How will Covid travel restrictions affect my Christmas holiday?


Travel rules were tightened following concerns about the spread of the omicron variant – the red list has returned and UK arrivals face stricter testing requirements.

In an address to the nation on December 12, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that “vaccination is the key to beating Covid, and that it works” as the UK’s Covid Alert Level was raised to 4, its second highest category.

Mr Johnson explained that the Government was launching a national mission to offer a Covid-19 booster jab to every adult by the end of December – however, no extra travel restrictions were announced during this speech, or in the press conference on December 8. 

On December 8, Mr Johnson triggered the Government’s coronavirus “Plan B”, including new work-from-home guidance and vaccine passports. 

Travel rules remain the same following these latest government updates.

However, new reports have suggested that the red list could be scrapped as soon as this week after Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, has convinced colleagues to ease restrictions on travellers. 

The Mail on Sunday claims that the move is expected to be approved as early as this week and hotel quarantine could be replaced with testing for fully vaccinated travellers.

This follows signals from the Government that red list rules would be reconsidered due to the widespread transmission of the omicron variant in the UK. Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, told the Commons that, as omicron became the dominant Covid variant, there would be “less need to have any kind of travel restrictions at all.”

As it stands, 11 African countries remain on the travel red list and a number of nations – including France, Portugal and Spain – are imposing stricter restrictions on arrivals from the UK.  

Travel testing rules have also been tightened: anyone travelling to the UK must now take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival, and self-isolate until they have received a negative result – regardless of the country they are travelling from, or their vaccination status. Additionally, all people aged 12 years and over must take a PCR or lateral flow test before they travel to England from abroad.

Portugal, Switzerland and Spain have also heightened their entry restrictions. Since December 1, all arrivals in Portugal must show evidence of a negative Covid-19 test, regardless of their vaccination status. Switzerland has added new testing requirements. Spain is no longer accepting unvaccinated British tourists.

Here is everything you need to know about the red list, the latest travel restrictions, and how the new omicron variant could affect your next holiday. 

What are the latest red list travel rules?

South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Angola and Nigeria have all been added to the red list – flights from these countries to the UK have been banned.

This means that anyone arriving from these countries will have to spend 10 days in a hotel quarantine on their return to the UK, and will face a £10,000 penalty if they flout the rules. 

Arrivals from any of these countries before 4am Sunday November 28 were told to follow special guidance and isolate at home for 10 days – with free PCR tests provided to take during quarantine on day two and day eight.

What are the new rules for testing?

Since November 30, all travellers arriving in the UK are required to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival, and self-isolate until they have a negative result. Previously, fully vaccinated travellers were only required to take a rapid lateral flow test. 

Additionally, since 4am on December 7, all people aged 12 years and over must take a PCR or lateral flow test before they travel to England from abroad.

Have any other countries imposed new rules?

Yes – including many European nations. As of December 1, Portugal requires all travellers to show a negative test certificate on arrival, with a fine of €300-800 threatened against those who do not comply. Meanwhile, since December 2, Spain now refuses access to partially or non-vaccinated British travellers.

Several other countries, including Germany, Australia and Italy, have imposed restrictions on travel from southern Africa as the new variant sparks global concern. On November 26, all 27 EU member states “agreed on the need to activate the emergency brake & impose temporary restrictions on all travel into EU from southern Africa”.

Are countries reintroducing lockdowns?

Yes. A fourth wave of Covid-19 has prompted further clampdowns across the Continent. Austria has entered a national lockdown amid a rise in Covid-19 cases. The Netherlands has imposed an 8pm curfew on restaurants and bars, while Slovakia, Germany, Italy and Czech Republic are among the countries to clamp down on freedoms for unvaccinated visitors and residents. 

Could any other countries be added to the UK’s red list?

It is possible. The US, Israel, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Hong Kong have all recorded cases of the omicron variant. However, as the UK has now recorded more than 3,000 confirmed omicron cases, it is unlikely that countries will be placed on the red list simply for having the variant.

I am in South Africa, what should I do?

If you are in South Africa or one of the affected countries, you must book your hotel quarantine for arrival into the UK. Quarantine hotel costs £2,285 for an adult and £1,430 for an additional adult in the same room or children over 12.

While direct flights to the UK stopped operating at noon on November 26, you will be able to fly to another hub and then back from there. These options are severely limited, however, especially as other countries begin to ban flights from southern Africa. 

It is worth contacting your travel insurer to check their Covid-19 policies, and to see if you could be eligible for support if you are stranded in a southern African country.

I have a holiday booked to South Africa, what should I do?

If you are booked to travel to South Africa or any of the affected countries with an Atol-protected tour operator, your trip will be cancelled and you will be due a refund. Wait for the company to cancel your trip, rather than cancelling unilaterally, or you may not be eligible for a refund.

If you have booked flights independently to South Africa or one of the affected countries, these will be cancelled and your airline will offer a refund or a rebooking option. Contact your airline direct for your options. Do not cancel your flights, or you may not be eligible for a refund.

If you have booked accommodation direct, check its Covid cancellation policy to see if you are eligible for a refund, and contact them direct immediately to explain your situation.

I am nervous about my Christmas holiday, what can I do?

If you have booked a Christmas, or winter, holiday, you may be feeling nervous about what the reintroduction of the red list, tightened testing rules and the new omicron variant could mean for your getaway.

If you do decide to change holiday plans, you should contact your holiday company, accommodation or airline provider direct to see if you can rebook. There will be no obligation for any company to issue a refund due to holiday nerves, but you can contact them to ask if this is an option. Do not cancel unilaterally, or you will not receive a refund.

This article is being kept updated with the latest news and Government guidance.

Have your holiday plans been affected by the new travel restrictions? Comment below to let us know.

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