Archbishop of Canterbury condemns Covid red list as ‘travel apartheid’

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The Archbishop of Canterbury is urging the Government to abolish what he describes as the ‘morally wrong’ red list - Khaled Elfiqi/Shutterstock
The Archbishop of Canterbury is urging the Government to abolish what he describes as the ‘morally wrong’ red list - Khaled Elfiqi/Shutterstock

The Archbishop of Canterbury has condemned the red list as a “travel apartheid” and urged the Government to scrap it.

The Most Rev Justin Welby has waded into the debate surrounding travel restrictions amid a growing backlash from the travel industry, Tory MPs and scientists at the reintroduction of pre-departure tests for all arrivals, as well as a requirement for all travellers to undergo a PCR test within two days of arrival.

Nigeria became the 11th country to go on the UK’s red list for international travel on Monday. All nations currently on that list are African.

The only people allowed to enter the UK from these countries are UK or Irish nationals, or UK residents. They will have to pay for and self-isolate in a pre-booked, government-approved hotel for a total of 10 days.

In a message to his 165,000 Twitter followers, the Archbishop urged the Government to abolish what he described as the “morally wrong” red list.

He said: “With #Omicron set to become the dominant variant in the UK, I appeal to the British Government to remove Nigeria and South Africa from the red list – together with all other countries currently on it.

“We must find fair and effective approaches for those who are vaccinated and tested to enter the UK. I agree with the Nigerian High Commissioner to the UK – we cannot have ‘travel apartheid’.

“It is also morally wrong – and self-defeating – effectively to punish other nations for being transparent when they discover new Covid variants, as @ArchbishopThabo of Cape Town has said.”

The Archbishop’s appeal comes after Sarafa Tunji Isola, Nigeria’s high commissioner in London, said the decision to include Nigeria on the red list alongside 10 other African countries was “wrong”, “panicky”, unscientific and discriminatory.

He said Covid-19 was a global pandemic and not restricted to Nigeria or other African countries, claiming most of the 67 passengers who tested positive for the omicron variant on arrival in the country were from Britain.

“What is expected is a global approach, not a selective travel ban,” he said.

Mr Isola said it was on that basis that he “aligned” with the view of Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, that Britain’s decision amounted to “travel apartheid”.

Mr Guterres first used the term “travel apartheid” on Wednesday, telling reporters in New York that bans “are not only deeply unfair and punitive, they are ineffective”.

Blanket travel bans ‘will not stop spread of variants’

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that blanket travel bans will not stop the spread of variants, and can potentially discourage countries from reporting and sharing important data on coronavirus.

On Monday, the Most Rev Welby had previously criticised the addition of Nigeria, Botswana and South Africa to the red list, saying they are “countries already suffering that will suffer more”.

The Prime Minister is planning to decide by the end of next week whether further coronavirus restrictions are needed over Christmas.

A government spokesman said: “We are grateful to South Africa for rapidly alerting the world to omicron and we are working closely with them to share any new information.

“We have taken precautionary and temporary action at the border to help slow down the seeding of the omicron variant in the UK from abroad, buying time for our scientists to learn more about the variant.

“The UK kickstarted efforts to establish Covax – delivering Covid-19 vaccines to some of the most vulnerable countries in the world – and we will donate 100 million vaccine doses to other countries by the middle of next year.”

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