The Spectre of Omicron 2: Escape from the UK.

Blogmas Day… ???

I have genuinely lost track of the days and how many days of writing I’ve missed. Heck, I’ve not even been drinking my advent teas to keep me on track – how am I supposed to know what’s going on??

I’m writing this from halfway across the world in Anguilla and it took us about 24 hours to get here from the UK. That’s not including the years of life lost through stress and anxiety of whether this trip will actually happen or not.

Cry me a river…

If you’re reading this thinking, “Boo hoo, princess…” and rolling your eyes, I completely understand. I remember the summer of 2020 when the rates of infection in the UK had fallen and people were daring to think about travelling abroad again but the situation was far from certain.

Listening to the radio whilst driving, a very agitated caller was complaining that she’d booked holidays to Portugal, Spain and France but had lost money on all 3 as the countries were changing from the Green to the Amber or Red list and she didn’t know where she could go next. I actually shouted at the radio, “Give it up, Sheila! Just go to Rhyl!”

So if you’re exasperated by my cries of ‘stress’, I hear you. When this trip was cancelled exactly a year ago, we were happy not to go. When we booked this trip 6 weeks ago, Omicron was simply a letter in the Greek alphabet and not a destroyer of plans, hopes and dreams as we know it now. So why have we gone? Family.

And money spent.

And sunshine.

What do PCRs and petrol have in common?

Panic. That’s what.

When I booked my Fit to Fly PCR test 6 days before travelling, I had my pick of dates and time slots to go and get it done. A literal abundance. Same with my family when they booked theirs. Problem was, the day before we left 2 of our party were told that they wouldn’t get their test result back in time for our first flight. That in itself is outrageous, but calm, logical me kicked in and reasoned that we’d simply book another emergency test from a testing centre which had a laboratory on site (rather than sending away for results) that could give us same day results. Sure, it would cost more money, but that’s better than losing £000s on not being able to leave the country at all, right?

One problem. Following Boris Johnson’s announcement from the previous evening (I can’t even remember what it was about but I’m sure Boosters were involved) a panic had set in and every single PCR test slot in the UK (actually, there were a couple in Northern Ireland) was booked for the next 3 days. We tried various airports too but same scenario.

Ok, time to panic.

Even through the panic, I couldn’t help but wonder why this was happening? I highly doubt people were deciding to suddenly leave the country. Also, lateral flow tests were also in very short supply. Really?? The same tests that were literally being handed out like sweeties in the street a couple of weeks ago? I couldn’t go to Sainsbury’s for milk without being offered a box of tests by strangers wearing tabbards.

It reminded me of the petrol ‘crisis’ we had a couple of months back where although there was no actual shortage and just a distribution issue, we as a nation went bonkers and stockpiled every last drop of the stuff and thus caused an actual crisis.

This is a bit different, I know. Hats off to the NHS staff and the volunteers who have been called upon with zero notice to ‘Booster’ the nation by the new year. I’m sure they’re the ones needing the extra tests to keep them working through the season. I just can’t believe they found this out at the same time as us. They are heroes.

Angels are Everywhere.

So back to my sister panicking at the test station. The woman who had broken the bad news that the PCR wouldn’t be ready before the flight asked my sister where we were going.

Anguilla, via St Maarten.

“Are you going via Paris? I just came back from there and you only need an Antigen test to get there and most places in Europe. By the time you get there tomorrow, your PCR test result should be back and they should allow you to fly onward to the Caribbean. I’ve got 2 Antigen tests left here. You could do them now and you’ll get your results within 30 minutes.”

This was a thin, time sensitive, risky plan but it gave us just the hope we needed. We were actually flying via Amsterdam but the principle still applied. God bless that woman forever.

Anxiety inducer.

The Changing Goal Posts of Bureaucracy.

Right! All negative covid tests in. Result. Just the small task of applying for approval to travel to 3 different countries. Welp.

I won’t bore you with the details – wouldn’t wish that on anyone – but within a couple of hours, St Maarten went from “You got a negative test? Come party with us!!!” to “What’s your blood type and inside leg measurement?”

I spent hours filling in forms and attaching relevant documents for check-in, EHAS (Electronic Health Authorisation System) for St Maarten and Anguilla and boat charter application – times 4. Each step dependent on the last.

I literally didn’t sleep before I finished packing and the taxi arrived to take us to the airport. None of the countries had come back to say travel had been approved. What could possibly go wrong? We’ll find out tomorrow…

I really could’ve done with this tea on the day.

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