The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday (Nov. 26) decided the variant is “of concern” and officially named it omicron. It cautioned against sudden travel measures in response to the virus.

The UK’s red list is back

The UK first introduced the red list in February 2021, mandating a 10-day hotel quarantine that cost £2,285 ($3,043) for any individual arriving from one the designated countries.

As vaccinations picked up around the world, the ban was relaxed. By the start of October, the red list had just seven countries—Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela—and by the end of the month, it was effectively eliminated.

Now, despite over 80% of people in the UK having received both doses—almost three in 10 also have their booster shot—the restrictions are back. The government is wary of the new strain.

“We’re taking this early precautionary action now to protect the progress made across the country, and will continue to keep a close eye on the situation as we continue into the winter,” transport secretary Grant Shapps said.

Africa’s response to travel restrictions

In a statement on Nov. 26, South Africa’s ministry of international relations and cooperation said it “respects the right of all countries to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect their citizens.”

South Africa hopes to persuade the UK and other countries to walk back the temporary ban because the cost to livelihoods is too high. Pre-pandemic, the UK was its biggest source of tourism with more than 430,000 UK travelers (pdf) arriving in South Africa in 2019. The southern African economy lost an estimated 790 million rand ($48 million) for every month it was on the red list earlier this year.

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