Britons should not cancel their holidays but must accept there is a renewed “element of risk” when travelling, the health minister has said.
All new arrivals to the UK will be required to take a PCR test from 4am on Tuesday, while the red list, which was abolished at the end of October, has also been reintroduced to require hotel quarantine for travellers from 10 African countries.
Mr Argar said further cases of omicron should be expected beyond the three infections currently confirmed in England and six in Scotland.
“We’re saying follow [the rules] for red list countries, that is difficult in this context, I appreciate that,” he said.
“If people are coming back from South Africa we’re putting in place the quarantine hotels, that’s a big cost and I think people will think about that very carefully.
“[For] other countries, we’ve said PCR testing etcetera. We’re not saying cancel your holidays to France or other countries, but we have put in place that proportionate testing and border control.
“We cannot say what will happen there over the coming weeks, and in travelling at the moment with this virus, particularly with a new variant around, there is an element of risk.”
The health minister told Sky News he was “very sympathetic” to the financial impact of hotel quarantine, which was reintroduced on Sunday and costs £2,285 per person, for those returning from red list countries.
However, he added that the Government had to take “early measures” until the transmissibility and any vaccine resistance of the omicron variant are more fully understood.
“We’ve got to take, as have other countries, the necessary steps to stop that spreading and help other countries be even tougher on their borders,” Mr Argar said.
“What we’re seeing now is a new variant while we seek to understand that over the next two, three weeks which is hopefully all it will take to understand transmissibility, how dangerous it is, any impact on vaccines. I’m afraid there’ll be more cases in this country.”
There will be no further countries placed on the red list within the next three weeks, Mr Argar added, as scientists need time to understand the properties of the new variant.
Asked why PCR tests for travellers were phased out in October, Mr Argar insisted ministers had reacted in a “proportionate” manner in the circumstances.
“We have to strike a balance [and] it goes back to the price of things, the ability for people to go abroad, on holiday. We think we’ve struck the right balance. But when a new variant comes along, we’re now using PCR tests to identify where that is in the community but particularly for travellers coming into this country.”
On whether the red list will remain in place, he said the Government will “follow the evidence” when it considers whether to keep the new restrictions in three weeks’ time.