Six questions remaining after the removal of the 11 countries from the red list
The 11 countries on the UK travel red list will be removed at 4 a.m. on Wednesday, ending the requirement for arrivals from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Nigeria to spend 10 nights in a hotel from quarantine for Â£ 2,285.
Ministers agreed that the Red List is no longer necessary to protect the UK from importing the omicron variant, as it is already emerging as the dominant strain in the UK.
But many questions remain about the Red List and Britain’s broader travel restrictions.
Will those who are already in quarantine be released sooner?
The government has given no indication that those already serving their sentences in quarantine hotels will be offered early release. Indeed, anyone arriving on UK soil within the next 12 hours who has visited a Red List country in the past 10 days will almost certainly end up by bus to the Heathrow Holiday Inn, or in a building as well. depressing. Certainly, while it is accepted that the policy is unnecessary after 4 a.m. on Tuesday, keeping travelers in detention beyond 4 a.m. on Tuesday is just as unnecessary.
These ordinary people, for the crime of visiting a southern African country, were charged with a minimum of Â£ 2,285 and forced to endure pretty miserable conditions. We pointed out the tiny rooms, cold curries and rude staff found inside these facilities, with the only fresh air and exercise being a daily 20 minute walk around a parking lot.
In addition, almost all of these detainees will have already returned negative Covid tests.
Will recent detainees be reimbursed?
Already legal action has been taken against the hotel quarantine policy by the PGMBM Group’s litigation firm, which has called it a “human rights violation”. Last week, a judge, who found there was an “element of choice” for travelers wishing to visit Red List countries, blocked the challenge, but an appeal is pending. The government’s acceptance that the policy does nothing to protect the country from omicron may work in litigators’ favor, especially as epidemiologists warned almost immediately after the new variant was identified that the restrictions of travel would not prevent it from spreading across borders.
Stefan Baral, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said: âBy the time you close the borders, the variant is already here. Travel bans may play a role in the syndromic (early) phase of an epidemic. But the epidemiological transition from travel to local transmission is occurring rapidly. Blaming outsiders can be easy, but tackling the determinants of local transmission has an impact. “
Will the hotel quarantine be used again?
The red list has been gutted, but it has not been abolished, as ministers chose to keep the concept (including, presumably, quarantine of hotels) in the event of future variations. Britain’s adoption of such a draconian last resort is curious, for several reasons.
First, we did not perform on-arrival testing, let alone quarantine travelers in dismal hotels and ban flights from high-risk countries at the start of the pandemic. This fact has earned criticism from the government, and it could reasonably be argued that we are trying to respond to those criticisms by imposing arduous – many would say futile – restrictions almost two years later.
Second, we are almost alone in our use of hotel quarantine. Yes, many countries have banned direct flights from southern Africa following the emergence of the omicron, but they have allowed arrivals from those countries to self-quarantine at home. The only places that continue to use hotels for Covid isolation are New Zealand and Hong Kong, which always have.
Third, the very existence of the Red List and the threat of hotel quarantine is killing confidence in travel and hampering the industry’s recovery. Many Britons would prefer not to run the risk (however small) of being forced to spend 10 days in a hotel in Gatwick, so will stay put. If the government doesn’t realize it, they should because vacation companies have been talking about it for months.
Will the testing rules also be relaxed?
Now that the government has accepted that the hotel quarantine, introduced because of the omicron, is unnecessary, it must surely accept that the arduous, costly and industry-destroying tests brought about because of the omicron are also unnecessary.
Not yet, it seems. But it could be around the corner. The Treasury, the Department of Transport, the Department of Culture, Media and Science and the Department of International Trade are all pushing for testing restrictions to be relaxed. However, the Ministry of Health and the Cabinet Office are said to be opposed, so they are staying for now.
Tim Alderslade, Managing Director of Airlines UK, said: âRemoving these countries from the red list makes perfect sense, but it does not go far enough.
“While the red list is not necessary given that omicron is established here at home, the expensive emergency tests and isolation measures imposed on even fully vaccinated travelers are not necessary either, which puts us once again in total contradiction with the rest of Europe.
âThe Health Secretary says he wants to act quickly to remove unnecessary restrictions, and we implore him to put that in place by removing testing as soon as possible, otherwise the key Christmas and New Years reservation period will be fatally compromised. “
The new rules, introduced in response to the emergence of the omicron, mean arrivals must pass a pre-departure test within two days before traveling to the UK, as well as a Day 2 test less 48 hours after arriving on British soil, adding hundreds of pounds to the cost of a family vacation. In addition, until they receive the results of the day 2 test, they must self-isolate.
Will unvaccinated travelers continue to be discriminated against?
Spain responded to the emergence of the omicron by banning unvaccinated British tourists, who previously could visit if they presented evidence of a negative test. This was a curious tactic given that the variant was primarily identified in people who had been vaccinated, and much of the concern surrounding it was due to the possibility that it might escape the current crop of vaccines.
Britain has for months discriminated against unvaccinated travelers, who must self-isolate at home for 10 days, no matter where they are, and undergo additional tests. This policy could work as a blunt and arguably unethical tool to persuade more people to get vaccinated, but its effectiveness as a Covid health measure is less convincing. Indeed, the latest data suggests that omicron is as likely to infect double vaccines and boosters as much as non-stung.
Despite this, it seems the world is moving in one direction: restrictions on the unvaccinated. The only question may be whether they will be temporary or permanent.
Will we learn anything from this experience?
The anger on African soil over the world’s reaction to the omicron has been fierce and understandable. Last month, Dr Ayoade Alakija, co-chair of the Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance, said: âThese travel bans are based on politics, not science. It is wrong. Why are we locking up Africa when this virus is already present on three continents?
So don’t expect to be thankful that the Red List is finally emptied.
The outspoken safari guide Paul Goldstein was one of the first to respond to today’s news: âI sincerely hope the government does not expect any thanks for this. On their own, they have destroyed the Christmas / New Years market for much of Africa, as well as confidence in the UK travel industry.
His feelings are typical. Jarrod Kyte, director of product and sales for tour operator Steppes, said: âMore than any other industry, it appears that travel is held hostage to our government’s inability to respond in a measured way to the prospect of a new variant of Covid. Ineffective restrictions on international travel are hastily imposed, knowing they risk “killing the travel industry” [the exact words of Grant Shapps a few weeks ago], yet no effort is made to provide industry support or assurance for the future. Red lists and hotel quarantines are the epitome of breaking a butterfly on the wheel: heavy and largely futile, they do much more damage than good but our government blindly continues in the same vein, propelled by the need to to be seen doing something. “
One can only hope, if another variation presents itself, that a little more rationality emerges.
“The harm caused by our government’s crude policies is considerable,” Kye continues. âWhile tourism has created fantastic opportunities for local communities in sub-Saharan Africa, it has also created an addiction that has been sorely exposed by the pandemic. With little revenue stream from tourism over the past two years, the win-win model of community conservation tourism is starting to show serious flaws. If it breaks irrevocably, the implications for wildlife and local economies in Africa will be devastating. “