More than 100 countries on the UK’s “high-risk” travel list now have a lower Covid infection rate than Britain.
The seven-day case rate for the UK, as of December 16, stands at 207.4 per 100,000 residents – lower than the US (470.6 per 100,000) and 27 European nations (including Croatia, Denmark and Portugal), but higher than the vast majority of the world.
Nevertheless, of the 149 countries beneath the UK in the Covid table, only 40 have been granted a travel corridor permitting Britons to visit without a 10-day quarantine when they return.
Not all of the 109 snubbed destinations (see below for the full list) are open to British tourists, but many are. This includes the likes of Egypt, where the seven-day infection rate is just 3.4 per 100,000, Kenya, where it’s a lowly 6.5, Jamaica (20.6), Mexico (58.4) and South Africa (89.6).
The reticence to grant more travel corridors – just two were announced last week, to Botswana and Saudi Arabia – is a source of growing exasperation for tour operators, who cannot offer trips against Foreign Office (FCDO) advice to non-travel corridor countries.
“Travel corridors definitely need expanding,” said Noel Josephides, Director of Industry Affairs at AITO, which represents scores of independent tour operators. “If countries with lower Covid rates than the UK are happy to accept British visitors, it seems unreasonable that travel to these destinations is not made feasible immediately. We don’t see why this should present any risk whatsoever to the UK.”
Indeed, the latest ONS data shows that travelling abroad does not increase the risk of catching the virus, while many destinations now require overseas visitors to take a test before they arrive.
Three African countries – Namibia, Rwanda and Botswana – were added to the travel corridor list in recent weeks, but many others have vanishingly small case rates and are still being ignored.
Furthermore, Namibia and Botswana cannot be reached without a transfer in a non-corridor country, so quarantine-free trips are impossible.
Candice Buchan of Africa specialist Rainbow Tours, said: “South Africa and Kenya really need to be added to the green list because they are the regional hubs to Southern and Eastern Africa respectively. The lack of corridors is also overwhelming capacity in the few places we can actually visit. There were huge numbers booking to Europe in the summer whenever a country was put on the safe list and we are seeing it happen in Dubai now, too.”
Liddy Pleasants, Managing Director of family travel specialist Stubborn Mule, added: “We are completely baffled by the FCDO’s continued reluctance to open travel corridors with countries that have considerably lower incidences of Covid than we do in the UK. Of course we understand that there are many factors that have to be considered, including reliability of reporting, availability of good quality health care locally, and so on. We also understand that it is counter-productive to open corridors where there is a risk of another wave, as this can make the situation even more difficult for the travel industry. However, there are a number of countries with excellent health care systems and persistently low rates that should be added to the corridor list. Oman is a good example.”
The current situation threatens to put dozens of travel firms, which employ hundreds of thousands of Britons, out of business, but is also pushing millions of people in developing countries closer to poverty. As part of The Telegraph’s Unlock Long Haul campaign, we’ve been highlighting the dire problems facing residents in tourism-reliant destinations such as Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. All three have far lower Covid infection rates than the UK (21.1, 38.2 and 14.9, respectively), and are welcoming tourists, but are not on the green list.
A lack of testing has been used to explain why some countries are being snubbed by the Government. Yet there are many discrepancies. According to Our World in Data, South Africa has carried out almost 100 tests per 1,000 people since the start of the pandemic, but doesn’t have a travel corridor, while Japan and South Korea, which have done just 30 per 1,000 and 66 per 1,000, respectively, do. Similarly, overlooked Colombia (108), India (114), Argentina (79) and Morocco (112) have tested considerably more people than many countries on the green list.
The Government’s reticence to add new corridors has not been matched by a shyness when it comes to removing them. Last week the Canary Islands were ditched, causing consternation among travellers due to visit, but its case rate currently stands at just 60.4 per 100,000. Lanzarote, one of four islands in the archipelago with a direct flight from the UK, recorded just three new cases yesterday, as did Fuerteventura.
As things stand there are just 23 destinations on the travel corridor list that are actually welcoming UK holidaymakers.
The 109 red-listed countries with a lower case rate than Britain
Albania 194.1127054 per 100,000
Bosnia and Herzegovina 189.8054983
Costa Rica 133.3349068
South Africa 89.63367742
Greece 77.62171611 (five islands, including Crete, are on the green list)
Dominican Republic 58.03052837
Cabo Verde 54.61898203
El Salvador 24.62331468
Trinidad and Tobago 8.490075965
Congo (Brazzaville) 8.123007503
Burkina Faso 4.986954178
Sao Tome and Principe 2.36935383
Equatorial Guinea 2.215475632
Cote d'Ivoire 1.045105934
Congo (Kinshasa) 1.007516633
Papua New Guinea 0.4763943132
The Gambia 0.4385768707
South Sudan 0.3735449967
Sierra Leone 0.3006475425
Central African Republic 0.1928691145