Covid-19: Christmas ‘in jeopardy’ after ban on UK travellers

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Nicola Smith with her husband Steve who died in July this year

After a particularly tough year, Nicola Smith was planning to spend Christmas abroad with her daughter and granddaughter to create “new memories”.

Her husband, Steve, died in a motorbike accident in July – and the toy shop she owns had to shut for huge parts of 2020 due to the Covid-19 lockdowns.

Nicola, 60, from Morecambe, was due to fly to Canada on Monday to visit her daughter Philippa, and three-year-old granddaughter Martha.

It would have been the first time she had seen Philippa since she suffered her own trauma: Philippa’s partner, Tom, died in a white-water-rafting accident last year.

But her hopes of seeing her family were dashed on Monday morning when Canada brought in a 72-hour ban on flights from the UK.

“I just wanted to go away where we could make new memories,” said Nicola.

“I haven’t seen Philippa since Tom drowned, and she’s having such a hard time so far away from her family with a lockdown.

“She was trying to work from home with a three-year-old, with no family within thousands of miles.

“She was so looking forward to just having her mum there.”

Passengers queue for check-in at Gatwick Airport in West Sussex.
image captionNumerous countries have introduced travel bans amid concerns over the new coronavirus variant

Canada is one of several countries to have banned arrivals from the UK because of concerns about the spread of a new variant of coronavirus.

Nicola said this year had been “horrendous”, and when she woke up to the news of the travel ban she was in “disbelief”.

Christmas Day will be exactly five months after Steve’s death, so she was looking forward to getting away to somewhere she hadn’t spent the festive season before.

Nicola also hasn’t seen her granddaughter since she was a baby – so the Christmas trip was going to be an extra special time for the family.

“I speak on Facebook Messenger to her but it’s not the same,” Nicola said. “She doesn’t really know who I am, but she’s been getting excited for grandma coming.”

It’s not yet clear when the UK travel ban to Canada will be lifted – or whether Nicola will be able to rebook her flight.

“You come so far and then it’s taken away again,” she said. “If there’s a flight on Christmas Eve I’ll go. But nobody knows what’s going to happen”.

Nick Kennedy and his family
image captionNick Kennedy and his family were looking forward to hosting his parents in France this Christmas

Nicola is one of many people who have had their plans to go abroad for Christmas disrupted at the last minute.

Canada, India, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, the Republic of Ireland, Italy and Austria are some of the more than 40 countries that have blocked UK arrivals.

British man Nick Kennedy, who lives in France, was looking forward to sharing Christmas with his parents who were due to travel there from Swindon on Tuesday.

“We don’t get enough time together as a family, so we wanted to make the most of it.” he said. “We want our son to spend as much time as possible with his English grandparents.

“It’s a big disappointment as a family. All I can hope for is that the borders reopen very, very quickly. We’ve got to wait until Tuesday to see if there’s any possibility of movement before Christmas.

“Many people, including my family, don’t believe the borders will be open.”

Les Banks Irvine
image captionLes hasn’t seen his family since August

Les Banks Irvine was due to fly back to the UK from Monrovia in Liberia – where he works – to spend three weeks with his family this Christmas.

But when he turned up at the airport on Sunday he was told at the check in-desk: “Sorry, because you’re going to the UK, you can’t go.”

“I was hoping to be spending some time with my two children and three grandchildren in mid-Wales, but it now looks like I am stranded here in Monrovia,” he said.

“I’ve been here for about nine months this year. I last saw my family at the end of August.

“I know its difficult times for everyone, but I do wish national air carriers would keep us informed.”

Heathrow airport
image captionFlights from the UK are being suspended to countries across the world including Italy, Slovakia and India

Maria Kovacsova, who is from Slovakia but lives in London, is due to fly home to see her family on Christmas Eve – but her trip is looking unlikely now.

“I have spent so much money on a private Covid test in order to go home,” she said. “I haven’t seen my family for a year. My heart is broken.

“I was last at home a year ago. I couldn’t go after that because the big lockdown started in March. I had to work as well.

“I’m going to do nothing for Christmas. You can’t do anything basically, you can’t see your friends or family.

“I live in shared accommodation with five people in Tooting. We are basically five strangers living together; five professionals in one house and we’re not able to leave the house.”

Gary Fearon and Abigail Brown
image captionGary and Abigail own a pet transport company

Gary Fearon and his partner Abigail Brown, who have lived in Spain since January, are facing the prospect of Christmas in a Northampton hotel.

The couple own a pet transport company and had arrived in the UK on Friday to deliver pets from Spain.

They were due to pick up other customers’ pets from the UK and travel back with them to Spain on Tuesday. But their plans are now up in the air.

“We have no information as to when and how we will get to Spain,” said Gary.

“Customers who are ready to fly to Spain are now having to decide what to do with their pets as we cannot guarantee when we can leave.”

The couple are unable to stay with family as Gary’s relatives live in Ireland and Abigail’s family are in Covid high-risk groups.

“The hotel we’re in at the minute doesn’t know for definite if they’re open on Christmas Day,” said Gary. “We have our own pets in Spain that are being minded by a neighbour.

“We’ve been lucky to get a hotel room. I feel sorry for the lorry drivers in Dover.”

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