Depiction of A framework for considering the impact of air travel restrictions on the UK

A framework for considering the impact of air travel restrictions on the UK

The UK has had extensive international travel restrictions in place since the start of the pandemic. These restrictions have changed over time—from mandatory quarantine, to single antigen tests, to regimes requiring up to three tests for passengers arriving in the UK in order to prevent the spread of Variants of Concern. Despite the restrictions in place in late 2021, the UK had one of the earliest waves of Omicron

In the UK, successive waves of COVID infections are being met with fewer domestic restrictions as a result of successful vaccination campaigns, natural immunity, and improved treatments, such as antivirals. However, there is a reluctance to remove travel restrictions due to a concern about future Variants of Concern that may emerge.

To date, the travel restrictions that have been in place have created significant costs for passengers, the aviation sector, and the UK economy, and the frequent change in restrictions has also created uncertainty, contributing to a reduction in demand for air travel. The cost of the recent restrictions has been estimated at between £8bn and £11bn per year.

It is in this context that Manchester Airports Group and Airlines UK have asked Oxera and Edge Health to consider the impact that travel restrictions could have on the importation of Variants of Concern and future waves of COVID-19.

This analysis builds on previous analysis undertaken by Edge Health and Oxera over the last year. In particular, we have analysed a number of different scenarios to help consider:

  • how travel restrictions affect the speed and peak of a new variant’s spread in the UK
  • the trigger points for bringing in, as well as removing, testing requirements to deal with new Variants of Concern—i.e. what is the critical point at which introducing travel restrictions could have an impact and at what point is there a critical mass of a Variants of Concern domestically such that travel restrictions are no longer relevant?
  • the benefits of travel restrictions from a public health perspective compared with the costs they impose on the UK economy