The UK government has confirmed it is scrapping the red list for international travel.
Announced by health secretary Sajid Javid in the House of Commons today, the move comes in response to the rapid global spread of the omicron coronavirus variant, which ministers admit has rendered the strictest travel restrictions unnecessary.
The 11 African countries currently designated “high risk” by the Department for Transport will be removed from the red list from 4am on 15 December.
“Now that there is community transmission, the travel red less is less effective,” said Mr Javid.
The recently announced testing requirements, however, will stay in place.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps tweeted: “All current testing measures remain in place and will be reviewed in the first week of January.
“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.”
Testing requirements vary depending on whether arrivals to the UK are fully vaccinated or not: the former group must present a negative lateral flow test before departure and book a PCR test to be taken within two days of entering the country, while the latter must also have booked a day eight PCR test and quarantine for 10 days.
A total of 11 African nations were put on the UK’s formerly empty red list between 29 November and 4 December, including South Africa and Nigeria, with returning travellers given short notice that they would have to pay thousands for hotel quarantine in the UK.
South Africa and nine other countries, including safari favourites Botswana and Namibia, spent just 16 days on the red list this time around.
It is currently unclear whether current quarantine hotel detainees will be allowed to leave self-isolation early – and, if so, whether they will be able to claim a refund for the portion of their stay left remaining.
Africa guide Paul Goldstein says: “I sincerely hope the government is not expecting any thanks for this.
“Singlehandedly they have destroyed the Christmas/New Year market for much of Africa as well as butchering confidence in the UK travel industry.”
Many of those who travelled to red list countries during the couple of weeks they were back on the list are now midway through their 10-day hotel isolation period.
Louise Hemus Fox, currently in hotel quarantine at the Gatwick Sofitel, told The Independent: “As a minimum we should be allowed out on receipt of a negative day eight test. Not have to sit here until midnight on day 10.
“The whole thing is utterly pointless. This is absolutely nothing to do with infection control, it’s just a bureaucratic platitude.”