The party is well and truly over for influencers who skipped lockdown at home to soak up the sun in Dubai. On Thursday evening, Britain’s minister of transport announced the country had taken the “urgent decision” to ban all direct flights from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over fears that a new highly-transmissible and potentially vaccine-resistant variant of the COVID-19 virus had spread from South Africa to Dubai.
The flight ban will come into force on Friday at 1 pm (London time) after which Britons currently in Dubai have been told to make use of other commercial options available to them to return to the UK via a third country. Existing travel restrictions, especially on anyone who has been in Britain in the last 14-days, will make organising alternative travel arrangements even harder.
Only British citizens and residents will be allowed to return home from the United Arab Emirates, and they will have to self-isolate for 10-days on arrival. A scheme that allows passengers to take a COVID-19 test after five days in order to escape self-isolation early has been suspended for anyone coming from the UAE.
As a so-called ‘Red List’ country, all passengers coming from the UAE will soon be forced to quarantine in government-approved accommodation at their own cost. No quarantine hotels have yet been opened, but Home Secretary Priti Patel promised extra compliance checks on passengers who will be allowed to self-isolate at home in the meantime.
There are an estimated 240,000 British expats currently living in the UAE who regularly fly home in order to see friends and family. Thousands more Britons are either currently holidaying or ‘working’ in the emirates. Tourists who flouted lockdown rules drew Priti Patel’s ire on Thursday who pledged to crack down on rule-breakers. The UAE said visit visas for British tourists would be extended free of charge.
The UAE was only placed on the UK’s quarantine-free ‘travel corridor’ list on November 14, 2020, prompting Emirates Airline to target British holidaymakers with the lure of quarantine-free vacations. In the last couple of months, the UK had reestablished itself as Emirates’ most important market, and the airline was sending its double-deck Airbus A380 four times per day.
The UAE has, however, been battling a surge in new COVID-19 cases and there is emerging evidence that the South African is present in the country. On Thursday, the UAE reported a record 3,966 new daily infections. That was up from the 3,939 infections recorded on Wednesday which itself was a record.
On January 22, Denmark banned all flights from the UAE over fears that pre-departure tests performed in the emirates were “not reliable”. The initial five-day ban has since been extended until at least February 2.
In addition to the UAE, Burundi and Rwanda were also added to the UK’s Red List on Thursday.
In a statement published by the UAE’s official news agency, officials said the country would “continue to maintain its role as an important hub for travel and logistics according to the highest standards of health and safety.”
Hend Al Otaiba, representing the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “We are confident of our ambitious vaccination program that is ranked second globally in doses administered per capita and have every confidence in our medical infrastructure and frontline workers.”
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.