The chief executive of Ryanair has dismissed the government’s plan for mandatory testing of arrivals from overseas as “a shambles”.
Travellers to England, Wales and Scotland will need to test negative for coronavirus before they are allowed to enter.
The test will need to be taken up to 72 hours before departure and proof will be checked by border officials from next week. Failure to comply will result in a £500 fine.
Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary told Sky News: “The measures are a shambles and it’s more mismanagement by [transport secretary] Grant Shapps.
“The new mandatory tests on arrival are going to ground almost all flights to and from the UK.
“None of the airlines will be able to run flights or take bookings because nobody is going to make any bookings.”
He added: “Passengers, many of whom do need to travel for essential reasons… may be not be able to access [flights] to and from the UK because no one can book with any certainty given that you have to have a negative test within four days of travel.
“The other problem we have with this is there is no end date [for the restrictions].
“Boris Johnson is out there telling everybody the UK will have vaccinated all the high risk groups by the middle of February, yet these restrictions have no end date. Why aren’t they ending in the middle of February if all the high risk groups are going to be vaccinated by that date?”
The UK’s aviation and travel industries are among the hardest-hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
They were initially hurt by the fall in demand for overseas travel as the true nature of the virus became known early last year.
Since then they have been trying to operate under the regularly-changing list of government restrictions both in the UK and overseas designed to limit the spread of the virus.
The testing rule is the latest of these restrictions and and is aimed at preventing the spread of new variants such as those found in Denmark and South Africa.
The testing will not replace other controls at the border, however, so the mandatory 10-day quarantine or five-day “test to release” policies still apply.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye welcomed the pre-departure testing but said aviation companies wanted it as an “alternative” to quarantine and that it should be only a temporary measure.
He told Sky News the new restrictions would mean “very few people” will travel.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry group Airlines UK, agreed, saying: “Once the rollout of the vaccine accelerates, the focus must be on returning travel to normal as quickly as possible in order to support the UK’s economic recovery.”