It feels a bit like déjà vu: here we are again, wondering if Christmas is going to go ahead because of a new Covid variant. After last year’s less-than-ideal situation, a lot of people in the UK are hoping the Omicron mutation doesn’t interrupt their festive plans. But before you pack up the socks you’ve bought for your dad and trudge to the Post Office, read on to find out everything we know so far. As the booster rollout speeds up, Omicron won’t necessarily lead to a festive season like the one we all absolutely hated in 2020.
What does Omicron mean and what are the new rules?
Scientists are naming new Covid variants after Greek letters – you might remember Delta being the mutation ‘of concern’ around a year ago. We’re now onto Omicron. Case numbers are currently low, but wearing face coverings on public transport and in shops is back in England. Those rules remain in place in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Will Omicron cancel Christmas?
So far, it looks like Christmas is going ahead. That said, officials in the UK are apparently going to review the situation around December 18, which sounds terrifyingly similar to the situation last year.
In the meantime, rules around booster jabs have changed, meaning adults can now get a third dose three months after their second (rather than six). That should help to speed up the vaccination programme, reducing the impact of the new variant on the health system.
Some leaders choosing to be even more careful. Wales’s first minister, Mark Drakeford, has urged people to take precautions when visiting vulnerable people. He also advised people to take a lateral flow test before visiting crowded areas.
What are the Omicron travel restrictions in the UK?
Severe travel restrictions are back. The ‘red list’ did, briefly, disappear – but because of the new variant, some measures have been reintroduced. Arrivals from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Angola, Namibia, Mozambique and Zambia will now have to quarantine in a hotel for ten days on arrival in the UK. Flights to those countries from the UK have also been suspended.
Those hotel quarantines aren’t cheap. Arrivals must stump up £2,285 per head for the ten-day quarantine – covering food, accommodation, transport and testing.
And PCR tests are back for anyone entering the UK, with lateral flows no longer accepted. PCRs must be booked before travel, and taken within three days of your arrival in the UK. You have to self-isolate while waiting for your result.
If the new variant risks overwhelming the health system, then further border restrictions could be introduced. Our advice? Watch this space and make sure to check the latest rules before travelling.
Here’s everything you need to know about the current UK travel restrictions.