How the new Covid rules to tackle omicron will affect your Christmas and New Year’s Eve plans

During the Prime Minister’s national address on December 15, he warned of the fast-spreading new Omicron variant. 

Warning that in some areas of the UK, the double rate was under two days, Boris Johnson said "I’m afraid we’re also seeing the inevitable increase in hospitalisations up by 10 per cent nationally, week on week, and up by almost a third in London."

Despite assuring the nation that there were also "signs of hopes" and that a "great national fightback has begun", the UK has since reported 140,942 new confirmed cases in the past seven days and a 29 per cent increase in London hospital admissions in the last week.

Following the recent surge in Covid cases, London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced on Monday 20 December that the capital’s New Year’s Eve celebrations in Trafalgar Square have been cancelled.

While further restrictions have not been announced in the lead up to Christmas, around 6,500 key workers and members of the public will now miss out on their New Year’s Eve plans.

The UK reported 90,629 daily Covid cases on Tuesday 21 December – with the nation already under Plan B’s work-from-home guidance from the Prime Minister, as well as seeing the introduction of mandatory Covid passports in large venues and the extension of mask rules.

While he did not impose any new rules, in his address on Sunday Dec 12, Mr Johnson warned of a "tidal wave" of omicron and suggested further restrictions may have to be enforced if the target to administer the third dose to one million people a day till the new year was not met. 

"Get boosted now for yourself, for your friends and your family. Get boosted now to protect jobs and livelihoods across this country. Get boosted now to protect our NHS, our freedoms and our way of life," he said. 

Here is everything we know so far about the impact of Covid restrictions on Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations.

What measures have been introduced in England?

As of Dec 10, face coverings are compulsory in most public indoor venues, such as cinemas, theatres and places of worship. However, there are exemptions for hospitality venues.

The Prime Minister also advised “those who can” to work from home from Dec 13.

And from Dec 15, the NHS Covid Pass became mandatory for entry into nightclubs and settings where large crowds gather – including unseated indoor events with 500 or more attendees, unseated outdoor events with 4,000 or more attendees and any event with 10,000 or more attendees.

When will the measures be reviewed?

The Prime Minister said that the measures will be reviewed on Jan 5 and will automatically expire on Jan 26.

He said his aim was for restrictions to be in place "no later than early January and possibly before, if we start to get some of that really granular information [on the omicron variant], but we need to see the data and work on it pretty hard".

What the new rules mean for Christmas parties and nativity plays:

Prof Whitty said people needed to "prioritise what matters" in the run-up to Christmas and therefore "deprioritise other things".

He added you "don’t need a medical degree to realise that is a sensible thing to do with an incredibly infectious virus".

Prof Whitty said it is sensible to prioritise the social interactions that matter, especially in the run-up to Christmas.

"I think that what most people are doing is, and I would think this seems very sensible, is prioritising the social interactions that really matter to them and, to protect those ones, de-prioritising ones that matter much less to them," he said. 

"I think that’s going to become increasingly important as we, for example, go into the Christmas period."

He added he would "strongly encourage" people to take tests before visiting vulnerable people and to meet in areas of good ventilation or outdoors if possible.

Previously, the Prime Minister said on Dec 8 that people should not cancel their Christmas parties or nativity plays. 

But he suggested that they should take a Covid test before attending any festive events.

Boris Johnson tells me people should NOT cancel Christmas parties and nativity plays. But suggests people take a test before Xmas parties.

— Ben Riley-Smith (@benrileysmith) December 8, 2021

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference earlier in December, Mr Johnson said: "On Christmas, the best way to ensure we have a Christmas as close to normal as possible is to get on with Plan B – irritating though it may be, it is not a lockdown, it is Plan B, it is what we set out a while back – and to get your booster and to get your jab."

Asked about whether festive parties and nativity plays should be cancelled, he replied: "No, in my view they should not."

"They should follow the guidance, of course, but we are not saying we want kids to be taken out of school before the end of term – not that there is very long to go now – and we don’t want nativity plays to be cancelled.

"We think that it is OK currently, on what we can see, to keep going with Christmas parties, but obviously everybody should exercise due caution, have ventilation, wash your hands, get a test before you go – (it is) a sensible thing to do to give everybody else at the party the confidence that they are going to be meeting someone who is not contagious."

What the Covid restrictions mean for Christmas services:

As of Dec 10, face coverings became compulsory in places of worship.

However, the Prime Minister said that people who are "singing" are exempt from face masks, meaning those attending Christmas services are able to remove their face coverings when joining in carols. 

What they mean for Christmas shopping and hospitality:

In England, face coverings were already required in shops and shopping centres.

Hospitality settings are exempt from face mask rules, meaning people attending Christmas meals in pubs or restaurants are not required to wear a face covering.

What about the new restrictions in Wales?

The First Minister has announced a mixture of advice for the Christmas period and new regulations to follow as part of a "two-phase plan".

From Dec 27, two-metre social distancing will be mandatory in shops and businesses, alongside measures including one-way systems and physical barriers to protect customers and staff. Nightclubs will be closed. Regulations will also be changed to include a requirement to work from home wherever possible.

Until Dec 27, the Welsh Government is encouraging people to follow five steps, including; getting vaccinated; making sure to have a negative lateral flow test result before going shopping or meeting people; meeting in well-ventilated areas and preferably outdoors; spacing out socialising to allow test days in between; and adhering to social distancing, wearing a face covering and washing hands.

What do the rules mean for Christmas travel?

The Prime Minister did not announce any extra international travel restrictions at the Downing Street press conference or during his national address. 

In fact, on Dec 14 it was announced that 11 countries on the UK’s travel red list would be removed, ending the requirement for arrivals from the likes of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Nigeria to spend 10 nights in a quarantine hotel at a cost of £2,285.

Ministers accepted the red list was no longer required to protect the UK from the import of the omicron variant as it is already becoming the dominant strain in the UK.

Travel testing rules had also already been tightened: anyone travelling to the UK must now take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival, and self-isolate until they have received a negative result – regardless of the country they are travelling from, or their vaccination status. 

Additionally, all people aged 12 years and over must take a PCR or lateral flow test before they travel to England from abroad.

On Dec 13, the Prime Minister announced that the NHS Covid Pass would be rolled out to children aged 12-15, for travel purposes.

Can I go on my ski holiday to France?

France has announced a ban on non-essential travel to and from Britain to slow the spread of the omicron Covid variant, meaning tourist trips will not be possible over Christmas.

From midnight Saturday Dec 18, there has been the "requirement to have an essential reason to travel to, or come from, the UK, both for the unvaccinated and vaccinated". 

"People cannot travel for touristic or professional reasons," the French government said, adding that French citizens and EU nationals could still return to France from the UK.

People arriving from Britain for essential reasons will be required to show a negative Covid test that is less than 24 hours old, to test again upon arrival and self-isolate for seven days, although that can be reduced to 48 hours if the second test is negative.

Travelling to the Netherlands from the UK: lockdown rules, travel restrictions and Covid cases

Travel restrictions are increasing across Europe for UK holidaymakers, as the Netherlands entered a nationwide lockdown on Dec 19.

Set to last until at least Jan 14, according to Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the closure applies to all but essential stores, as well as restaurants, hairdressers, gyms, museums and other public places.

According to the UK government, due to the UK being marked as a "very high risk country", only those who are fully vaccinated Britons can enter the Netherlands. 

However, a negative test (PCR or antigen) will need to be provided upon arrival and visitors must undergo 10 days’ home quarantine – regardless of the test result. Should a negative test result be obtained on Day 5, the quarantine period can be reduced.

Can I travel to Germany for Christmas?

Germany is one of the latest European countries to announce a travel ban on UK visitors – with measures taking affect from midnight Sunday Dec 19.

Under the new travel restrictions, only German citizens and residents are able to return to the country from the UK. Even then, those who are allowed to enter the country will be required to self-isolate at home for 14 days.

Transit flights through German airports will still be allowed, however, for those travelling to another country via Germany.

This article is being kept updated with the latest news and Government guidance daily.  

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