Hopes of Christmas holidays overseas have suffered a blow after popular destination countries imposed tougher border restrictions.
Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Morocco and Israel have all made it harder for Britons and other foreigners to fly into their countries after the omicron Covid variant emerged.
The need to conduct more expensive PCR tests on return to the UK and to self-isolate while awaiting a result has also complicated plans for foreign trips.
A key European Union decision-making committee will gather on Wednesday, with travel rules likely to be discussed.
Meanwhile US President Joe Biden has been huddling with his top scientific advisers to discuss how to counter the new variant.
The industry is braced for a marked drop in demand for flights
Airline industry insiders warned on Sunday that people planning festive trips overseas will effectively have to put them on hold as they await government rule changes.
The industry is also braced for the variant to herald a marked drop in demand for flights.
Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, said the new self-isolation requirement for UK arrivals “will impact demand again and hit airport revenues until it is lifted”.
The UK along with scores of other nations has imposed tough restrictions on flights from countries in southern Africa to limit exposure to the omicron variant.
On Saturday, Boris Johnson announced that any traveller arriving here would have to take a PCR test and self-isolate until a negative result is received.
Other countries have also imposed their own restrictions.
Israel has banned foreign travellers entering the country and Morocco will halt incoming passenger flights for two weeks from Monday – two of the most hardline approaches.
Spain has announced that non-vaccinated travellers will not be able to enter the country from Wednesday – possibly including teenagers who are not jabbed – while arrivals to Portugal must take a PCR test whatever their jab status.
Switzerland added the UK to its red list on Saturday night, meaning those arriving must quarantine for 10 days.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa called on countries on Sunday night to “urgently” reverse travel bans.
“We call upon all those countries that have imposed travel bans on our country and our southern African sister countries to urgently reverse their decisions and lift the bans they have imposed before any further damage is done to our economies,” he said in his first address to the nation following the detection of the new variant.
On Wednesday, the European Council’s Integrated Political Crisis Response committee will gather to discuss the emergence of the omicron variant.
Sources familiar with those discussions said participants were being urged to submit views on travel rules by the end of Tuesday, suggesting they could discuss a rule change at the meeting.
There is also an “emergency” meeting of health ministers from the G7 group of nations being held on Monday.
Ursula Von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said during a visit to Latvia on Sunday that the EU needed to buy time to assess the implications of omicron.
She said: “We know that we are in a race against time. The scientists and manufacturers need two to three weeks to have a full picture about the quality of the mutations of this omicron variant.
“The general line is hope for the best but prepare for the worst. The highest priority right now is social distancing, reduce the contact, but vaccinate and boost as much as possible.”
The Dutch Health Institute has confirmed at least 13 cases of omicron among travellers from South Africa
Cases of omicron have already been detected in the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic, Canada and the UK.
Last night the French health ministry said it had detected eight possible cases and that the people who may be infected had arrived from southern Africa.
The Dutch Health Institute has confirmed at least 13 cases of omicron among travellers from South Africa.
Hugo de Jonge, the Dutch health minister, ordered arrivals from southern Africa to enter quarantine immediately on Sunday after some 61 passengers on two flights landing in Amsterdam tested positive for the virus.
“We are concerned, but how concerned we are will show in the following weeks,” he told a news conference. “It is not unthinkable that there are more cases in the Netherlands.”
Italian authorities are tracking 133 passengers who were on the same flight. Health officials confirmed the first case of omicron in the country on Saturday.
The 48-year-old man, who had been vaccinated twice and worked as a manager with the Italian energy company Eni, arrived at Rome’s Fiumicino airport on a flight from Mozambique on Nov 11.