Latest travel rules and regulations as Omicron causes nightmare before Christmas

IT'S the nightmare before Christmas – just as it seemed the world was opening up along comes Omicron, the latest Covid variant of concern and we’re back to square one.

The last week or so has seen new restrictions imposed on travellers, from hotel quarantine for those returning from 11 African countries to the re-introduction of pre-departure tests before you return to the UK and quarantine until you get your Day 2 test result back.

It could not have come at a worse time with millions having made plans to finally reunite with friends and family after almost two long years.

But the speed of announcements and the changing situation has caused confusion.

Head of Travel Lisa Minot unpicks the latest rules and regulations and offers advice.

How have testing rules changed for coming back into the UK?

Before Omicron, testing had become relatively pain-free for the fully-vaccinated.

There was no need to test before you returned to the UK and it was fine to take a cheaper lateral flow test for your Day 2 test.

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Now things are very different. You will need to take a pre-departure test in your destination up to 48 hours before you return to the UK.

This can be lateral flow or PCR. While it is relatively easy — and sometimes cheaper — to get tests in your destination, you can also book a video-call supervised lateral flow test or an unsupervised one with many of the UK testing companies.

With this, you order and pack the lateral flow test in your suitcase then either have a supervised video call or simply self-administer the test and upload a photo of it.

Generally, the certificate confirming your test is delivered within a few hours.

Taking the test with you avoids having to find somewhere to take the test in a resort and ensures the test meets the standards the UK government requires.

ExpressTest offers the supervised service for £25 and Collinson has an unsupervised test for £19.60. But order the test well in advance of your trip as it can take up to a week to arrive.

And what tests do you have to do when you are home?

You now have to take a PCR test on or before Day 2 on your return and self-isolate until you get the negative result. To cut down the time self-isolating it makes sense to take the test as soon as you possibly can on your return.

There are now testing centres in all the major UK airports as well as main train stations and larger shopping centres.

You will pay a little more for these compared with self-administered ones but the results may well be quicker as you are not at the mercy of the Royal Mail, which offers a reduced service over Christmas and New Year. ExpressTest has PCR Day 2 tests from £69 at its centres across the UK and say they will deliver the result by 10pm the next day.

Qured has home tests from £69 but for an extra £29, a courier will pick up your test from home and guarantee next-day results.

Always check with your travel company or airline as many will have discount codes to book with partner private testing companies.

What do I have to do if I have not been vaccinated?

You will be required to take PCR tests on Day 2 and Day 8 on your return to the UK and will also have to self-isolate for ten days.

Are other countries introducing restrictions?

Yes, and it pays to do your research carefully before any trip. Spain announced on December 1 that all arrivals over the age of 12 have to be fully vaccinated. This has thrown the plans of thousands of families with teenage children into disarray as we don’t currently give 12- to 16-year-olds two jabs in the UK.

The rule is absolute — if you have a teenager who has had just a single jab or none at all, they are regarded as not fully vaccinated by the Spanish and will not be allowed to enter the country.

Yesterday, Ireland said it would advise vaccinated UK visitors to take lateral flow tests for the first five days of their stay as well as one to enter the country. Other countries — including Israel and Morocco — have gone further and banned flights from certain countries.

How can I best protect myself from further restrictions?

The travel industry currently has some of the most flexible policies I’ve ever seen as they seek to encourage travellers to book trips.

While no one can predict what will happen over the coming weeks, the best way to keep your holiday money safe is to book an ATOL-protected package holiday with an established tour operator or travel agent. Make sure you take out travel insurance with good cover as soon as you book so you are.

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