How fresh Covid restrictions are keeping families apart and ruining travel plans

·8-min read
Lee-Anne Douglas and her family
Lee-Anne Douglas and her family

Ten countries are on the red list, Switzerland has effectively banned British travellers, EU countries are tightening entry rules – and Nicola Sturgeon is calling for an eight-day quarantine for all UK arrivals… our travel horizons are becoming murkier by the day.

Indeed, the swift, arguably knee-jerk, international reaction to the omicron variant threatens to decimate carefully laid Christmas, and holiday, plans.

Families who’d planned a trip to South Africa would now (when flights are reinstated) face hotel quarantine on return to the UK at a cost of up to £2,285 per adult. Reunions – and skiing – in Switzerland are also off the menu for the foreseeable future (unless you’re willing to submit to 10 days of self-isolation when you arrive).

How about the Canary Islands for New Year? Not if you have a child over 12 who’s yet to receive a second jab – from December 1, Spain will no longer accept a negative PCR result for entry.

Then there’s the UK Government’s switch back to PCR tests for arrivals. At 4am on Tuesday, lateral flow versions will not be accepted and travellers will have to self-isolate until they’ve received a negative result. Based on previous consumer issues with some providers, this could potentially drag on for days.

Rabat at Dusk - Getty
Rabat at Dusk - Getty

Before writing off international travel in the coming weeks and months, however, Britons should consider the advice of Liddy Pleasants, managing director of family travel specialists Stubborn Mule. “We strongly urge patience; updates are coming thick and fast at the moment, and there is absolutely no point trying to second guess what will happen,” she says.

“It’s just too early to say what kind of travel restrictions may be in place over Christmas for most countries.

“Of course there are some exceptions; travel to southern Africa is clearly likely to be problematic and countries like Morocco and Israel are taking a very strong line and banning visitors and flights. But for most other destinations, the only thing that can be done is to wait and see.”

That said, many travel plans will be cancelled (or at least disrupted) by the latest changes to travel rules, at home and abroad. We’ve spoken to some of those worst affected.

‘Christmas and a long-awaited family reunion have been ruined’

Lee-Anne Douglas and her family were due to travel to South Africa for two weeks in December

This was our third attempt at trying to travel to South Africa (where my husband and I are originally from) during the pandemic. This was to be our children’s [aged 14 and 11] first ever “hot” Christmas and a wonderful family reunion, with both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles, great aunts and great uncles; 15 people in total.

Basically, Christmas and a long-awaited family reunion have now been ruined. Even if flights are reinstated, we just wouldn’t be able to afford the compulsory quarantine on the way back – in terms of costs and time away from work and school.

Lee-Anne Douglas and her family
Lee-Anne Douglas and her family

The financial implications are not quite known yet. We’ll have to see what the airline (Virgin) does with our flight. There’s also car hire to consider, B&Bs booked, a trip to the Kruger [National Park] and a deposit put down for Christmas lunch at a nearby hotel. We’d also only just paid nearly £200 for the PCR tests needed to travel to South Africa.

It’s more difficult to put a ‘value’ on the emotional side of things – not having seen parents and grandparents for a number of years is extremely hard going, and what has become very evident over this weekend is just how much everyone was looking forward to the reunion and how absolutely devastated our parents are.

‘I feel we are moving backwards’

Samantha Bertish is a Briton living in Switzerland with her husband; she was returning to the UK for Christmas

I was supposed to visit the UK on December 20 for my business [children’s character brand, Zuma the Dog] and to spend Christmas with my family.

My mother passed away at the beginning of the pandemic and, as we were out of the country, she died on her own in hospital. My father is getting on and has had some health scares and of course I want to be able to see him as much as possible. My son [used to] see our UK family regularly. He was 12 when all this started; now he’s 14 – that’s a big change in a boy’s life and his relationship with his grandfather and auntie has suffered because of these restrictions.

Maloja alpine village and Chiesa Bianca framed by snowy woods at dusk, Switzerland - Getty
Maloja alpine village and Chiesa Bianca framed by snowy woods at dusk, Switzerland - Getty

This Christmas trip was going to be a chance for us as a family to be together.

The changes that the [Swiss] Government has made have come out of the blue. I feel we are moving backwards; they are going against everything they said. While I am vaccinated, I am taking a risk by coming to the UK, but that should be my choice. I feel the government has disempowered me to make an informed decision for myself. I feel no one can make any plans in case everything changes again. It's like living in limbo.

‘We have done everything right and yet we are still being penalised’

Rachel Corocan had planned to travel to Menorca with her husband, two sons and parents in law

We were due to go to Menorca for Christmas (where we have a property). However, now Spain has changed the rules for entry, our 13-year-old can’t travel as he has only had one vaccine dose.

Rachel Corocan, her husband
Rachel Corocan, her husband

I hadn’t envisaged this year was going to be as difficult [as last Christmas]. The changes came out of nowhere as a result of the new variant. We are very disappointed. It doesn’t make any sense that four fully vaccinated adults and a 10-year-old can travel, but my 13-year-old son [with one jab] can’t. We have done everything right and yet we are still being penalised. In fact, had my son been able to travel he would most likely have been one of the safest people on the plane as he would have travelled with a negative PCR test.

My view is that 12-15 year olds should have been offered two doses from the outset, starting in the summer holidays so they returned to school at least partially protected. However, even if this had happened, there is no UK Covid travel pass for [under-16s], so they couldn’t prove their vaccine status anyway.

Spanish streets - Getty
Spanish streets - Getty

‘It was a disaster. A punch in the sternum’

Simon Parker and his girlfriend were due to move to South Africa for winter

Up until last Thursday, my plan was to spend the next seven months in South Africa, living and working. My girlfriend and I would be living in Cape Town and working remotely. We always escape for winter and it’s a lifestyle we love, but has been ruined by the pandemic. South Africa seemed like a safe bet, but the plan has come crashing down.

As it stands, we have no idea where we will spend this winter. We have had to cancel all our accommodation and are waiting to hear from Virgin in regards to our flights. I hope they cancel them, that way I can get a full refund. I already have over a grand tied up in EasyJet and British Airways vouchers from last year.

Simon Parker and his partner
Simon Parker and his partner

[The news that South Africa was to return to the hotel quarantine category] was a disaster. A punch in the sternum. We have had such a challenging year. We are both self-employed and have suffered hugely during the pandemic. We have also had close friends die in the past year, and this trip was our chance to get our life back.

We currently have no idea where we will be for the next half a year. I just hope it’s a false alarm and omicron isn’t as bad as reported. If we can, we might drive to southern Spain instead. Last winter in dark, dank Britain didn’t do us any good. I need some sunshine, as therapy.

‘The kids will be really sad’

Emma Hollingsworth, her husband and three children (aged five, two and nine months) had booked a 10-day holiday in Cape Town and Stellenbosch, and were due to travel on Boxing Day

I was a little bit gutted when it was announced South Africa was returning to the hotel quarantine category. We booked our holiday there two days before it was announced that South Africa would come off the red list last time – as soon as it was taken off [the changes were announced on October 28 and came into effect on November 1], flight prices went up.

Emma Hollingsworth, her husband and three children (aged five, two and nine months)
Emma Hollingsworth, her husband and three children (aged five, two and nine months)

A couple of years ago, some friends we’d made on holiday in Tenerife had told us Cape Town was amazing for families at Christmas. We first visited after that, and loved it – there are lots of kid-friendly things to do and it’s very reasonable in terms of prices.

One of the hotels we’d booked for our trip was refundable up until Saturday, so we cancelled then; the other one we can cancel up until the day before travel. Our flights are with BA and cost around £3,000 for the five of us. We’re waiting to see if BA cancels it.

The kids will be really sad about the holiday, but we’re looking into going to Disneyland Paris for a couple of days instead and will just hope that France doesn’t go on the red list too.