Following concerns of an epidemic of Omicron variant, the UK government has intensified travel rules for foreign citizens. New travel rules to the UK have drawn a vast amount of objections and criticisms towards the government.
Britain, Omicron Variant outbreak center
Britain is one of the countries with the highest number of victims globally due to COVID19; this has led to numerous difficult lockdowns. With the increase in the vaccination process, the strictness concerning the traffic and social activities of the people gradually decreased. Still, People less maintained the restrictions regarding international travel.
In a systematic structure, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, in addition to checking the vaccinations status of each individual, divide the countries of the world into two groups; the red list and the green list. According to the so-called lists, citizens of other countries can enter their borders.
The World Health Organization’s warning about a new coronavirus variant in South Africa called the Omicron variant. The UK government has ordained new rules on entering the country to increase surveillance, execution of the tests, and quarantine. On November 25, the government reactivated the red list of countries, of which the citizens were restricted to commute in the country.
Following this decision, since December 6, Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia are on the list flight ban established between these countries and the UK. Therefore if you are not a resident of England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland or do not have British or Irish citizenship, you will not be allowed to enter the UK from a country on the red list.
New restrictions for travellers
British residents & Irish citizens arriving home from the red list destinations must also complete a 10-day hotel quarantine at their own expense. Before entering the UK, the travellers must purchase what the British government calls a quarantine package: accommodation and food expenses. In addition, all travellers must sign the form locator 48 hours before arrival. All those coming from countries, not on the red list, must take a pre-departure test regardless of the vaccination status. All travellers must book and pay PCR test before their arrival, and Travellers must complete this test before the end of the second day of their arrival.
Travellers who have received two vaccine doses should maintain the quarantine until the test result is negative. And travellers who have only been vaccinated once must be quarantined for ten days at home or in a hotel after their arrival. They should also take a PCR test three days before the trip and on the second and eighth days. In addition, all suspected cases of Omicron and their relatives will be quarantined for 10 days.
The British government has stated that it will refrain from ordaining further restrictions or stricter lockdowns. Nevertheless, it has exerted rules more stringent on its citizens. People are required to inject booster doses and the requirement to wear masks in vehicles and shops, and students are recommended to wear masks in schools. Sajid Javid has announced that these restrictions are concerning the next two weeks and will be reviewed afterwards.
Until recently, fully vaccinated travellers from the green list could enter the UK, Scotland, Wales and Ireland without a negative PCR test. However, the new rules require all travellers, regardless of vaccination status and country of origin, to show a negative COVID test before the entrance, which was taken, up to 48 hours before the trip.
Ambiguity in Christmas Travels
New travel rules to the UK on the verge of the Christmas holidays led to negative public opinion and media criticism. To the extent that the travellers to this country mentioned the new rules as “travel apartheid”. These limitations cost around $ 3,000 for travellers from some African countries to stay in quarantine.
In addition, only British citizens are allowed to fly from the Red List countries, and those who do not reside in the UK must stay at least ten days in a second country before entering the UK. This is all while there is not enough information on how dangerous the new omicron variant is yet and how severe it is. To condemn this prohibition, the Secretary-General of the UN António Guterres called the New travel rules to the UK “travel apartheid”. It said, “Are not only deeply unfair and punitive, but they are also ineffective.”
Closing the Christmas celebration, rumor or reality
British politicians say the new travel rules to the UK are aimed to prevent lockdown over the Christmas holidays. But these rules do not provide any protection for African-Americans residing in Britain. For this group of people, Britain counts as home, not a vacation place. Dissatisfaction with the new travel rules to the UK has led the country to be accused of racism towards African citizens.
Although the UK, even with visa control, cannot completely prevent the spread of Omicron variants throughout the country. The only way to save the world from this epidemic is to take collective action. Countries with strict and self-centred approaches may reduce the rate of virus penetration to their borders. Still, they have to await more dangerous variants beyond their borders.
Projects such as COVAX may have been aimed at equitable distribution of the vaccine, but in practice, their approach has failed to establish justice in access to the vaccine worldwide. According to the Economist Institute, parts of Africa, South America and Asia will largely lack widespread immunity to COVID19 by 2023.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Francesco Roca, President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said that the vaccination program against COVID19 is going on globally. At the same time, the distribution of vaccines is distributed not equally done in various countries. The emergence of a new variant of the virus, called Omicron, obviously shows that maintaining our current path of vaccination means taking the risk of new variants.
African and developing countries pay the highest price by having less access to vaccines than others. In Western countries such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other European countries, people speak of booster dose or a fourth or fifth dose of corona vaccine. Still, in other parts of the world, less than ten per cent of people have been vaccinated so far. The COVAX mechanism was created for the just distribution of the Covid vaccine worldwide, but unfortunately, it did not go on as expected. COVAX did not have sufficient financial resources to carry out its mission.
The Omicron variant has led many countries to lack access to the corona vaccine whilst rich countries are currently injecting the third dose. Therefore, in addition to the World Health Organization, the burden of this responsibility falls on developed and prosperous nations. In a situation where experts predict the spread of newer and more dangerous variants of Omicron and Delta, developed and rich countries should not prevent the vaccine from reaching less developed countries by purchasing a vaccine over their needs. Instead, Governments must take global action to consider the international interests and help the proper and equitable distribution of the vaccine in the world.