Christmas 2021 is looking bleak for many due to the spread of the Omicron variant – and we spoke to two women who have been affected by the government’s former red list that has left their and Christmas plans in limbo.
When the UK government announced plans to reinstate the travel red list in November, there was something that was clear to many.
The countries featured on the list included Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, and Nigeria and five other African countries – something which sparked concern across the African diaspora in the UK as they questioned why these particular countries were singled-out and “red-listed” due to the spread of the Omicron variant.
“While I understand that the British government’s priority is to contain the virus and slow the spread, the decision needs to be backed with factual data and be fair across the board,” says Alexandriah Sho-Silva.
This year, however, the content creator’s trip was due to be particularly special. “My fiancé and I were due to be married in Lagos this month, so we had planned to go to Lagos for three weeks to prepare and spend time with our families and friends,” she shares.
“Our wedding has been paid for, other members of the family had started to arrive from America and we’d finally started to get excited amid all the wedding prep stress when the announcements happened.”
With a wedding to look forward to along with a memorable Christmas and new year, the announcement that Nigeria had been added to the red list caused chaos for Alexandriah’s travel plans and, most importantly, her wedding.
“At that point, we knew that the majority of our friends and family wouldn’t be able to make it and we were stuck somewhere between carrying on without about half of our closest friends and family or forfeiting a lot of money spent and postponing the wedding.”
“Many European countries have reported cases of the Omicron variant but they were not added to the red list,” she says.
“The travel measures for European countries were still the same with the return of pre-departure tests and the vaccination status still plays a major role. Now that is a measured approach rather than placing a blanket ban on African countries as a whole.”
Sosa Sharon, a civil servant from London, was also due to visit Nigeria during the Christmas period and was excited to spend the holiday season back home.
“ I try to always go back for the festive period,” she says. “The last time was 2019 and that was for a wedding.”
“This time, I was planning to go for three whole weeks. I had finally got the time off work as I worked last year during the festive period and this year my parents had just bought a house in Lekki and it was my cousin’s wedding.”
The Christmas period was meant to be a time of celebration and relaxation for Sosa – but this was all changed when the government announced the changes to its travel rules.
“When this was announced, it was so disappointing and the worst thing as people get ready to go on holiday and rest after a tumultuous year,” she says.
This decision made by the government to add Nigeria to the red list caused turmoil for both Alexandriah and Sosa – something which was intensified once the government announced that it would remove all 11 countries from the red list on 15 December.
The government’s decision to backtrack from the widely criticised red list was celebrated – but the damage had already been done for many who had cancelled their Christmas travel plans, missed pivotal events and – like Alexandriah – postponed their weddings.
“Despite the government reversing its decision, it’s unfortunately too late,” she reveals. “We had already postponed the wedding events when the announcement was made.
“We’ve communicated with the vendors about potential new dates and our friends and families had cancelled their flights. It was extremely stressful for us to organise, reschedule and communicate the postponement and we didn’t want to go through that all over again.”
Alexandriah says she felt “numb” at the government backing down from the government red list but says she “definitely wasn’t surprised”.
“I’m not surprised at all because it was an unnecessary, extreme step to take in the first place,” she states. “The government definitely felt the pressure all around and I think they had to pick their battles.”
“I now have no idea what’s going to happen to my ticket. I have tried contacting the travel agent and I’m waiting to hear back if I will get a refund. My ticket cost me £1,500 and I bought it in early September. I have worked every weekend since then to make the money back.”
“‘Flights from London to Lagos are notoriously busy and so it may be hard for many to rebook or afford the more expensive ticket. The whole experience just shows a total disregard for people’s plan and goals to travel.”
“The red list may be scrapped, but the damage has already been done.”
Image: Getty; Alexandriah Sho-Silva; Sosa Sharon