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Worry for travellers as red list returns

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

Six African countries have been added to England’s red list after a new variant of Covid-19 was identified and designated as a ‘variant under investigation’.

From 12pm today (26 November), South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia will be added to the UK’s travel red list.

Passengers arriving from these destinations from 4am Sunday (28 November) in England will be required to book and pay for a government-approved hotel quarantine facility for 10 days.

British nationals arriving from these six countries between midday Friday and 4am Sunday, and who have been in these countries within the past 10 days, must quarantine at home for 10 days and take NHS PCR tests on day 2 and day 8, even if they already have a lateral flow test booking.

Direct flights from the six countries will be banned from 12pm today until hotel quarantine is up and running from 4am Sunday 28 November.

The government described the move as ‘decisive precautionary action’ against variant B.1.1.529. The variant includes a large number of spike protein mutations as well as mutations in other parts of the viral genome. The government said these are potentially biologically significant mutations which may change the behaviour of the virus with regards to vaccines, treatments and transmissibility.

From midday today, non-UK and Irish residents who have been in these countries in the previous 10 days will be refused entry into England. This does not apply to those who have stayed airside and only transited through any of these countries while changing flights.

A temporary ban on commercial and private planes travelling from the six countries will also come into force at 12pm on Friday until 4am Sunday to reduce the risk of importing this new variant under investigation while hotel quarantine is set up. This excludes cargo and freight without passengers.

Sajid Javid, secretary of state for health and social care, said: “As part of our close surveillance of variants across the world, we have become aware of the spread of a new potentially concerning variant, which UKHSA has designated a variant under investigation.

“We are taking precautionary action to protect public health and the progress of our vaccine rollout at a critical moment as we enter winter, and we are monitoring the situation closely.”

Rory Boland, Which? travel editor, said: “This worrying news is a reminder that travel is not back to normal. The pandemic continues to disrupt passengers’ travel plans, often with very little notice.

“As all flights are being suspended to these countries, all passengers will be entitled to a full refund for the holiday or flight, so long as they booked with a UK or EU carrier, or with any carrier due to depart from the UK or EU. Getting a refund for accommodation can be more difficult, and is dependent on the policy of the property.

“We have seen restrictions change in several countries over recent days and refunds are not always guaranteed. It is vital that travellers choose holiday providers with good, flexible booking policies in case your trip can’t go ahead.”