducing travel restrictions,”

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“Why isn’t it ending in the middle of February, co-terminus with the vaccine roll-out?

“Why are you restricting people from moving thereafter.

“Nobody can make a booking for two weeks out in February or March.

“Bookings have collapsed, and air travel will collapse to and from the UK.

“We’re calling today on Grant Shapps to tell us when this restriction is going to be lifted.”

Announcing the plan last week, the transport secretary said: “We already have significant measures in place to prevent imported cases of Covid-19, but with new strains of the virus developing internationally we must take further precautions.

“Taken together with the existing mandatory self-isolation period for passengers returning from high-risk countries, pre-departure tests will provide a further line of defence – helping us control the virus as we roll out the vaccine at pace over the coming weeks.”

The Ryanair chief executive said that by summer he expected “very few travel restrictions across Europe”.

Thousands of passengers with existing bookings in February are being contacted to be offered the choice of rebooking or a full refund.

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