Travellers from nations including Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe will no longer have to isolate in a hotel from 4am this Wednesday
All 11 countries on England’s coronavirus travel red list will be removed from 4am on Wednesday, the government has announced.
Nations including Botswana, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe were added to the list last month after the Omicron variant was detected there.
But it has since emerged the variant is already being transmitted widely within the UK.
The UK Health Security Agency modelled that more than 200,000 people may have been infected with the variant in the UK yesterday alone.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the spread of Omicron in the UK and the world means the travel red list is “now less effective in slowing the incursion of Omicron from abroad”.
He told MPs: “So I can announce today that whilst we’ll maintain our temporary testing measures for international travel, we will be removing all 11 countries from the travel red list effective from 4am tomorrow.”
Instead all vaccinated travellers will have to take a day 2 PCR test and quarantine until it comes back negative. SAGE experts and Labour have said this is not enough.
The changes were announced for England but the other three UK nations usually follow suit very quickly.
It is the second time the red list has been wiped clear, and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps warned it could return a third time in future.
He said: “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.”
People are banned from entering the UK from red list countries unless they have a reason such as UK residency rights.
It forces all arrivals into hotel quarantine costing £2,285 a head for 11 nights.
The 11 nations were Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Earlier today the doctor who raised the alarm about the Omicron variant said family and community doctors are still seeing “mild disease”.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, told UK MPs the suggestion that the Omicron variant may be around 29% less severe than Delta “makes sense to us”.
But she warned it is “still early days” to see what will happen in intensive care, with the variant being discovered less than four weeks ago.
“The current picture in the primary healthcare space in South Africa is that of mild disease,” she told the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee.
“We said right from the beginning we don’t have all the answers, we still need to see how this virus progresses.”
Dr Coetzee criticised the UK for slapping a ban on international travel so quickly and said no one can prove where the variant emerged.
“I don’t think anyone can claim it was first started in their country,” she said.