Covid-19: UK red list a big worry for UAE travel sector

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Dubai - Along with the envoy, British expatriates living in the UAE and travel experts have also expressed their displeasure at the UK’s decision.

By Dhanusha Gokulan and James Jose

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Published: Sat 5 Jun 2021, 11:01 PM

Last updated: Sat 5 Jun 2021, 11:11 PM

UAE Ambassador to England, Mansoor Abulhoul said he was disappointed at Britain’s decision to retain the UAE on its travel red list despite its successful vaccination and testing programmes.

He wrote on Twitter: “Disappointing to see that the UAE has remained on the UK’s red travel list. We have best-in-class health and safety infrastructure to protect visitors and residents.”

“I hope families and friends separated by Covid-19 will reunite as soon as possible and resume other crucial business and travel links,” he added.

Along with the envoy, British expatriates living in the UAE and travel experts have also expressed their displeasure at the UK’s decision.

The UK categorised countries into three lists — green, amber, and red. Travellers going to, and returning from, green countries do not need to quarantine or self-isolate upon returning to the UK. Passengers travelling to and from the amber list of countries need to undergo several levels of testing. Finally, there’s no entry to countries on the red list except for British and Irish citizens and people with residency rights. Passengers have to undergo mandatory institutional quarantine as well.

Transport Minister Grant Shapps announced on Thursday that the UK expanding its travel ban list due to fears of Covid-19 variants. The UK removed Portugal from the restriction-free travel green list; however, no new countries were added.

While the UAE remains on the red list, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) issued a new update regarding direct flights from the nation. On its travel advice page, the FCDO said: “From June 8, direct flights can arrive in England from the UAE, but they must arrive at dedicated terminals at Heathrow and Birmingham airports.”

“Different requirements may apply for arrivals into Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Those returning from the UAE must take a pre-departure Covid-19 test. They must also pre-book their hotel quarantine stay and two tests to be taken during this time.”

British expatriates travelling from the UAE are still required to stay in a government-mandated hotel for 10 days at the cost of a little over Dh9,000 per adult. Abulhoul also said: “The UAE is among the top countries in the world for vaccinations and testing, and we have strict controls to guard against troubling variants. The UAE has arranged bespoke travel arrangements with other countries.”

The UK added Bahrain, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Sudan, Trinidad and Tobago and Afghanistan to the red list on May 3. There are only 11 countries and territories on UK’s green list, including Israel, Singapore and New Zealand.

Sophia Tamang, the managing director of Timi Travel Dubai, said: “In a recent interview Issam Kazim, the CEO of Dubai Tourism, said the UK has gone from third to the fifth position as a key market. We have been seeing decreased UK visitors, and many of our clients are concerned about the arrangement and expenses this mandatory quarantine brings along with it.”

“Soon, summer holidays are going to commence, and we have been seeing that our client base who are British passport holders worry they will lose valuable time when they travel back home to visit their extended families. Many friends and relatives who used to visit the UAE are also hesitant due to the stringent policies,” she said.

Tamang also said many expatriates have had to keep important occasions like weddings and engagements on hold since their family and friends wouldn’t attend. “The UAE, especially Dubai, has been commended by the World Travel and Tourism Council for its high standard of health and safety protocols, our residents are vaccinated; and if countries in the EU are open to welcome UAE’s fully vaccinated travellers, it would be good to see the UK as part of the summer list,” she added.

Expatriates express disapproval

Rick Bevan, the general manager of WSP Global and resident of Dubai for seven years, said: “We have not been back to the UK since December 2019. My wife and I had our first child, a baby boy, in December 2020. None of our families back home have been able to meet yet because we have been stuck here. So, we are watching out for the restrictions to be changed every week. We are desperate to go back, but at the moment, there is no sort of reasonable way that we can do it.”

“The institutional quarantine is 1,700 pounds per person in a hotel for 10 days. And that is obviously on top of your flight and other expenses; it is not like you get unlimited holiday time from work. So, that is 10 days of holidays used already before you have even started unless you can decide to work from the hotel. For us, that is not feasible at all,” Bevan added.

Alexandria May Hall, a PR manager, said: “The last time I went to the UK was in December last year, but I went for personal reasons. My grandmother passed away, so I wouldn’t have gone home then if it wasn’t for that. But then, I’ve got other friends who haven’t been home for around a year and a half.”

“I was supposed to attend a friend’s wedding in London on August 9. That was the plan, but I don’t think that will happen now because it is looking unlikely that they will go from red to amber or green. So, I probably won’t be going home this summer,” she added.

“It is disappointing, especially because the UAE has the best vaccination process and the highest rate of vaccinations. So, that’s disappointing because the UAE has led by example since the start of the pandemic. It doesn’t make sense that we are still on the red list, and a lot of the British expats are hopeful that we will be able to travel home because of that reason. It doesn’t look very hopeful. It feels like we would never be able to be back on the green list anytime soon. So, the future doesn’t look bright for British expats.”

“I’ve been vaccinated. All of my friends have been desperately wanting to go home, so they got their vaccinations as soon as they could.

Obviously, I went home for sad reasons, but some of my friends haven’t seen their families for a year and a half now,” said Hall.

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