Passengers condemn UK’s ‘travel apartheid’ rules targeting Africa

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Restrictions on travelers from some African states, such as expensive quarantine living, force some to cancel Christmas plans.

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London, United Kingdom – In an effort to stop the spread of new infections as the Omicron version of the coronavirus spreads, the UK imposed travel restrictions on southern African states, including Nigeria, late last month.

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But the countries concerned and their citizens have criticized the travel restrictions for an apparently selective nature. The restrictions were announced with little notice, and many people have been forced to decide whether to cancel their Christmas plans.

Clarissa Bloom, a dating and relationship specialist, had been saving for months for her trip to Cape Town, which was planned for December.

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But she has now chosen against meeting her family members, whom she has not seen since 2018.

“I feel devastated,” she told Al Jazeera. “It’s hard not to be able to see my family this year, because it will be the second year in a row that I’ll be on my own at Christmas. I have friends I can meet, but it’s not like spending time with your family.” “

Under the new travel rules, Bloom, who works in the travel industry, will have to isolate in a hotel upon her return.

She said she could not afford the quarantine, which would leave her dog without care for several days.

Now, he has an additional concern – will he get the money spent so far or not.

“I was stopping” [travelling] until all the vaccines came out because I didn’t want my trip to be canceled, but then I thought it was too far off that it should be okay; I didn’t expect everything to change so fast,” she said, adding that she felt very confident earlier this year when she booked that she had not bought travel insurance.

When the UK relaxed travel rules earlier this year, a traffic light system was introduced.

Each color indicated a different danger level – travel to countries on the green list meant people would not have to isolate upon their return.

Red-listed countries will result in hotel quarantine measures.

The system was abandoned in October, but due to the discovery of the Omicron variant, the Red List was revived.

It currently includes South Africa, Nigeria, Malawi, Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Swaziland, Lesotho, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Travelers from those countries will now have to enter hotel quarantine at their own expense – 2,285 UK pounds ($3,018) for 10 days.

Critics say the cost is too high, especially since many travelers may be isolated in their homes.

In addition, only UK or Irish citizens or UK residents are allowed to fly from Red List countries.

Those not resident in the UK will have to stay in another country for 10 days to enter the UK.

Meanwhile, little is known about the transmissibility or severity of the Omicron variant, which was first reported in South Africa but later found in the Netherlands at an earlier date.

Other countries have also taken a precautionary stance against foreign travelers, especially those arriving from southern African states, prompting a backlash from some government officials and global bodies.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has referred to the sanctions as “travel apartheid”, saying they are “not only highly unfair and punitive, they are ineffective.”

Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the UK, Sarafa Tunji Isola, told BBC Media Network: “The travel ban is apartheid in the sense that we are not dealing with an endemic. We are dealing with a pandemic. Whenever there is a challenge before us, there must be cooperation.”

The news came as a shock to those planning to visit the family in Nigeria this winter.

Sara told Al Jazeera that her mother, who is returning to the UK from Lagos, Nigeria, will have to be quarantined at a hotel.

“It was so last minute,” said Sarah. “My mom has a flight this week, so it completely derailed everything. It is disappointing because the decision lacks logic.

“This variant doesn’t just exist in Africa, it is present in the UK and spreading within communities.”

This week, the Nigerian Center for Disease Control reported a few more cases of the Omicron variant discovered in travelers from South Africa.

The UK Department of Health has said that 21 cases in England are linked to travelers from Nigeria. So far, more than 400 new cases of Omron variants have been reported in the country.

“No one is speaking about British Nigerians,” Sarah said. “Or British South Africans, who have a dual identity, because it’s not about going on vacation, it’s about wanting to go home.

“People I know are trying to find an alternative route to the UK, but why would we have to go through it when people would be so happy to isolate themselves in their homes?”

UK officials review travel lists every three weeks, and more countries could still be added to the red list as the government seeks measures to avoid lockdowns over the coming Christmas period.

With one of the world’s worst tolls, nearly 146,000 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for COVID-19 in the UK since the pandemic began.

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