Britain will end a ban on visitors from 11 African countries aimed at combatting COVID-19, the government said Tuesday, despite an alarming spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
After the variant was first detected in southern Africa and Hong Kong in November, the British government compiled a travel “red list” of the 11 African nations later in the month.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced in parliament Tuesday that the ban would be lifted on Wednesday at 0400 GMT since the country had achieved community transmission of omicron.
“Now that there is community transmission of omicron in the U.K. and Omicron has spread so widely across the world, the travel red list is now less effective in slowing the incursion of omicron from abroad,” he said.
While the ban remains in effect, only British citizens or residents arriving from the listed countries are allowed to enter the U.K. on condition they quarantine in a hotel at their expense.
The countries on the list are Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Javid said Monday that omicron, which is more transmissible than earlier variants, would be dominant in London “within 48 hours.” U.K. health authorities say omicron infections are doubling every two to three days, amounting to about 200,000 new cases daily.
South African scientists say the health effects of omicron may be less severe than the delta variant but warn it is premature to reach conclusions.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.