BRITAIN'S pingdemic has sent thousands of summer travel plans up in smoke – with some passengers even kicked off trains mid-journey.

As lockdown-weary holidaymakers head off for their first post-Freedom Day weekend in the sun, rail firms grapple with crippling staff shortages.


Cabinet Minister George Eustice today warned of delays and cancellations will stretch into the "next few weeks" as the Delta variant sends alerts into overdrive.

Thameslink and Southern have both slashed upcoming timetables because of the staffing black hole.

In key developments:

  • Mr Eustice suggested isolation could continue for the fully-vaccinated beyond August 16
  • The minister said the army remained on standby in case the food supply chain weakened
  • Hospitality bosses fumed they were overlooked for a test to release exemption scheme
  • The Government published a list of critical sectors available for isolation exemption applications

Sun-seekers trying to escape the city for the south coast this morning were stuck on the platform after a lack of staff left rail times in tatters.

Passenger Helena Horton was among exasperated holidaymakers travelling from London to Exeter – but left stranded at Salisbury.

The 27-year-old journalist told The Sun: "We were a couple of stops down and suddenly they said, oh actually you're terminating at Salisbury because we have too many of our staff isolating."

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Frustrated travellers had to wait for an hour for the next train – which was also cut short at Yeovil because of a shortage of changeover crew.

Ms Horton said: "People were clearly disappointed. There were people lugging big suitcases who were going for a holiday for the weekend.

"I heard people calling up the restaurants they had booked by the sea for lunch and cancelling."

TRAVEL CHAOS

More than a million people were ordered to isolate last week by either the app or NHS Test and Trace.

The Government last night published a list of critical sectors where double-jabbed workers may be able to dodge 10 days self-isolation if pinged.

It includes "essential transport" – but bosses have been warned the list of people who will gain exemption will be "very narrow".

Environment Secretary Mr Eustice said: "You have to differentiate between potentially having a lack of train drivers in which case not every train runs on time and some trains are cancelled and that's a consequence of staff absence.

"We recognise that that's a reality over these next few weeks."

We recognise that that's [train cancellations] a reality over these next few weeks

Some rail firms have started paring-back timetables following a flurry of last-minute cancellations.

Steve White, chief operating officer at parent company Govia Thameslink Railway, said: "Regrettably, we have had to make the difficult decision to reduce some weekday services.

"Unfortunately, like other industries across the country, coronavirus continues to affect our operations.

"We have fewer colleagues available at the moment due to a significant increase recently in the number of our people affected by Covid-19.

"Our colleagues have continued to work tirelessly throughout the pandemic and we're really sorry for any inconvenience caused by the latest changes."

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