The UK government announced on Tuesday that hotel quarantine for travellers arriving in England will be abandoned.
Under restrictions introduced to slow the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, all travellers arriving in the UK from the 11 African countries currently on the UK’s travel “red list” have been required to spend 11 nights in a quarantine hotel at a cost of £2,285 ($3,029) for solo travellers.
But Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that the spread of Omicron in the UK and the world means the red list is “now less effective in slowing the incursion of Omicron from abroad.”
He told the House of Commons, “I can announce today that whilst we’ll maintain our temporary testing measures for international travel, we will be removing all 11 countries from the travel red list effective from 4 a.m. tomorrow.”
Cabinet minister Steve Barclay later told Parliament those currently in managed quarantine will be released early.
“The Health Secretary has urgently considered the issue of releasing people from managed quarantine before they have completed the 10-day isolation,” he said.
“The government’s decision is that we should permit early release of those people who went to managed quarantine before these changes to the red lists.”
Regarding the cost of managed quarantine, Barclay said the government will “set out further specific guidance for affected individuals imminently.”
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry body Airlines UK, welcomed the decision to remove the countries from the travel red list, but he said it “doesn’t go nearly far enough.”
Despite the scrapping of the red list, all travellers arriving in England are still required to take a pre-departure CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result from a post-arrival test.
Alderslade said: “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. It is testing that is the deterrent to travel, not the relatively limited red list.”
He warned that the key Christmas and New Year booking period will be “undermined” unless testing rules are eased.
“This is make or break for UK aviation and if government is unable to row back from these restrictions over the New Year, it will need to step in with further economic support for a sector that again has been singled out,” he added.
David Frost, chief executive of South Africa Tourism Services, said: “This is welcome news but red-listing southern Africa for just three weeks caused incalculable damage to jobs and livelihoods in the region, with little discernible benefit to health outcomes in the UK.
“The UK government must now consign this blunt instrument to history and recognise the devastating impact red lists have to confidence amongst the travelling public.”
PA contributed to this report.