The Omicron variant is “spreading pretty rapidly” across the UK and new travel rules will be too late to prevent a potential wave of infections, one of the government’s scientific advisers has said, reports Guardian.
The latest figures from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) show that a further 26 cases of the variant had been reported across the UK as of Saturday night, taking the total so far to 160.
“The numbers are still quite small, so the absolute number of Omicron cases in the UK, I would strongly suspect, is more in the hundreds than the thousands,” Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said.
Effect of vaccines
Despite the threat posed by the variant, however, vaccines would still be “very, very good” against it, he said. “Vaccinologists and immunologists think that this variant won’t evade the vaccines entirely.
It’s important to remember that against the Delta variant, which is a different variant, the booster vaccinations have turned out to be very effective, well into the 90% protection against infection but also against disease and putting people in hospital. So even if the vaccines were slightly less effective against Omicron they would still be very, very good.”
What are the new Travel rules?
Tests are required both before you set off for the UK, and once you arrive.
Before departure: From 04:00 on Tuesday, all travellers to the UK aged 12 and over will have to show proof of a negative test, even if they are fully vaccinated.
This can be a PCR or a lateral flow test, and must be taken no more than 48 hours before departure for the UK.
Private test providers must be used – so free NHS lateral flow kits are not allowed.
The test can be taken either in the country where you start your journey, or in another country en route to the UK, if you’re travelling that way.
Until 04:00 on Tuesday, fully vaccinated passengers do not need to take a pre-departure test.
After arriving in the UK, you have two days to take a PCR test.
The PCR test must be booked before you travel, and bought privately from a government-approved list of providers.
While you are waiting for a result, you must self-isolate – whether or not you have been vaccinated. You can stop self-isolating if your test is negative.
As well as the rules on tests, all travellers coming to the UK must fill in a passenger locator form – even if they are just passing through – which they need to fill in no more than 48 hours before their journey.
Which countries are on the red list now?
Nigeria has been added to the travel red list, which has stricter rules for entry into the UK. It joins South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia.
These countries have been targeted because the Omicron variant was first identified in southern Africa.
The only people allowed to enter the UK from these countries are UK or Irish nationals, or UK residents.
They will have to pay for and self-isolate in a pre-booked government-approved hotel for 10 days.
How do I prove vaccinations and test results?
Digital Covid passes showing your vaccination status are available in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Test results can be in the form of a printed document, or an email or text on your phone. They must be in English, French or Spanish.
European Union residents can use the EU Digital Covid Certificate to show their vaccination status or test results.
What if I test positive?
If you test positive, you should follow local rules in place in the country you’re in and not travel to the UK.
What if I’m unvaccinated?
The current UK rules say that if you aren’t fully vaccinated – and you’re over 18 – you need to:
- take a PCR or lateral flow/antigen test (not a free NHS test) in the two days before you travel to the UK
- take a test on or before day two and on or after day eight after your return.
- self-isolate at home for 10 days after arrival in the UK
Test to Release will remain an option for unvaccinated passengers to England who want to shorten their quarantine.
What are the rules in the US?
There is no quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated people, but they need to show proof of a negative test taken no more than one day before travel.
Another test, three to five days after arriving in the US, is recommended.
Vaccine certificates – including the NHS Covid Pass and equivalents from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – are accepted.
Masks are mandatory on planes and in airports, and travellers must follow state and local rules at their destination.
What’s happening in Europe?
Some European countries are tightening rules.
In France, from 15 December, over-65s must have had a booster jab to travel or visit restaurants and museums. It is not clear whether this will apply to UK visitors.
People in England and Wales can now show they have had a third dose using the NHS Covid Pass.
Rules can change quickly, not only for Europe, but for all countries. You should keep checking the UK Foreign Office rules for your destination for the latest updates.
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