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British Government Dismantles Travel Ban Red List as Restrictions Failed to Stop Omicron

British Government Dismantles Travel Ban Red List as Restrictions Failed to Stop Omicron

The British government is to dismantle its travel ban ‘Red List’ which currently comprises 11 African nations, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed on Tuesday. The Red List will be abandoned at 4 am on Wednesday morning, allowing people to travel freely between South Africa and the UK.

The government in Whitehall only has the power to change travel restrictions rules for England but the devolved nations would likely quickly follow suit.

South Africa and a slew of nearby countries were put on England’s Red List at the end of November in what critics described as a “kneejerk” reaction to the emergence of the Omicron variant which was first detected in South Africa and Botswana.

Only British citizens and eligible visa holders are allowed to travel to the UK from a Red List country. Travellers must go into mandatory quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10-days and at a cost of £2,500 per person.

Top officials and ministers met in Whitehall on Tuesday to discuss dismantling the controversial travel restrictions. A decision to abandon the Red List was made during a so-called COVID-O meeting, with ministers signing off on the easing of restrictions.

Sources told the Financial Times that ministers now realised it was “pointless” to try to prevent Omicron from being imported when the variant was already in the UK and community transmission was picking up at pace.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has repeatedly hinted that the restrictions would be eased once Omicron was spreading throughout the community. Previously, the Red List was maintained due to Delta variant fears even when the strain was the dominant variant in the UK.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been highly critical of crude travel bans because it is concerned countries could be tempted not to report emerging variants in order to avoid being slapped with travel restrictions.

On Monday, airline chief executives wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging him to drop the Red List and to provide immediate financial assistance to the industry. Airlines including British Airways also wanted the government to remove expensive pre-departure and post-arrival PCR testing rules.

Those rules, however, are will remain in force and financial assistance isn’t likely to be forthcoming. British Airways didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The 11 countries currently on England’s Red List are Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Red List rules will remain in reserve and countries could be readded to the list at a moments notice.

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