Many Brits living abroad are facing the prospect of spending Christmas away from their families in the UK, as a result of ongoing travel and quarantine restrictions due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Only a limited number of countries remain on the UK Government’s ‘travel corridor’ list, meaning that many people arriving into the UK would be required to self-isolate for 10 days upon arrival unless they take a ‘test to release’ on the fifth day of this period.

Many countries around the world are also imposing similar quarantine restrictions on arrivals from the UK – meaning that those travelling between two countries to visit family over Christmas may be required to undergo multiple periods of self-isolation, plus multiple paid Covid-19 tests.

As a result of these various complications, many families are preparing to celebrate Christmas virtually with their loved ones abroad.

A challenging situation for many

While travel restrictions to visit family within the UK will be lifted to allow people to form their ‘Christmas bubbles’, these do not apply for those who have family living abroad.

For example, many UK residents may wish to fly abroad to see their family and friends – but this requires them to be fully up-to-date with the ever-changing list of ‘travel corridors’ published by the UK Department for Transport which is updated every Thursday.

In many countries, UK residents would have to go through mandatory quarantines upon arrival, or face accommodation closures at their destination. In Germany, for example, hotels are currently closed except for those undertaking ‘essential business travel’.

This situation is mirrored for those living abroad who wish to travel back to the UK to see family at Christmas.

Many obstacles to overcome

James, a 30-year-old British citizen currently living in the German city of Stuttgart, said: “I’ve spent every Christmas of my life so far with my family, but it looks very unlikely we will be able to do it this year because of the rules and restrictions in place, both in the UK and here in Germany.”

Because many countries, including Germany, are no longer included on the UK’s travel corridor list, James and many other arrivals would have to self-isolate after reaching the UK.

The mandatory self-isolation period for arrivals from at-risk countries is 10 days, which was reduced from 14 days when changes came into effect on Monday. As of Tuesday (15 December) there is an option to reduce this period by taking a so-called ‘test to release’ – a paid-for test from a private provider, no earlier than day 5 after arriving in the country.

As James explains, “If this test comes back negative, I would be free to end the self-isolation period and leave my family home before travelling back to Germany. However, I would then have to immediately self-isolate for a further minimum of five days upon returning to Germany because they also class the United Kingdom as a high-risk area.”

Embracing virtual alternatives

Facing such a complicated array of rules and restrictions – even if all the tests come back negative – it is easy to see why James and his family are thinking twice about attempting the trip.

2020 has seen a huge rise in the number of people worldwide using online platforms to stay connected. As James says, “We’d have to try and make use of some virtual platforms like Zoom, online video games and so on, to try and have a bit of Christmas spirit.”

James is also hoping to spend some of Christmas Day itself with close friends in Stuttgart. As he explains, “A few of my friends have offered to have me round for Christmas dinner and so on, since they’re also stuck it’s really about solidarity and coming together.”

Should family travel be considered the same way as business travel?

The government has a number of ‘travel exemptions’ in place for people working in various businesses and professions. These people do not have to take a test or self-isolate on arrival into the UK.

This list of travel exemptions includes “business directors bringing jobs and investment to the UK”, specialist technical workers and those who regularly work abroad.

Given how many families like James and his family are facing such extensive restrictions over Christmas, it raises an important question about the relative importance of enabling time with family over Christmas, versus these business priorities.

As James says, “I understand that governments have a lot to think about at the moment in this fast-moving crisis, but it does feel like business travel has been prioritised a little bit more than travel to see family.

“From a technical perspective, it seems that family visits are being considered on the same level as just going on holiday – so that’s not ideal. But I guess it’s hard to make decisions that please everyone.”

Listen to the full audio news report for this story, including an interview with James, above.

It is clear that the Covid-19 pandemic remains a very complex and difficult situation, not just for James but for many others like him around the world. Hopes are high that vaccines will help to bring an end to this crisis, but Christmas will surely come too soon for any immediate solution to be found.

Christmas is a time when people love to come together and celebrate – but in a global pandemic that shows no signs of easing, it’s clear that this won’t be a normal Christmas for many families.

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