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Omicron Covid variant: How could the latest UK red list update affect my travel plans?

·4-min read
Omicron Covid variant: How could the latest UK red list update affect my travel plans?

The emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid has caused shockwaves across the world, with countries scrambling to close their borders to curb its spread.

The variant has sparked alarm among scientists for its high number of mutations and is feared to be more transmissible and vaccine-resistant.

Ministers have announced a ban on travel from ten countries in southern Africa where the variant is thought to be in circulation.

The Government red list for travel means arrivals from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia Zimbabwe, Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia will have to quarantine for 10 days.

It was first detected in Botswana week though cases have subsequently been detected in South Africa, Hong Kong, Belgium and Israel.

President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen has also urged countries in the bloc to suspend all air travel from nations impacted by the variant.

With travel chaos looming ahead of the busy festive period, the Standard looks at what you can expect in the coming weeks and whether you should rethink your Christmas holiday plans.

What can I do if I’m due to fly to a red-listed country?

The UK government has imposed a ban on direct flights between Britain and the six affected countries until 4am on Sunday morning. This will allow authorities to facilitate quarantine arrangements.

Those who arrive before this deadline must quarantine for 10 days at home.

Passengers arriving after 4am Sunday will be required to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days.

The newly red-listed countries are South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe.

However, travellers are advised to keep in touch with their airline to check whether the ban is extended or whether their flight is cancelled.

Can I get a refund on my flights and accommodation?

If your flight is cancelled, your airline will contact you and offer a full refund. You can also accept a voucher or an alternative flight.

All refunds should be paid within seven days, though some travellers have complained that airlines take longer to return their money.

However, it is worth noting that refunds are only automatically offered when a flight is cancelled. If your flight does go ahead and you do not wish to travel, you should contact your airline to discuss available options.

Travellers who are stranded in red-list countries and forced to pay extra for their accommodation should check with their insurance provider if they are able to make a claim.

Many insurers withdrew their Covid-related cover last year, but some have retained the policy. You should also contact your accommodation provider regarding their cancellation policy to see if you are eligible for a refund.

South Africa has seen multiple cases of the new variant (AFP via Getty Images)
South Africa has seen multiple cases of the new variant (AFP via Getty Images)

Should I cancel my Christmas holidays?

Travellers heading to red-listed countries are urged to cancel their trip unless it is essential.

However, vaccinated Britons can still travel to many destinations around the globe as the government is yet to announce further restrictions targeting other regions.

Some destinations do still require proof of a negative PCR test result from all arrivals, while others only request a vaccine passport for entry. You can use your NHS Covid pass as certification in most countries in Europe.

On return to the UK, you will need to take a lateral flow test on day two after your arrival home.

If you are not fully vaccinated, you must take a lateral flow test up to 72 hours before travelling back to the UK, then enter 10 days of self-isolation on your return.

However, travellers should note that many European nations have re-imposed Covid restrictions in recent weeks. Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and the Czech Republic are among tourist hotspots to announce fresh curbs to stem the spread of the disease.

The situation could yet escalate further with the emergence of the Nu variant, so monitoring the situation in your destination is essential.

Will I be able to use my travel insurance?

It depends. While some firms have retained Covid cover on their list of provisions, many abandoned it earlier this year as the pandemic receded.

If you do decide to visit red-listed countries, you will not be covered by travel insurance as the Foreign Office has advised against all essential travel.

The way you travel also makes a difference. A tour operator is legally obliged to cancel your trip and offer you a refund if the destination you are booked to go to is forbidden by the Foreign Office.

However, travellers who have booked independently are likely to face the most difficulties with their insurance providers.

Anyone seeking to obtain Covid cover for a red-list country can expect to pay a premium for their insurance.

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