Omicron variant: UK’s new Covid travel rules explained


The emergence of the new Covid-19 Omicron variant has seen the UK government take action to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

During a briefing on Saturday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a series of “temporary and precautionary” measures, including compulsory face coverings in shops and on public transport in England, from tomorrow.

Some travel restrictions have also been reintroduced and ten southern African countries are now on England’s ‘red list’. Here we describe what the new travel rules are and how the tourism industry has reacted to the changes …

What is the Omicron variant?

The Omicron variant has been named as one of the ‘worrisome’ by the World Health Organization (WHO), with a UK health official calling it ‘the worst we’ve seen so far’, ITV reported.

It has already been identified as having 30 different mutations, Sky News noted. This is “twice as much as the Delta variant, which has been the largest in the UK in recent months”.

Which countries are on the red list?

The new variant was first reported in South Africa on Wednesday, with early evidence suggesting it has a higher risk of reinfection, said BBC News.

England’s Red List was cleared from all countries in October, but concerns over the new variant mean ten countries and territories have now been added: Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Passengers arriving in England from a Red Listed destination will not be able to enter unless they are British or Irish nationals, or UK residents. They must quarantine themselves at a pre-booked government approved hotel for ten days / 11 nights (£ 2,285 for an adult, £ 1,430 for an additional adult and £ 325 for children aged 5-11) . The cost includes all meals and two PCR tests.

Public health in the UK is a devolved issue, Forbes noted. But the UK government works in close collaboration with the administrations of Scotland, Wales and North Ireland on any change in international travel and aims to ensure a comprehensive UK approach.

Travel from countries not on the red list

From all other countries except the Republic of Ireland, the rules depend on the traveler’s vaccination status, The independent reported. Fully vaccinated travelers arriving after 4 a.m. on Tuesday, November 30 must now book a PCR test to take on arrival or before the end of the second day of their stay. Travelers should also self-isolate upon arrival until a negative result is received.

Lateral flow tests “will no longer be accepted,” the UK government said. NHS testing is not permitted and tests must be purchased from a private testing provider.

For travelers not fully vaccinated, they should still take a pre-departure test, PCR tests on days two and eight after arrival, and self-isolate for ten days.

Do PCR tests need to be done on the second day?

This is a “widely held but mistaken opinion,” said Simon Calder, travel correspondent for The Independent. “You can take the test at any time from your arrival in the UK until the end of the second full day after your arrival. There will be a “strong push” to have the PCR test at the airport, Calder added.

How long will the new rules be in place?

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the targeted measures were introduced to provide “confidence and protection”. In a tweet he said the new rules will be reviewed “in three weeks to make sure they work effectively.”

What are other countries doing?

Many countries have decided to tighten their borders because of the new variant, Sky News noted. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that entry for all foreign visitors was suspended from Tuesday. As of 22:59 GMT on Monday, all inbound passenger flights to Morocco will be suspended for two weeks while Israel will ban entry of all foreigners into the country for 14 days.

View from South Africa

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said he was “deeply disappointed” by the travel bans imposed on his country and other countries in southern Africa. The UK, EU and US are among those who have imposed travel bans and he called the measures unjustified and called for the bans to be lifted, the BBC reported.

“The only thing the travel ban will do will be further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to and recover from the pandemic,” Ramaphosa said. He wants countries “to reverse their decisions urgently … before further damage is done to our economies.”

How has the UK travel industry reacted?

The travel industry, which has already suffered massive losses in the past 18 months, is “appalled,” The Independent said. The changes “will damage consumer confidence and increase the overall cost of vacations.”

A spokesperson for Abta, the travel association, said it was a “big blow” for companies in the sector. He called for “careful consideration” and “the rapid lifting of restrictions if it becomes clear that there is no risk to the British vaccination program”.

Paul Goldstein, a seasoned tour guide and photographer, told The Independent that it was “a shame to penalize a country for its transparency and expertise by throwing it into the homes of the poor.” He added: “Travel apartheid continues to destroy economies and throw the UK travel industry to the wolves.”


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