London, United Kingdom – In a bid to prevent an outbreak of new infections as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus spreads, the UK imposed travel restrictions on southern African states, including Nigeria, late last month.
But the countries concerned and their citizens criticized the travel bans for their apparently selective nature. The restrictions were announced with little notice, and many were forced to decide whether or not to cancel their Christmas plans.
Dating and relationship expert Clarissa Bloom had saved up for months for her trip to Cape Town, scheduled for December.
But she has now chosen not to visit family members, whom she has not seen since 2018.
“I feel devastated,” she told Al Jazeera. “Not being able to see my family this year is difficult because it will be the second year in a row that I will be alone at Christmas. I have friends that I can meet, but it’s not the same as spending it with family.
Under the new travel rules, Bloom, who works in the travel industry, is expected to self-isolate in a hotel upon his return.
She said she couldn’t afford quarantine, which would also leave her dog without care for too many days.
Now she has one more worry – whether she will be reimbursed for the money she has spent so far.
” I retained [travelling] until the vaccines were all out, because I didn’t want my trip to be canceled, but then I thought it was far enough away for everything to be okay; I didn’t expect everything to change so quickly, ”she said, adding that she had felt so reassured earlier this year when she booked that she hadn’t signed up for ‘travel insurance.
When the UK relaxed travel rules earlier this year, a traffic light system was introduced.
Each color indicated a different level of threat – travel to Green List countries meant people wouldn’t have to self-isolate on their return.
Countries on the red list would lead to quarantine measures in hotels.
The system was scrapped in October, but due to the discovery of the Omicron variant, the redlist was relaunched.
It currently includes South Africa, Nigeria, Malawi, Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Eswatini, Lesotho, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Travelers from those countries are now required to quarantine hotels at their own expense – a sum of 2,285 pounds sterling ($ 3,018) for 10 days.
Critics say the cost is too high, especially since many travelers could isolate themselves at home.
In addition, only UK or Irish nationals, or UK residents, are allowed to travel from Red List countries.
Those who do not reside in the UK would have to stay in a second 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 was subsequently detected in the Netherlands at an earlier date.
Other countries have also taken a precautionary stance against foreign travelers, particularly those from southern African states, prompting a reaction from some government officials and global bodies.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called the bans “travel apartheid”, saying they “are not only deeply unjust and punitive, they are ineffective”.
Sarafa Tunji Isola, Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the UK, told the BBC media network, “The travel ban is apartheid in the sense that we are not dealing with an endemic. We are facing a pandemic. Whenever we have a challenge, there has to be collaboration.
For those planning to see family in Nigeria this winter, the news has come as a shock.
Sarah told Al Jazeera that her mother, who is returning to the UK from Lagos, Nigeria, will have to self-quarantine in a hotel.
“It was so last minute,” Sarah said. “My mom’s flight is this week, so everything has completely derailed. It’s frustrating because the decision lacks logic.
“This variant is not only present in Africa, it is present in the UK and is spreading within communities.”
This week, the Nigerian Center for Disease Control reported a few more cases of the Omicron variant found in travelers from South Africa.
The UK Department of Health said 21 cases in England have been linked to travelers from Nigeria. So far, there have been over 400 new cases of the Omicron variant in the country.
“No one is talking about British Nigerians,” Sarah said. “Or British South Africans, people who have a dual identity, because it’s not about wanting to go on vacation, it’s about wanting to go home.
“People I know are trying to find alternative routes to UK but why do we have to go through this when people would be very happy to be isolated in their homes? “
UK officials review the travel list every three weeks, and other countries could still be redlisted as the government seeks measures to avoid a lockdown over the coming Christmas period
Around 146,000 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for COVID-19 in the UK since the start of the pandemic, one of the worst tolls in the world.