England’s last ‘red list’ restrictions confound South Americans

England’s decision to maintain strict Covid travel rules for seven South American and Caribbean countries has prompted further fury and confusion in the nations which remain on the “red list”.

Ministers announced on Thursday that restrictions would be lifted for 47 countries – including Brazil, South Africa and Thailand – allowing travellers to enter England without being subject to draconian and expensive quarantine restrictions.

But arrivals from Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Venezuela will still be required to undergo an 11-night hotel quarantine at a cost of over £2,000, or to remain in a third-party country for the same time before entering England.

For many in a region where social distancing and mask use remains commonplace and uncontroversial, it is a step that defies logic. Colombia, for example, currently has an average daily Covid caseload of 1,428, compared with England’s 27,851, even thought the two countries have a similar population. When Zac Goldsmith, minister for the pacific and the environment, visited Colombia on Wednesday, he posed unmasked for a photograph with local officials.

A petition to remove the country from the red list has currently received more than 3,500 signatures.

“It’s devastating that Colombia is still on the red list,” said Martin Higgins, 35, a university teacher living in Bogotá, who cancelled plans last year to travel with his family last year due to Covid restrictions. “My son was born in 2019 and hasn’t met his grandfather yet so it has affected us deeply; hotel quarantine just isn’t an option with a two-year-old and the cost of it is extortionate.”

Many others expressed anger at the new rules. “There is no justifiable explanation,” said Thomas Markall, who lives in Bogotá and was incensed by news that he would remain stuck in Colombia for the foreseeable future. “The current government doesn’t seem to even be able to interpret current data and implement an informed, reasonable policy. Either that or they are too lazy to look at the facts.”

Those in England hoping to visit relatives in Colombia were also furious that their hopes for travel had once again been dashed.

“Last April my grandmother died and with the restrictions in place, I was unable to go back to Medellín to attend her funeral and to accompany my father who lived with her,” wrote Laura Gomez, a Colombian living in London, in an open letter to the British government. “The last time I saw my family was in January 2019 and the agony of not knowing when I will be able to see them again is painful.”

Britain’s ambassador to Colombia, Colin Martin-Reynolds, said in a statement on Thursday that the decision to keep the country on the red list is due to a “significant presence of the variants of interest Mu (and to a lesser extent, Lamda).”

People in other affected countries expressed similar frustration, with Peruvians, Ecuadorians and Panamanians questioning why they remained on the red list even though their countries boast higher vaccination rates than other states which are have been removed.

“Re. Peru remaining on the red list: it makes zero sense, scientific or otherwise,” tweeted one person.

“Ecuador is one of the seven countries remaining in the UK’s red list, despite having a successful vaccination program,” tweeted another. “If decisions are made on a medical basis why have countries like Brazil and South Africa come off? This feels like politics rather than science.”

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