Travellers in Egypt and Bahrain scramble to avoid hotel quarantine in UK

Airlines sell extra seats ‘in minutes’ after red list decision

People react after receiving the first shot of vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a mass immunization venue inside Cairo's International Exhibition Center in Cairo, Egypt June 2, 2021. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
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Travellers in Egypt and Bahrain are racing to get back to Britain to avoid hotel quarantine after the two countries were added to the UK’s red list.

From 4am on Tuesday, anyone coming from either Egypt or Bahrain, as well as five other countries - Afghanistan, Costa Rica, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Trinidad & Tobago – will be required to pay £1,750 ($2,471) to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days.

The decision was announced alongside the removal of Portugal from the green list on to the amber list.


Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the moves followed rising concern about imported cases of coronavirus.

Soliman Travel, which has been providing Egyptian travel services in the UK for 40 years, said airlines added more seats as people scrambled to get back to the UK before the deadline.

"In a matter of minutes they all seem to have sold out," a spokesman told The National.

“There's a lot of people there now trying to change their tickets. Everybody is disappointed but it is what it is.”

He said “morale is very low” in the travel sector after the UK tightened travel restrictions just weeks after lifting the ban on international trips.

“As a company you struggle to survive. This is the last nail in the coffin for Egyptian specialists,” he said.

Egypt was previously on the amber list, meaning travellers are required to stay at home for 10 days and take several Covid-19 tests on their return.

Hafsa Halawa, who is among those trying to return to the UK from Egypt, said she was angered by Mr Shapps’s decision.

“You’ve effectively left me stranded in Cairo,” she said on Twitter.

“Even worse, my father, who needs to travel in July for medical reasons, is also now stuck.”

Emma Dawes said she was in a “frantic scramble” to return to the UK.

“Frantic scramble to book flights home with costs escalating and the requirements for a PCR adding a whole new layer of complexity,” she said on Twitter.

Humayun Ahmed, a teacher based in the UK, also complained on Twitter about the difficulty of returning to Britain.

According to Skyscanner, a one-way direct flight between Cairo and London with EgyptAir on Saturday costs £532. The price of the same flight falls to £370 on Wednesday, after the red list change takes effect.

A one-way flight between Bahrain and London with GulfAir on Saturday costs £637, falling to £356 on Wednesday.

Gavin Harris, Skyscanner's commercial director, said prices were still likely to be lower than before the pandemic.

"What happens is that there is a short period of time for pricing to adjust to new demand levels, and then they usually return to close to what they were before the announcement," he said.
"At the moment, prices are generally very low compared to the last 'normal' year for travel which was 2019, so any temporary rises in price are likely still cheaper. What we expect to see is that travel providers will move capacity to serve more popular routes to compete for bookings with continued low prices."

The Bahrain Embassy in London promoted the country’s inoculation drive and testing capacity just days before the red list decision.

UK authorities said the decision to place countries on the red list was based on a combination of testing capacity, risk of Covid-19 variants and distribution of vaccines.

Mr Shapps said the UK was taking a “safety first” approach to protect the UK’s vaccine drive.

“The public has always known travel will be different this year and we must continue to take a cautious approach to reopening international travel in a way that protects public health and the vaccine roll out,” he said.

“While we are making great progress in the UK with the vaccine roll out, we continue to say that the public should not travel to destinations outside the green list.”