South Africa will be placed back on the UK’s travel ban ‘Red List’ just months after the country was removed and travel restrictions eased. Being placed on the Red List will mean foreign travellers will be banned from coming to the UK if they have been in South Africa, while British travellers will be locked away in hotel quarantine.
The decision to slap South Africa, along with five other Southern African countries, with a travel ban came after urgent talks between government ministers including Health Secretary Sajid Javid and health officials on Thursday night about a new COVID-19 variant that has been discovered in South Africa.
The variant, which is currently known as B.1.1.529, is suspected to be behind a sudden and alarming surge in infections across South Africa. The World Health Organisation (WHO) will hold an urgent meeting tomorrow where the variant is expected to be officially named the ‘Nu’ variant using the Greek classification system.
Earlier on Thursday, Downing Street had been downplaying the risk posed by the variant but officials are scared that the large number of mutations found in the variant could evade existing vaccines.
The UK rolled back many of its travel restrictions over the summer and there are currently no countries on the ‘Red List’.
South Africa was originally placed on the Red List because of the risk posed by the Beta variant that led to a COVID surge in the country. The Beta variant failed to take hold in the UK and was overtaken by a faster spreading and more transmissible Delta strain that is believed to have first emerged in India.
The British government faced stiff criticism for delaying a decision to place India on the Red List. By the time flights from India was curtailed, Delta had already got a foothold in the UK.
Officials realise that they can stop the new variant from getting into the UK but hope that a travel ban will delay its arrival while scientists get to grips with fighting it.
Javid said on Thursday night that six countries in Southern Africa would be placed on the UK’s Red List from noon on Friday and that all direct flights from these countries would be banned.
British travellers will be expected to quarantine but there may be a delay in reopening quarantine hotels after the system was effectively mothballed.
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.