The UK government has added six countries to the travel red list after the emergence of a new coronavirus variant. As of midday on Friday, South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia are subject to restrictions and a temporary flight ban. Non-UK and Irish residents who have been in any of those countries in the previous 10 days will be refused entry into England. And the move will have an impact on anyone who has a trip planned.
What happens if I’m due to fly?
Direct passenger flights between the UK and the six countries have been banned until 4am on Sunday morning, to allow time for quarantine arrangements to be put in place in England. However, it is worth keeping an eye out for messages from the airline you have booked with in case the ban is extended, or it makes a decision to cancel later flights.
If your flight is cancelled you should be contacted by the airline and refunded in full – you do not have to accept a voucher or an alternative flight. The refund should be made within seven days, although since the start of the pandemic some airlines have take much longer to return money so be prepared to wait.
Refunds are not automatically offered on flights unless they are cancelled, so if your flight goes ahead and you do not want to take it you will need to contact the airline and find out your options. “The good news is that BA and Virgin, the two most popular carriers to South Africa, have good flexible booking policies – you can rebook fee free for a later date, or hold the money as a voucher,” says Rory Boland, travel editor at Which?. “It’s more sensible to do the latter as you don’t know when travel will be possible again right now.”
If the airline won’t pay, you may be able to claim on your travel insurance. Nationwide building society, for instance, says customers with a policy through its FlexPlus account are covered if they decide to cancel their trip due to quarantine requirements.
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What about accommodation costs?
Travellers stuck in red-listed countries who now need to spend more on accommodation may be able to make a claim on their travel insurance – but must check the small print. Last year, many insurers withdrew Covid-related cover from their policies. And while some have added it this year, many have not. You may have to pay the bills yourself.
If you were due to travel to one of the six countries added to the red list this weekend and had booked your accommodation separately to your flight you may lose money. It depends on the cancellation policy at the place you planned to stay. Do not just assume you will not be able to rearrange or cancel – contact the accommodation provider to see whether it is willing to offer new dates.
Can my travel insurance help?
Yes, if you have the right policy. Some providers introduced Covid cover this year, and if you bought one of those policies you should check what it will pay out for. You may be able to claim for unused accommodation, or the cost of extending your stay if you are already overseas. For your flight, the airline should pay up so that will not be an insurance matter.
The UK Foreign Office is now advising against all but essential travel to these countries, so if you do visit any of them you will not be covered by your travel insurance.
Should I cancel my Christmas trip?
Not before reading the small print of your bookings – if you are not within a free-cancellation period on your accommodation and face a fee for cancelling or moving your flight, you should stick with it unless you have decided you don’t want to travel. This is because if the airline has to cancel the flight, you will be entitled to all your money back. Similarly, if a package holiday provider has to cancel, it cannot withhold your money.
If the Foreign Office warning against travel is still in place when you are due to be away, you can cancel a package holiday and get a full refund, even if flights are back on. Boland says tour operators will “only be looking at dates due to depart in the next few weeks, and contacting customers in departure order. If your trip is several weeks or months away, the best advice is to do nothing for now as the situation may change.”
If I do travel will I need to be tested?
Anyone travelling back from a red-list country will need to take a Covid test in the three days before they come back and then quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days when they arrive, and pay for their stay there. This will apply from 27 November in Scotland and from 28 November in England. These rules apply even if you have been vaccinated.
While at the hotel, people will take Covid tests on day two and day eight. The hotel costs £2,285 for one adult and £3,715 for a couple. The charge for children aged between five and 11 is £325 each.
Anyone who has recently returned from the red-listed countries will be contacted by NHS test and trace and asked to do a PCR test.
Is it unwise to book a holiday for next year?
Anyone booking any kind of trip should make sure they are aware of what costs they will face if it has to be cancelled for any reason – this is true wherever you think you might want to go. Insurers will not exclude countries from cover simply because they have previously been on the red list. Some appear to still be selling policies including Covid protection for trips to South Africa, although it is not clear if they will pay out if something goes wrong. Nationwide says of its policy: “Customers who book a new trip while the FCDO advice is still all but essential travel will not be covered should they need to cancel their trip.”
Boland says: “There remains a risk of disruption wherever you plan to travel at the moment. While the additions to the red list have made the most headlines, several other countries have introduced further restrictions around curfews, tests and vaccination booster shots in recent weeks that make holidays difficult or even impossible.”