UK's close contact 'ping' rules for Omicron weigh heavily on expat travellers' minds

Travellers will have to self-isolate for 10 full days if identified as a close contact of someone with new variant

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Residents in the UAE planning trips home to England for the Christmas period will now have to abide by tighter travel rules.

This week, the UK government issued a number of new restrictions to international travellers to keep the spread of the new Omicron variant at bay, while scientists learn more about it.

Boris Johnson announced a series of updated measures including PCR tests for all international arrivals and self-isolation for contacts of suspected Omicron cases, even for people who are fully-vaccinated.

All passengers travelling from the UAE to England will now have to book a day two PCR test before checking in for their departing flight. Previously, a lateral flow test was required on or before day two but this will no longer be accepted.

The reference number of the test will have to be entered into the passenger locator form, which must also be filled out before travel.

You must take the Covid-19 PCR test at any time after you arrive in England and before the end of day two at the latest. The day you arrive is counted as day zero.

If you are in England for less than two days, you still need to book and pay for a day two test and you must self-isolate in your accommodation until you receive a negative result, or until you leave England, whichever is sooner.

PCR tests are available at most airports in the UK, but the services are limited on several days over the festive season and closed at some transport hubs on Christmas Day. Passengers have been advised to check availability of tests in advance.

Alternatively, travellers can order tests to be posted to their home address and take them the moment they arrive in the UK.

PCR testing may lead to days of home isolation

Normally, results are returned within 24 hours, but some laboratories such as Salient Bio are closed on Christmas Day and working reduced hours over the new year period.

Randox, the largest laboratory in Europe, with a capacity of over 500,000 tests per day told The National, it will not close over the festive season.

However there is still a chance that results could be delayed, depending on the logistics of getting the samples to the laboratories, said a company spokesperson.

“Randox have a series of drop boxes across the UK and many of these are open and will be collected from every day including Christmas day itself.

“Our recommendation is to refer to the Randox website as to which drop boxes are operational and to observe the pick-up times to ensure collection.

“We would strongly advise against the use of couriers or Royal Mail who operate a very limited service across the festive season.

"Additionally walk-in appointments where you will be swabbed by a healthcare professional are available for limited hours on Christmas day at Heathrow, Stansted and Waterloo."

Some suppliers are also providing the option of same-day PCR tests, as long as travellers send their sample by courier and it arrives in the laboratory by 2pm.

Katy Peters, founder and director of the London Vaccination Clinic, said her company provided the service for travellers who were willing to pay a premium.

“Our normal PCR tests cost £95 [$111] and these same-day tests cost £195, but mean you can stop isolating sooner rather than later," she said.

"We offer a six to eight-hour turnaround for the same-day premium service.

“Clients can either take the test at home, or come into one of our London clinics before 1pm, however, we can’t provide this service on Christmas Day as the lab is closed.”

In addition to the reintroduction of PCR tests on arrival, rules around close contact and self-isolation have also been updated in England.

Here, The National explains the different rules for self-isolation.

What qualifies as self-isolation?

As per the website, self-isolation means you must stay at home and not leave the house. Advice states you must not go to work, school or public areas, and you are not allowed to use public transport or taxis.

Any exercise must be taken within your home, garden or private outdoor space.

Passengers from UAE to self-isolate

Double-vaccinated travellers must self-isolate in England until they have received a negative PCR test result.

Travellers do not necessarily have to wait the full two days if they get their results quickly.

Close contact – Omicron variant

If you are notified that you are a contact of someone who has been identified as a suspected or confirmed case of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, you must stay at home and self-isolate for 10 full days even if you are fully vaccinated, have a negative PCR result or are under 18.

Close contact – not a variant of concern

If you have been informed that you have been in contact with a person who has had a positive test result for Covid-19 which is not a variant of concern, you must stay at home and self-isolate unless you meet one of the following conditions:

- you are fully vaccinated

- you are below the age of 18 years 6 months

- you have taken part in or are currently part of an approved Covid-19 vaccine trial in the UK

If you are not exempt, you are advised to take a PCR test after being identified as a contact, even if you do not have symptoms. You should also take a PCR test if you develop symptoms of Covid-19 during your self-isolation period.

If your test is negative, you must still complete your self-isolation period because the virus may not be detectable yet – this is crucial to avoid unwittingly spreading the virus.

Positive test result

If your test result is positive, you must self-isolate for 10 full days. The day of the test is day zero.

If your test result is unclear, you must self-isolate for 10 full days and you can choose to take another private test. If the result of that test is negative, you can stop self-isolating.

If your PCR test result is delayed, you must self-isolate until you receive a negative test result or until day 14 after arrival, whichever is sooner.

Updated: November 30, 2021, 1:31 PM