The U.K. banned direct passenger flights from the United Arab Emirates to stop the spread of a new virus strain originally identified in South Africa, putting one of the world’s busiest international air routes on ice.
Starting 1 p.m. U.K. time, passengers who’ve been in or transited through the UAE in the previous 10 days will also no longer be allowed to enter the country. Visitors from Burundi and Rwanda in Africa are barred as well. Exemptions usually in place, including for business travel, will no longer apply.
“The decision to ban travel from these destinations 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,” the U.K.’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and Department for Transport said in a joint statement.
Returning British and Irish nationals, as well as third-country citizens with residence rights, will be able to enter the U.K., but they will have to self-isolate at home for 10 days, along with their households.
Dubai-London Heathrow was for a time earlier this month the busiest international passenger route, according to flight-bookings specialist OAG, most likely driven by the travel corridor introduced late last year, which the U.K. dropped on Jan. 12.
Emirates served London Heathrow with five daily flights, of which four used an Airbus SE A380. The world’s largest-long haul carrier also operated 10 flights a week to Manchester, and daily flights to Birmingham and Glasgow.
British tourists in the UAE will have their visas extended free of charge, state news agency WAM said. Tourists and celebrities have visited the Persian Gulf country, posting photos of beach scenes and nightlife on social media over the past month while the U.K. remains locked down. Visitors and those working in the country normally face fines for overstaying their visas.
The UAE will continue to be “an important hub for travel and logistics,” while taking steps like testing and administering vaccines to combat the virus, WAM said in a statement acknowledging the U.K. travel restrictions. The UAE is battling a rise in infections, with a record 3,966 cases Thursday.
Dubai reopened for tourists in July. While social distancing and mask-wearing is required, restrictions have been kept relatively loose, with bars, restaurants, hotels and beaches still open. The second-largest emirate late Wednesday reduced the validity of virus tests to three days from four and made it mandatory to have appointments for hospital visits.