There are no longer any countries on England’s red list as of Dec. 15, according to an announcement from the United Kingdom’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. The government had reintroduced the so-called red list in November in response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 omicron variant.
When the World Health Organization first identified the strain as a “variant of concern,” a number of nations rushed to adopt travel restrictions on several sub-Saharan African countries to contain the new variant.
The UK’s red list included Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. However with the rising number of cases in the UK attributed to omicron, the travel restrictions have lost their purpose in containing the variant.
“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,” explained Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid.
The red list replaced the UK’s so-called traffic light system in September to simplify arrivals into England for fully vaccinated travelers. The list was subsequently retired at the beginning of November, only to be revived with the advent of the omicron threat at the end of the month.
At the same time, the US has also imposed its own similar travel restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread of omicron, but the variant was already identified in several states soon thereafter.
No official change in US policy has been discussed, but the Biden administration may already be looking at easing the blanket travel restrictions on southern Africa, depending what scientists learn about the omicron variant.
In an interview earlier this month, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical advisor, said that the administration is considering lifting travel restrictions against noncitizens entering the US from several African countries. “Hopefully we’ll be able to lift that ban in a quite reasonable period of time,” Fauci said.
Although the UK has dropped the country-specific restrictions, testing measures for all UK arrivals remain in place. Travelers still have to take a PCR or lateral flow test within 48 hours before arriving in England, and will also have to take a Day 2 PCR test and self-isolate until they receive the results.
Under the previous restrictions, arrivals from red list countries had to undergo a ten-day quarantine in a government-approved hotel. It’s unclear whether those individuals who are currently in quarantine hotels would be able to leave isolation early.
“I am told that the practice in the past has been requiring them to complete their quarantine period. However, I do understand the importance of that,” Javid said. “I have asked for urgent advice about what this means and I hope to act very quickly on just that.”
These measures will be reviewed in the first week of January, according to Shapps. In a tweet, he added: “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.”