Spain, as well as several countries across Europe have recently stepped up restrictions due to the emergence of the new Omicron variant of concern, as well as the rise Covid-19 cases across the continent.
There are still many foreigners who haven’t seen their families since the start of the pandemic, whose plans to finally go back this Christmas are now being put in jeopardy.
Recently, the Spanish government announced that negative Covid tests will no longer be accepted from British visitors looking to spend their holidays in the country. This means that only those that can show proof of being fully vaccinated will be allowed in.
Up until now, Spain had made an exception for the UK. The UK’s status as a third country and its high infection rate should have meant non-essential travel for unvaccinated travellers was not possible.
The new rules don’t apply to children younger than 12, but what about those children aged 12 and over who may not have been vaccinated yet or those who have only received one dose so far and are not fully vaccinated?
This new rule affects many British families who were planning on spending the holidays in Spain – perhaps to visit grandparents or other family members who they haven’t been able to see in person for a long time.
According to the NHS website, children aged 12 to 15 are only being offered their first dose of the vaccine now.
Darren Ashley told The Local Spain “For the second year in a row, my children who are at school in England cannot travel to Spain to spend Christmas with their family. My 12-year-old daughter cannot come to Spain for Christmas despite having one dose of the vaccine and a negative PCR test, but her 10-year-old brother who has no vaccine and lives in the same house can come without even a test”.
Joanne Pearl is also in a similar situation and told us: “I am unable to go to Spain for Christmas as my son has not been vaccinated”.
Another issue affects those aged over 12, but under 16, as another reader told The Local: “Our 14-year old has just been fully vaccinated (2/2 dose) but can’t fly to Tenerife because under 16’s can’t have the Covid pass app which shows the QR code for entry”.
The NHS website states that “If you’re aged 16 or over, you can get a digital NHS COVID Pass for travel. People under 16 may need to show a negative test result”.
However, those children from the UK who are under 16 and over 12 who wish to travel to Spain are not allowed to enter by simply showing a negative test anymore.
Another reader told us that he was due to go to Barcelona for Christmas. Two of his kids are vaccinated and two are not, but have recovered from Covid-19.
“Disproportionate measures from UK and Spain mean we can’t travel,” he concluded.
But it’s not just the Spanish government changing its rules that is making travel more difficult this Christmas.
On December 4th, the British government announced it would demand pre-departure tests for all arrivals from December 7th onwards.
These tests, which were scrapped only weeks ago, must be taken within two days of travel to the UK. They can be PCR or antigen tests and must be carried out by all travellers, regardless of their vaccination status.
Earlier on November 30th, the UK government also brought out another new requirement that applies to all arrivals (including those vaccinated and UK citizens and residents). They must take a PCR test for their Day 2 test, as antigen tests are no longer accepted, and they must self-isolate until a negative result arrives.
This means that travel to the UK just got a whole lot more expensive this Christmas. On average, Day 2 PCR tests booked through one of the UK government’s approved providers cost around £70 per person.
In Spain, on average, a pre-departure antigen test costs anywhere from €25 to €45, while a PCR costs anywhere from €90 to €125.
This means that for a family of four travelling from Spain to the UK this Christmas, it’s going to cost at least £365 or €425 extra on top of flights and any other transport. This increase means that for some, travelling to see family this Christmas is just too expensive.
Stewart, a resident in Spain told The Local: “How I understand it, to go to the UK I will need a PCR test before leaving, quarantine when I arrive, day 2 test, then even if I am still negative, I will have to quarantine for 10 days because I am not vaccinated. Christmas & New Year is over and then another test to return. Three tests later it has been an expensive round trip for nothing”.
Sharron Erbacher agreed with this and said “We lost our flight money because we had no choice but to cancel going to London”.
Other EU countries have also brought in new restrictions, including Portugal, which now requires a negative Covid-19 test to enter, even if you’ve been fully vaccinated.
Currently, travellers from the EU that have been fully vaccinated for more than 14 days can travel to Spain with the Covid health pass and don’t have to show a negative test, but if that changes and even those vaccinated from the EU have to show a test, Christmas travel will get even more expensive still.
The Health Minister, Carolina Darias, is thought to be considering whether to require a negative PCR test from vaccinated EU travellers, similar to Portugal.
But she said any decisions would be taken in coordination with other member states, in line with the bloc’s agreement to allow vaccinated European residents to travel freely within the Schengen area.
But with Covid vaccine boosters being given out now to many across Europe and suggestions that from the World Health Organisation that the Omicron variant may be milder than the Delta variant, many are still planning on travelling this Christmas despite the extra measures and restrictions.