UK expected to remove all 11 countries from red list

Kenya which had earlier this year red-listed was removed in October.

In Summary

•Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe are on the list.

•The red list was reintroduced in late November as a precaution after the emergence of the Omicron variant.•

British Airways planes at Heathrow Terminal 5 in London, Britain, May 27, 2017. /REUTERS
British Airways planes at Heathrow Terminal 5 in London, Britain, May 27, 2017. /REUTERS

The UK government is expected to remove all 11 countries from England's red list, easing travel restrictions.

Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe are on the list.

The red list was reintroduced in late November as a precaution after the emergence of the Omicron variant.

But ministers have cited the further spread of the variant as a reason for reviewing travel rules.

Currently, all UK arrivals from red list countries must pay for and self-isolate in a pre-booked, government-approved hotel for 10 days.

They must also take Covid tests within 48 hours of setting off for the UK and PCR tests within two days of their arrival.

Some arrivals have already paid thousands of pounds to stay in government-approved quarantine hotels, and there have been complaints of chaotic organisation and inedible food during their stays.

Travel expert Simon Calder tweeted: "Key point: will people currently in now pointless hotel quarantine be able to leave?"

The move - which is expected to come into force at 04:00 on Wednesday - is being viewed as a sign that the government accepts Omicron can no longer be contained.

It also follows anger from African countries, with the UN describing the ban on non-UK residents entering England as "travel apartheid".

Health Secretary Sajid Javid last week told the Commons: "If, as I think is likely, we see many more infections and this variant becomes the dominant variant, there will be less need to have any kind of travel restrictions at all."

IMPACT

The travel industry has also warned the restrictions are hurting business.

Tim Alderslade, head of trade group Airlines UK, said emptying the red list would make "complete sense", but that the government should also scrap pre-departure and day two tests for all arrivals.

"If the red list isn't necessary, given that Omicron is established here at home, then neither are the costly emergency testing and isolation measures imposed on even fully vaccinated travellers, which again put us completely at odds with the rest of Europe."

Alison Stitt says her experience in a quarantine hotel has pushed her to the point of meltdown.

She was in South Africa visiting her father for his 90th birthday when the country went on the UK's red list.

It took days to rearrange a flight home on the same date that a quarantine hotel room was available. They had to stay longer in their AirBnB and re-book their car hire while they waited - on top of extending their car parking and kennels bookings in the UK.

Now she and her husband David are at a hotel near Gatwick.

Alison says the total cost of their extended stay in South Africa and paying for their quarantine facility has been at least £5,500.

"It was one expense after another. It's all going on credit cards. It was meant to be a budget trip."

She describes the experience of going into quarantine as a farce. "We were herded into coaches after we landed. We got lucky coming to Gatwick, some were going to Manchester."

Alison says her room is clean and modern, but she doesn't feel safe in the hotel, saying she's seen guards sneezing with their masks down.

The hotel had to be evacuated last week because of a fire alarm.

"We know someone has tested positive in the hotel. They came to re-test us, saying that we had been exposed to someone with Covid during the fire alarm."

Nigeria had criticised the UK's travel restrictions after it was placed on the red list amid fears over the Omicron Covid-19 variant.

"What is expected is a global approach, not selective," Sarafa Tunji Isola, Nigeria's high commissioner to the UK, told the BBC.

He also echoed comments made by the UN's chief, who described restrictions imposed on some southern African countries as "travel apartheid".

The only people allowed to enter the UK from the red listed countries are UK or Irish nationals, or UK residents.

They have however had to pay for and self-isolate in a pre-booked government-approved hotel for 10 days.

Dozens of countries have imposed restrictions on travel from southern Africa, and Canada and Hong Kong have included Nigeria on their lists.

South Korea has also detected the Omicron variant in fully vaccinated travellers arriving from Nigeria.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says blanket travel bans will not stop the spread of variants, and can potentially discourage countries from reporting and sharing important data.

Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo has also condemned the restrictions on African countries, describing them at a press conference last week as "instruments of immigration control".

The new variant was first detected in South Africa in November. Little is yet known about it, but there are concerns it could be more transmissible, with early data suggesting it may evade some of our immunity to Covid.