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Britain bans direct flights from UAE, shutting world’s busiest international route

Emirates has confirmed it is suspending all its flights between the United Kingdom and Australia indefinitely, after the UK government banned air travel with the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE on Thursday was added to the UK government’s ‘red list’ of countries, meaning direct flights between the two countries will be suspended from Friday afternoon.

The move, confirmed in tweets from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, means arrivals in the UK are banned other than “British, Irish or third country nationals with residence rights” who must self-isolate at home for 10 days on their return.

The UK government’s decision means returning travellers now have to self-isolate for 10 days

The rules will come into force from 1pm UK time on Friday, after which there will be no direct flights from Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

According to a statement on the official website of the UK Government, the decision to ban travel “follows the discovery of a new coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa, that may have spread to other countries, including the UAE, Burundi and Rwanda”.

Any exemptions usually in place will not apply, including for business travel, it added.

The statement said: “British nationals currently in the UAE should make use of the commercial options available if they wish to return to the UK. Indirect commercial routes that will enable British and Irish nationals and residents to return to the UK continue to operate.”

The decision follows new measures announced by the government on Wednesday to minimise travel across international borders and reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission, including managed isolation in hotels and the need to declare a reason for travel.

Shapps said on Twitter: “From tomorrow (Friday 29 January at 1pm), we’re extending our travel ban with the United Arab Emirates, Burundi and Rwanda all added to the UK’s red list.

“This means people who have been in or transited through these countries will be denied entry, except British, Irish and third country nationals with residence rights who must self-isolate for ten days at HOME.

“Passengers must still have proof of a negative test and completed Passenger Locator Form before arrival – or could otherwise face a £500 fine for each.”

Thousands of people planning to travel back from Asia and Australasia will also see their onward flights from Dubai/Abu Dhabi cancelled.

Plans to introduce a new system of mandatory hotel quarantine for UK arrivals from countries including the UAE are not yet in place.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said on Wednesday: “There are still too many people coming in and out of our country each day. The rules are clear – people should be staying at home unless they have a valid reason to leave. Going on holiday is not a valid reason.

“As we have done throughout this global health emergency, we will continue to take all steps necessary to protect the public and help prevent the spread of the virus.”

The addition to the red list is the latest twist to the saga of UK-UAE flights during the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this month, industry experts said a move by the UK to remove the UAE from its travel corridor would signal the “death knell” for the route.

Previously, incoming flights soared 112 percent in November when the UAE was added to the UK’s safe travel corridor.

It is reported that the Dubai-London Heathrow travel corridor was the busiest international air route in the world during the first week of January.

According to aviation analytics firm OAG, a total of 190,365 seats were scheduled in the first week of 2021 on the route, putting it ahead of Cairo to Jeddah (154,337) and Orlando to San Juan (151,916).

Knee jerk reaction

One tourist returning from the UAE branded the UK government’s decision as “knee jerk”.

Steve Hampson, managing director at Harlaxton Estates in Nottingham, said: “I’ve just returned from Dubai and the country is so safe. Compulsory face masks indoor and out, sanitisation everywhere, social distancing and everyone follows the rules with strict enforcement

“Coming back to the UK it’s full of rule breakers I felt unsafe here. Another knee jerk reaction by the UK government because Dubai had spike like every other country over the festive period.

“We love Dubai, its people, its vibrancy, its culture and unique ability to continually evolve in a most spectacular way. We visited in October and plan to return in March as it’s the safest tourist destination in the world currently.

“The UK has such poor policies and no focused plan. The compulsory covid testing should have been implemented last March as we are an island. We seem to deflect the issue to other countries like Dubai who have implemented strict Covid rules since the start and have created a safe haven for travellers.”

The news is another blow to the UAE’s tourism industry which saw incoming flights soar 112 percent in Novemberwhen the emirates were added to the travel corridor.

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