The UK has removed South Africa and ten other countries from its maligned ‘red list’ for travel.
South Africa and other southern African nations were slapped with a travel ban in late November after local scientists detected the new Omicron variant and shared the information with the global community.
The UK was first to issue a ban on the region, which was swiftly followed up by many other countries in an attempt to limit the spread of the new variant. In the weeks following the bans, however, the Omicron variant was detected widely across the world, in patients who had no ties to South Africa or any of the other banned nations.
Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe were singled out by the UK, and will now be removed from the list.
UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid reportedly conceded that the Omicron variant has spread so widely that the travel bans serve no purpose.
“Now that there is community transmission of Omicron in the UK and Omicron has spread so widely across the world, the travel red list is now less effective in slowing the incursion of Omicron from abroad,” he told parliament, as quoted by the BBC.
“Whilst we will maintain our temporary testing measures for international travel we will be removing all 11 countries from the travel red list effective from 04h00 tomorrow morning (Wednesday 15 December).”
From 4am on Weds 15 Dec, ALL 11 countries will be removed from England’s travel red 🔴 list #Internationaltravel (1/3)
— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) December 14, 2021
Sajid is reportedly looking at releasing those currently in the mandatory ten-day quarantine early, and possibly reimbursing those who have incurred costs.
The bans on South Africa and other nations were widely condemned by the tourism industry and medical scientists and researchers. President Cyril Ramaphosa called the bans “unjustified and unscientific“, while the World Health Organisation deemed them entirely unnecessary.
Local businesses and tourism groups, meanwhile, suffered immense damage as flights and accommodation bookings got cancelled en masse, setting up a bleak festive period for an industry that was already battered from a shutdown in 2020.
The Department of International Relations and Cooperation welcomed the lifting of the ban.
The government of South Africa welcomes the announcement by the UK to remove South Africa from the #redlist. This is what President Cyril Ramaphosa has been calling for. The unscientific travel ban had a devastating impact on 2-way business, travel & tourism industry & families.
— DIRCO South Africa (@DIRCO_ZA) December 14, 2021