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COVID-19 variants behind latest UK ban on both Qatar and Oman passenger flights

You’d think countries would be more relaxed towards travel as vaccination against COVID-19 ramps up globally, but it’s not the case with the rise of the viruses’ many variants

The UK has just added Ethiopia, Oman, Qatar, and Somalia, to its “red list” for travel Qatar Airways could still operate cargo flights between Qatar and the UK, as the ban is specific to passengers UK's B.1.1.7 variant is thought to be as much as 50% more transmissible than other widely circulating variants

You’d think countries would be more relaxed towards travel as vaccination against COVID-19 ramps up globally, but it’s not the case with the rise of the viruses’ many variants, some of which are proving resistant to the vaccines.

This is causing huge concerns nad now the UK has added Qatar and Oman to its growing list of red-listed countries, including the UAE.  

The new UK red list 

The UK has just added Ethiopia, Oman, Qatar, and Somalia, to its “red list” for travel.  

The travel ban will be implemented as of 4 am on Friday, March 19, 2021.

British, Irish, and third-country nationals with residence rights who are arriving from or who have transited these countries in the past 10 days will have to quarantine in a government facility for 10 days and pay £1750 for a 10-day mandatory hotel quarantine upon arrival.

This could prompt a mad rush back to the UK for many Qatar- and Omani-based UK expats. 

There are around three dozen countries on the UK’s “red list,” which is primarily based on the risk of the importation of different strains of coronavirus. 

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was added to the list in late January.

Qatar Airways could still operate cargo flights between Qatar and the UK, as the ban is specific to passengers.

The airline could operate flights from Qatar to the UK without passengers, and then operate flights from the UK to Qatar with passengers since the ban is specifically on entry to the UK, similar to what Emirates Airlines has done. 

In recent weeks, Qatar Airways has been operating up to 28 weekly flights to London and 17 weekly flights to Manchester.

Students with residence visas (such as BRP) issued by the UK would have to fly from Qatar via elsewhere to the UK, but they would be subject to COVID-19 rules of the transit point country, plus they would still have to pay £1750 for a 10-day mandatory hotel quarantine upon arrival to the UK.

Read: Private travel on the rebound, spurred on by ‘Vaccine Vacations’

Read: AstraZeneca is facing a blood clot PR problem, as more countries suspend the vaccine

A variant crisis

The U.S. COVID-19 pandemic has been reduced to a contest between two tenacious coronavirus strains: a variant native to California and an import from the United Kingdom.

New data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicate that the California strain accounted for 13% of all coronavirus samples that were genetically sequenced as part of a new federal program in late February. An additional 7% of the samples were the strain from the U.K.

Both versions of the virus have scientists and health officials on edge because they spread more readily than their predecessors and seem to be less vulnerable to some of the medicines used to treat COVID-19. The California strain has also shown signs of resistance to the current crop of COVID-19 vaccines.

Indeed, studies have found US’ B.1.427/B.1.429 variant to be 20% more transmissible than other variants in broad circulation. Its enhanced powers of transmission, ability to short-circuit the effectiveness of treatments and ability to compromise the effects of vaccine prompted the CDC this week to declare the homegrown strain a “variant of concern.”

What the genetic sequencing data do show is that the U.K. variant, known as B.1.1.7, is making inroads across the country and has fueled a handful of local outbreaks. Its documented presence has grown from 76 cases in 12 states in early January to 4,686 cases in all 50 states and the District of Columbia by late February.

The B.1.1.7 variant is thought to be as much as 50% more transmissible than other widely circulating variants, and a study published this week in the journal Nature suggests it is 61% more likely to cause severe disease or death.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine was not protective against mild-to-moderate disease from either the so-called South African variant (B.1.351) or the wild-type virus, an interim analysis of phase Ib/II data found.

Overall vaccine efficacy against mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in South Africa was 21.9%, and efficacy against B.1.351 was 10.4%, reported Shabir Madhi, Ph.D. of the University of the Witwatersrand in Gauteng, South Africa, and colleagues, in the New England Journal of Medicine.