UK removes all countries from travel red list as Omicron hits

Temporary testing requirements for travellers will remain in place

The Renaissance London Heathrow hotel is one of a handful of hotels acting as quarantine centres. Getty Images

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Britain will remove all 11 countries from its coronavirus travel red list from Wednesday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament.

He said the community transmission of Omicron in the UK and the world meant the travel red list was “now less effective in slowing the incursion of Omicron from abroad”.

All 11 countries will be removed from the travel red list at 4am on Wednesday.

Travellers already in quarantine would, under previous red list rules, have had to stay in place, but Mr Javid said he was seeking “urgent advice” on releasing them early.

The list was resurrected last month in an attempt to reduce the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant. The countries on the red list are Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

People arriving in the UK from 11 African countries have been required to spend 11 nights in a quarantine hotel at a cost of £2,285 for solo travellers.

Temporary testing requirements for foreign travellers will remain in place, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.

England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warned ministers to expect a “significant increase in hospitalisations” from Omicron.

He also told an online Cabinet meeting that it was “too early to say how severe” the strain is after early suggestions from South Africa that it could be relatively mild.

The Prime Minister told his team that a "huge spike" of Omicron was coming.

When asked about the fate of people in quarantine, Mr Javid said: “Those people already in managed quarantine, I’m told that the practice in the past on this has been requiring them to complete their quarantine period.

“However, I do understand the importance of that and I have asked for urgent advice about what this means and I hope to act very quickly on just that.”

"As always, we keep all our travel measures under review and we may impose new restrictions should there be a need to do so to protect public health," Mr Shapps said.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry body Airlines UK, claimed the decision “makes complete sense but doesn’t go nearly far enough”.

He 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.”

Travellers entering the UK are required to take a pre-departure test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result from a post-arrival test.

Mr Alderslade said that the Christmas and New Year booking period would be “undermined” unless testing rules were 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 said.

Karen Dee, cheif executive of the Airport Operators Association, said: "The removal of all the countries from the red list is a welcome recognition that these measures have little purpose when Omicron is rapidly becoming the dominant variant in the UK.

"It is difficult to understand why the UK and devolved governments did not recognise that the same logic applies to the blanket, expensive and burdensome testing regime."

David Frost, chief executive of trade body 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.”

Updated: December 15th 2021, 4:51 AM