MIAMI – Thousands of residents from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are scrambling to find alternative routes home as the UK announced the closure of its borders.

The UK’s unexpected decision has caused outrage in the UAE, as its government was non the wise it would to be added to the UK’s “red list” of high risk countries. All direct passenger flights between the two countries have now been suspended; however, cargo operations can still operate as normal.

Photo: London Heathrow

The Red List

The countries on the list are considered to be the most infectious in the world. As part of the action, from last Friday, all arrivals who have been in the UAE, Burundi or Rwanda in the 10 days before their arrival will have to self-isolate – as well as their households – immediately and will not be able to use the “test to release” scheme to shorten their quarantine period. The list is now up to 33 countries.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps warned that “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”.

The government said it took the decision to add three more countries to the UK’s travel “red list” due to concerns the South African variant may have spread to the UAE, Burundi and Rwanda. Any passenger transiting through these countries will be refused entry to the UK, except UK citizens or residents.

Emirates A380. Photo: Fabrizio Spicuglia/Airways

The UAE’s Response

The UAE was the most popular long-haul destination in November 2020, with 84,500 passengers travelling to and from the country, according to the Civil Aviation Authority. Other popular destinations were India (54,000), Qatar (38,000) and Vietnam (36,000). The UAE has rejected the UK’s decision to include it on the red list of countries from where travel to the UK is banned.

Hend Al-Otaiba, director of the Strategic Communication Department at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, announced: “The cornerstone of fighting the pandemic is the PCR tests and the UAE recorded the highest test rate per capita worldwide.”

Both Emirates (EK) and Etihad Airways (EY) have expressed their disappointment in the decision, advising passengers to check the status of their flights. London Heathrow Airport (LHR) to Dubai International Airport (DXB) was the busiest international route in January, offering over 190,000 seats served by 4 daily Airbus A380 aircraft. This included their newest aircraft featuring their highly anticipated premium economy cabin, which was exclusive to LHR.

Whereas EY has suspended all flights to the UK, EK has stated it will still operate cargo flights to both LHR and Manchester Airport (MAN). Flights to the rest of its UK destinations have been suspended.

The UAE has stated however that it will do its upmost to repatriate its residents and ensure their return home.

London Heathrow. Photo: Ferrovial Airports

What’s Next?

Airlines in the UK such as British Airways and easyJet have criticised the government’s decision. It has been labelled as a “another nail in the coffin of British aviation.”

Unfortunately, there is no sign of the UK opening its borders anytime soon. Currently, the UK is in its third national lockdown, experiencing one of the highest infection and death rates in the world. The lockdown conditions are to be reviewed in mid-February in England, which could provide some level of certainty for airlines.

Featured image courtesy: Dubai International Airport