The UK is poised to announce as soon as Tuesday the removal of all 11 countries from its so-called Covid-19 red list, ending mandatory hotel quarantine for travellers arriving from the riskiest countries.
Ministers believe the move is logical given the number of omicron cases in the UK are doubling every two to three days, a person familiar with the matter said. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new variant would account for the majority of cases in London by Tuesday.
South Africa and nine other nations were placed on the red list last month, followed by Nigeria last week. It means Britons already in those countries must quarantine in designated hotels for 10 days on their return to the UK - at a cost of R50 500 per person or R67 200 per couple.
It also means that people in red-list nations who don’t have UK residency rights are banned from coming to Britain. The change in policy is expected to end that ban, with all arrivals from those countries likely to be told to isolate at their own accommodation rather than in government-approved hotels.
Johnson told a Downing Street press conference last week the government would review travel restrictions "given the way omicron’s now seeded around the world, and not just in red-listed countries."
Health Secretary Sajid Javid also hinted at the move last week, telling Parliament: "Very soon, in the days and weeks that lie ahead, if, as I think is likely, we see many more infections and this variant becomes the dominant variant, there will be less need to have any kind of travel restrictions at all."
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was among those who criticised the bans, saying the restrictions defied scientific logic. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres branded the rules "travel apartheid."
Johnson’s government faced anger from travellers who were not only hit with large bills but also struggled to book hotel rooms on the government system, amid accusations ministers had failed to prepare for the policy.