After a brief relaxation of Covid-19 border restrictions in the UK, travel to the country has become difficult again following the emergence of the Omicron variant and its rapid spread across the world.
Then there is the ongoing national lockdown in Austria to consider – just as British citizens plan trips home for Christmas.
So what are the travel rules right now between Austria and the UK?
Travel to the UK from Austria
Since the discovery of the new Omicron variant in late November, the UK government has reintroduced pre-departure testing, day two testing and quarantine requirements for arrivals.
The pre-departure tests, which were scrapped only weeks ago before their reintroduction, must be taken within two days of travel to the UK. They can be PCR or antigen tests and must be carried out by all travellers regardless of their vaccination status.
The requirement applies for those aged 12 and over arriving in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
On November 27th the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also announced that day two PCR tests and self-isolation for all UK arrivals would be reintroduced and the requirements came into force at 4am on Tuesday, November 30th.
This means that people arriving in the UK from Austria need to book and take PCR tests instead of lateral flow tests, which will no longer be accepted.
Travellers need to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after arriving in the UK and self-isolate until a negative test result is received.
What does self-isolation in the UK mean?
Self-isolation is basically a quarantine, although for people arriving from Austria this can be done at home.
The rules state people can only leave home to buy essential supplies, such as food or medication (but only if no-one else can buy them for you), to take a test or for urgent medical care. If you are staying with family, they do not need to isolate but should keep a distance.
The potential problem with this change is that the UK testing system has been beset with problems.
For example, at least one private testing company is being investigated for failure to deliver PCR test results on time – or in some cases at all – meaning people could be stuck in quarantine for a long time.
Another private testing provider is being looked into for providing thousands of incorrect negative results.
And Which? travel editor Rory Boland has expressed concern that the day two test rule is unclear for both travellers and airlines, which could disrupt trips for travellers to the UK.
For those due to take a pre-departure test to come back to the UK, the best advice is to take one
within 48hours of departure.
The two day advice is probably correct, but airlines will likely follow the stricter 48hr rule until government clears this up for them. https://t.co/5MQ50NNvGa
— Rory Boland (@roryboland) December 6, 2021
Finally, all travellers to the UK will need to fill in a Passenger Locator Form, up to 48 hours before starting the journey.
Travel to Austria from the UK
As Austria is currently in a national lockdown, travel to the country for tourism is not allowed. The lockdown is set to end for vaccinated residents this weekend, with December 12th the first day of no lockdown.
However, international residents of Austria are allowed to enter the country, as long as their residency and visa documents are up to date.
For British travellers, this means carrying the Article 50 Card (post-Brexit residency card) or official confirmation of application if you have not yet received the card or a relevant visa/residency document, for example a residence permit for Brits who arrived after the Brexit transition period, or proof of EU citizenship for Brits with dual citizenship.
Arrivals in Austria from the UK also need to show proof of full vaccination, a negative PCR test that is no older than 72 hours (for all people aged 12 and over) or proof of recovery of Covid-19 in the past 180 days.
However, people with a negative PCR test have to register for pre-travel clearance and then self-isolate at home for 10 days after arrival, with the option to take an additional test after five days to end the quarantine early.
Those with proof of vaccination or recovery do not need to self-isolate.
In order to use proof of vaccination as your entry proof for Austria, as of December 6th this is only valid for 270 days after a second dose of a two-dose vaccine, in line with the 2G rule explained above. This means that if you had your second dose earlier than that, you will either need proof of a booster dose to enter Austria, or will need to use another proof such as a negative test.
Travel during the lockdown in Austria
Under the lockdown rules during winter of 2020/2021, Austrian residents were clearly allowed to leave Austria to visit close family members, partners or for professional reasons.
They will also not be prevented from returning, provided their residency permits and visas remain valid.
Whether you can leave Austria to go on holiday however remains a little less clear.
While the government does not want to encourage people to head abroad on holidays by expressly saying this is permitted, there is little the government can do to prevent you from leaving, and the Covid laws do not prevent people from travelling for tourism.
Constitutional and administrative lawyer Peter Bußjäger told Kurier during the previous lockdown that trips abroad are “officially not forbidden” and that an effort to fine someone for going on vacation “would probably not hold up in court”.