Mixed messages about the new virus variant, Omicron, are causing mayhem ahead of the festive season.
Ministers have tried to reassure households that there is no reason to panic.
But many of Britain’s biggest firms have chosen to axe office parties, while other Christmas events have been cancelled and the travel sector has been hit by extra testing and quarantine rules.
It means small businesses and the self-employed once again face losing vital income, with families also at risk of being left out of pocket.
Here, Money Mail outlines everything you need to know about your rights…
If your holiday destination is moved to the government’s ‘red list’, you should receive a full cash refund within seven days
Worries at work
Under existing rules, you must isolate for ten days if you test positive for Covid.
You must also stay at home if you are unvaccinated and alerted by NHS Test and Trace that you have come into contact with someone with the virus.
New rules mean that if that person has the Omicron variant, you must also isolate for ten days even if you are vaccinated.
Most employers will pay staff as normal if they get the virus or have to self-isolate.
If not, you may be eligible for up to £96.35 in statutory sick pay, as long as you earn at least £120 a month.
You may also be able to claim a £500 one-off payment in England and Scotland or £750 in Wales if you are on a low income and unable to work from home.
To claim, contact your local authority and make sure you have bank statements and proof of employment to hand.
Travellers who are isolating until they receive a negative PCR result after returning from abroad will not be eligible.
Under existing rules, you must isolate for ten days if you test positive for Covid. You must also stay at home if you are unvaccinated and alerted by NHS Test and Trace
If staff in England and Wales want to work from home in the run-up to Christmas, they must ask their employer.
The official work-from-home guidance has ended, so companies can insist that you go into work as normal.
Jemma Fairclough-Haynes, of Orchard Employment Law, says: ‘It’s worth having this discussion with your employer — but you could be subject to a disciplinary hearing if you do not attend without consent.’
Scotland brought back work-from-home guidance yesterday, so workers there will have more leverage if they want to stay away from the office.
If you are self-employed, you cannot claim statutory sick pay. And the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, which paid grants of up to £7,500 over three months, closed last month.
But if you are on a low income and told to isolate, you may be entitled to the same one-off lump sum payment as those who are employed.
Struggling small and medium-sized businesses can apply for help from the Government’s Recovery Loan Scheme until June 30 next year.
The loans, which are currently 80 per cent government-backed, are available from all major High Street banks.
If your destination is moved to the Government’s ‘red list’ and your flight is cancelled, you should receive a full cash refund within seven days.
You may prefer to opt for a credit note, or move your flights to a new date. But if your flight is still leaving as planned and you no longer want to travel, you are not guaranteed your money back — even if your destination has introduced strict quarantine rules. Instead, it is up to the individual airline.
Infection risk: The official work from home guidance has ended, so companies can insist that you go into work as normal
British Airways will allow customers to cancel their bookings in exchange for vouchers, which are valid until September 30, 2023. But you may have to pay extra if your new fare is more expensive.
Ryanair will let people who made bookings between November 20 and December 11 reschedule fee-free for any new date up until January 14.
However, any changes must be made at least seven days before the original departure date.
For accommodation, your right to a refund will depend on the company’s cancellation policy.
The Competition and Markets Authority says firms should refund you if they cannot provide the service paid for — but enforcing this is difficult for hotels abroad.
If you paid with a credit card you may be able to claim under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act if your flight is cancelled and you cannot reach your destination.
Travel cover can also vary. Around 93 per cent of insurance policies will pay out if you have to cancel your trip because you have caught Covid, analysts Defaqto have said.
Cry for help from businesses on the brink
Worry: Chris and Vicky Saynor have lost £2,500 worth of bookings since concerns about the Omicron variant emerged
Vicky and Chris Saynor have lost £2,500 worth of accommodation bookings since concerns about the Omicron variant emerged.
The couple have three self-catering studios in Cottered, Hertfordshire, which are usually fully booked over the festive period.
But in the past fortnight they have had to rearrange four bookings for guests worried it will not be safe to go away. A further three have asked to reschedule.
Vicky, 45 and a mother of four, says: ‘It was far more black and white with previous lockdowns, but now you just don’t know where you are.
‘The Government needs to bring back grants or some other kind of support to help businesses get through this period.’
Meanwhile, beauty therapist Claire Hattrick has had more than 40 cancellations in the past fortnight.
The mother-of-two typically makes up to £4,000 in December, when clients rush to book treatments for the party season.
But she now believes she will be lucky to make £800. Claire, 53, says: ‘Ever since the new variant was announced, I’ve had people texting or calling to cancel.
‘Some are elderly or vulnerable clients. Others made a booking because they were going away or attending an office party and now they aren’t doing that any more.’
Claire, who runs her salon from home in Andover, Hampshire, says: ‘I do feel that if you’re losing business as a result of this, you should be able to get some kind of financial support.’
But just 55 per cent offer cover as standard if you are instructed to isolate and only 3 pc will pay out if you cannot travel because official guidance changes or if you test positive while abroad and have to delay your return.
And not a single insurer will cover quarantine bills if your destination is put on the red list.
If you booked via Airbnb, it depends on the provider. Some bookings are non-refundable, while others allow cancellations up until 24 hours before check-in.
If you booked a package holiday you have a right to a refund if the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office advises against travel to your destination or if your holiday is ‘significantly changed’.
This might include being asked to isolate when you arrive or if your flights are moved to a different day.
However, you will not be eligible for a refund if you simply do not want to pay for two tests and isolate on your return.
More pubs and restaurants are now asking customers to pay a deposit when booking a table, according to UK Hospitality.
If you cancel, you will lose this money unless the firm allows you to move your booking. Businesses may also face penalties when calling off office parties.
However, if you have bought tickets for a Christmas pantomime or carol concert that is cancelled by the organisers you should receive a refund.
If the show is rearranged, you can also claim your money back if you cannot make the new date.
But many households are still waiting for refunds for events cancelled during previous lockdowns. Complaints site Resolver received 2,632 gripes about ticket sellers last year, up 171 per cent on 2019.
If you cannot attend because you catch the virus, you are not legally entitled to any recourse.
But you may be allowed to sell your ticket via the organiser’s website or be offered a voucher.
Martyn James, of Resolver, recommends calling the firm’s helpline early in the week when they are not as busy.
Food shop fears
Vulnerable shoppers who want to avoid busy supermarkets can still take advantage of priority hours at Tesco on Wednesdays and Sundays between 9am and 10am.
The supermarket now offers 1.5 million delivery slots for those who want to order online, more than double the number available before the pandemic.
Asda has also extended its priority pass for those who are clinically extremely vulnerable until March 2022.
This gives shoppers the option to book a delivery slot for the same time each week.
Sainsbury’s says it is offering ‘more slots than ever this year’, while Waitrose says shoppers who may need ‘extra support’ can book deliveries in advance.