The United Kingdom (UK) has removed the travel restrictions placed on Nigeria and 10 other countries due to the Omicron COVID-19 variant. The British High Commission announced this yesterday.
The UK diplomatic mission said all 11 countries, including Nigeria, were removed from the COVID-19 red list from today.
The travel restrictions on Nigeria, Angola, Botswana, Eswantini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe had provoked global outrage.
The scrapping of the red list was disclosed in a statement signed by the High Commission. It, however, stated that pre-departure tests and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing measures on or before day two after arrival remained in place, with a planned review of all travel measures in the New Year.
The British High Commission said in the statement, “Following review of the latest risk assessment from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), Nigeria and the other 10 countries and territories on the red list will be removed from 4am Wednesday, 15 December.
“Passengers arriving from Nigeria, Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe will not have to stay in a managed quarantine hotel on arrival in England from this date.”
It noted that as Omicron cases rose in the UK and in countries around the world, “the travel red list is less effective in slowing the incursion of the variant from abroad and these temporary measures are no longer proportionate.
“The red list has successfully served its purpose in delaying the spread of Omicron into the UK to buy time for scientists to learn more about this variant.”
But the High Commission stressed that all vaccinated passengers arriving in the UK must continue to take a pre-departure test two days or less before they depart for the UK and must take a PCR test on or before day two and self-isolate until they receive a negative result. It stated that these testing measures were vital in helping to prevent any additional cases of Omicron from entering the UK and stopping people from passing it on to others.
The UK mission also observed that the present situation was a critical phase in tackling the Omicron variant, saying the government’s focus remains slowing the spread of the variant in the UK through maintenance of testing requirements at the border, introduction of Plan B measures, and turbocharging the booster rollout.
British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, was also quoted as saying, “On Tuesday 14th December, UK Ministers made the decision – based on scientific and public health data – to remove Nigeria from the UK’s travel red list.
“The emergence of the Omicron variant is a reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, and like all countries around the world, the UK has had to take difficult decisions to protect public health.
“We took this necessary precautionary action to give us time to understand the challenge we and others faced, and to slow down the spread of Omicron while scientists urgently assessed what impact the variant has on vaccines, treatments and transmissibility.
“When we announced the heightened restrictions we made clear that we would remove them as soon as we could, and that is the decision Ministers have taken today.
“I know this will be welcome news for students, tourists, businesses and families in the UK and Nigeria, although I recognise the impact that these temporary health measures have had.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid also said, “The red list bought our scientists time to learn more about Omicron and to slow the seeding of the variant from abroad into the UK.
“Now that there are high levels of community transmission, it is right to remove the red list and focus on our national effort to tackle Omicron.
“With cases doubling every two to three days, we’ve turbocharged our booster programme, we’re asking arrivals to keep testing to limit the spread of new cases, and we are introducing Plan B measures to protect the country from the threat of this new variant.”
The High Commission noted that while all countries had now been removed from the red list, the managed quarantine hotel policy remained in place to act as a crucial line of defence against the importation of variants of concern.
The statement added, “Restrictions will be re-imposed should there be a need to do so to protect public health. Airlines will continue to check all passengers for pre-departure tests alongside their completed passenger locator form, and passengers will not be allowed to board a flight without providing evidence of a negative test result.
“The government will take further action if necessary to contain the virus and the new variant, as has been the case throughout the pandemic.
“The UKHSA continues to monitor the situation closely, in partnership with scientific and public health organisations across the world, and the government is working collaboratively with the World Health Organisation and countries around the world to better understand the new variant.”
Commenting on the development, the CEO of Airlines UK, the industry body representing UK-registered carriers, Tim Alderslade, said removing the countries from the red list made complete sense, “but doesn’t go nearly far enough.”
Alderslade explained, “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.
“Government has admitted that the measures introduced are disastrous for the travel sector, and the science says they aren’t now required.
“The Health Secretary says he wants to act quickly to remove unnecessary restrictions, and we implore him to make good on this by scrapping testing as soon as possible, otherwise the key Christmas and New Year booking period will be undermined. “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.”
Many world leaders and organisations had expressed outrage at the restriction on travels from Nigeria and the other countries.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Rev. Justin Welby, condemned UK’s inclusion of Nigeria in its COVID-19 red list without justification, calling it “travel apartheid”, and suing for its cancellation.
United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, also described the action of the UK government as travel apartheid targeted at poor nations.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said blanket travel bans would not stop the spread of the variant, and could potentially discourage countries from reporting and sharing important data on coronavirus.
Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had described the decision of the UK government targeting Nigerian travellers as discriminatory, unfair, punitive, indefensible, and unjust.
Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the UK, Sarafa Tunji Isola, who went on a media round in UK, had also criticised the move and said what was expected on the matter was a global approach to halt the spread of the disease and not selective punishment.
In a similar vein, the Nigerian Senate had insisted that the travel ban was discriminatory, describing it as an attack on diplomatic relations between Nigeria and the UK. It called on the British government to reverse it.