NIGERIANS resident in the UK are now free to return to the country and isolate for 10 days in their homes after the British government scrapped its controversial red list scheme which singled out 11 African countries for travel restrictions.
This month, Canada, the UK and Saudi Arabia all introduced severe travel restrictions on Nigerians, suspending the issuance of visas among other things. Using the pretext that the measure in to curtail the spread of the Omicron strain of the Covid-19 virus, the measure has led to millions of Nigerians having to scrap their Christmas travel plans, while thousands are stranded worldwide.
As part of a plan to ease the lockdown and return to normality, the UK had introduced a traffic light health structure with countries placed on green, amber and red lists. Being on the red list subjects citizens of the country to certain Draconian quarantine measures, including that when they return to Britain, they must go into isolation in a hotel for about two weeks.
On December 4, Nigeria was placed on the red list, meaning that anyone who returns from Nigeria to the UK, must now be isolated in a hotel for 10 days at a cost of about £2,500. Incensed by the decision, Nigerians in the UK launched a petition seeking to get the British government to rescind the measure.
Reeling under the pressure, today, the British government relented and announced a policy reversal, pointing out that all 11 countries will be removed from the red list as from 4am tomorrow morning. Incidentally, all the countries on the list are African, as it is made up of Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Described as travel apartheid, the red list was reintroduced in late November as a precaution after the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. Announcing the scrapping of the policy today, UK health secretary Sajid Javid said the Omicron variant had spread so widely the rules no longer had much purpose.
Mr Javid said: “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. 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 4am tomorrow morning.”
Some travellers have already paid thousands of pounds to stay in government-approved quarantine hotels and there have been complaints of chaotic organisation and inedible food during their stays. Mr Javid said he had asked for urgent advice on whether those currently in managed quarantine would be able to leave early.
He also said he was very persuaded by calls to reimburse people and hoped to make an announcement soon. According to Mr Javid, the point of putting countries on the red list was to act quickly to slow the spread of Omicron but now that it has spread in the community, the government does not think putting people from a limited list of countries in hotels is useful.
South African tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu said the UK announcement had come just in time to allow families and friends to unite over the festive season. Britain’s travel industry had also warned the restrictions were hurting business, with Tim Alderslade, the head of trade group Airlines UK, saying emptying the red list made complete sense but the government should also scrap the remaining travel restrictions.