The holiday season now looks a lot less rosy for the traditional Christmas destination, with an increasing number of coronavirus illnesses related to the new variety of omicron and testing restrictions that tourists find onerous.
In November, London was starting to resemble a pre-pandemic Christmas.
Tourists and locals alike flocked to Oxford Street, which was decked up in glittering holiday lights, to shop for presents. The West End theaters were full for sold-out plays (masks were not necessary), and bars and restaurants were bustling with merry people attending quiz nights and Christmas parties.
Then came the extremely infectious Omicron version of the coronavirus, which caused infections in the UK to double every two to three days, according to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. It has increased the government’s daily estimate of new cases from roughly 2,200 in May to nearly 200,000 now.
Restaurants reported significant levels of cancellations, theaters canceled concerts, and Christmas workplace parties were rescheduled nearly immediately. The latest wave of illnesses has caused anxiety and uncertainty among overseas tourists, which has been exacerbated by the British government’s contradictory signals.
The coronavirus warning level was upgraded to four out of five on Dec. 12, indicating a high or growing degree of transmission. At a press conference on Wednesday, Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said, “People should be prioritizing those things, and only those things, that genuinely important to them.” “If you don’t have to, don’t mingle with them.”
Mr. Johnson, on the other hand, didn’t appear to get the message. He remarked the same day, “We’re not canceling gatherings, we’re not stopping hospitality, we’re not canceling people’s parties or their freedom to mingle.”
While many Americans have canceled their travel plans, those who have grown weary of the pandemic’s constraints and are yearning for a change of scenery or to reunite with loved ones are faced with a dilemma.
“We haven’t canceled our trip to London, which is less than a week away, since we are so excited to go. We need this for our mental health,” said Lynsey Potter, 62, a Chicago-based reflexologist who spent her first Christmas apart from her daughter and grandchild last year due to travel restrictions between the UK and the US, which have now been relaxed.
Ms. Potter, like many other tourists suffering from pandemic weariness, is more anxious about the possibility of Britain restoring travel restrictions than she is about the virus itself. “With my three shots, I’m well-protected against the virus,” she remarked. “I’m not concerned about it, but I have no influence over the travel regulations, and I doubt I’d be able to withstand a hotel quarantine.” That’s why if I opt to cancel the vacation.”
While prior waves of the pandemic were mostly seen as health problems, “today it’s a limitation issue with a totally different effect on business,” according to Joan Roca, CEO and creator of Essentialist, an international member-only travel service.