Coronavirus UK: Britons in Dubai race to reach home before today’s 1pm deadline

Models and social media influencers are among thousands of British travellers facing a race home today to avoid being stranded in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

The scramble to get a flight comes after ministers added the United Arab Emirates to the so-called red list of countries from where travel to the UK is prohibited.

Some UK passengers including make-up artist Amy Wilson from Sheffield said they had just managed to get home just before the ban on direct inbound passenger flights from the UAE to Britain comes into effect at 1pm today.

Ms Wilson tweeted: ‘Can’t believe how lucky me and Jack have been with flights. Got back from Turkey two hours before the quarantine deadline and getting the last flight home from Dubai before the UK closes its boarders to the UAE. Someone’s looking out for me.’

But others including Only Fans model Honey Evans from Leeds said they would stay out in Dubai. She tweeted: ‘Flights from Dubai to the UK are banned. Guess I have no choice but to stay out here. Shame.’

Emirates and Etihad Airways said all UK passenger flights from the UAE have been suspended, although British Airways told passengers that some were still running. 

It comes as:

  • A fourth Covid-19 vaccine to be produced on Teesside could be approved for use in the UK within weeks;
  • The row between the European Union and AstraZeneca over vaccine supply shortages in the bloc deepened;
  • The Government said a further 1,239 people died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 yesterday;
  • Primary age pupils’ performance in reading and maths was found to have plunged following school closures.

Some British passengers including make-up artist Amy Wilson from Sheffield said they just managed to get home just before the ban on direct inbound passenger flights from the UAE

Only Fans model Honey Evans from Leeds said she would stay out in Dubai. She tweeted: 'Flights from Dubai to the UK are banned. Guess I have no choice but to stay out here. Shame.'

Only Fans model Honey Evans from Leeds said she would stay out in Dubai. She tweeted: ‘Flights from Dubai to the UK are banned. Guess I have no choice but to stay out here. Shame.’

Ministers acted following evidence that the more infectious South African strain of Covid-19 had been detected in the UAE.

Up to 10,000 UK residents are thought to be in the country, which is popular with wealthy winter sun-seekers for its luxurious hotels and beaches.

Quarantine hotels: What are they, how much and when do they come in?

Tougher border controls have been announced in a bid to protect the UK against the spread of new coronavirus variants. Here is how they will work:

What are quarantine hotels?

UK nationals and residents returning from one of 30 listed countries will be taken to a Government-approved hotel where they must self-isolate for 10 days. Foreign nationals and non-UK residents from those destinations – which include South America, southern Africa and Portugal – are already banned from entering the UK.

How much will they cost?

The finances have not been announced but it could cost in excess of £1,000 per person.

Which hotels will be included?

This has not been confirmed but hotel chain Best Western said it was ready to ‘step in’.

When will the policy be introduced?

That has also not been announced. The delay will allow people to return home without the additional hotel stay.

What is happening with enforcement of existing rules?

Home Secretary Priti Patel said there are ‘still too many people coming in and out of our country each day’. There will be an increased police presence at ports and airports, fining those in breach of the stay-at-home regulations.

Will I have to give a valid reason to leave the UK?

Passengers will be required to declare their reason for travel, such as for business. Operators are being told not to allow people to board if their trip is not essential.

Why are further border measures being launched?

Hotel quarantine has been proposed as a way to ensure people follow self-isolation rules relating to international travel, and guard against new variants of coronavirus entering the country. Amid significant pressure on the NHS, there are concerns about the risks posed by strains identified in South Africa and Brazil.

What were the existing rules for arrivals to the UK?

Direct flights to the UK from South Africa, Brazil and Portugal are suspended but British residents are permitted to return through indirect routes and then self-isolate at home. More widely, anyone entering the country from abroad, including UK nationals returning home, must provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test result taken up to three days before departure. Travellers must also self-isolate for 10 days upon arrival even if they tested negative. In England, travellers may be able to end self-isolation early if they pay for a private coronavirus test.

How long would new quarantine hotels be in place for?

This is as yet unknown. Conservative former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said measures should be about ‘buying us enough time’, adding: ‘We don’t know which countries these variants are arising in.’ 

Scores of social media influencers and millionaires have flocked there recently.

Ministers announced the move at 5pm yesterday, giving holidaymakers less than 24 hours to scramble for tickets on the handful of direct flights scheduled to arrive in the UK before the deadline.

Britons will still be allowed to come back on indirect flights. Business trips to the UAE will no longer be considered essential.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps tweeted last night: ‘From Friday 29 January at 1pm, we’re extending our travel ban with the United Arab Emirates, Burundi and Rwanda all added to the UK’s red list.

‘This means people who have been in or transited through these countries will be denied entry, except British, Irish and third country nationals with residence rights who must self-isolate for ten days at home.

‘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.’

Thanks to other rules introduced on Wednesday, adding the UAE to the red list means Britons returning from there face having to quarantine in airport hotels for ten days.

It was still unclear yesterday when this will come into force, but officials are thought to be considering the week beginning February 8.

Arrivals from countries not on the red list will still be required to quarantine, but at home instead.

In addition to the ban on direct flights that comes in from 1pm, another set of restrictions came into force today from 4am.

UK residents must self-isolate at home with all members of their household for ten days if they return from the UAE, and non-UK residents are banned from entering Britain if they have been in the UAE within ten days.

The latter does not apply to British, Irish and foreign nationals with UK residence rights.

Former Geordie Shore star Chloe Ferry, 25, is among the scores of influencers who have flocked to Dubai in recent weeks. Others include Sophia Peschisolido, 23, the daughter of Tory peer Karren Brady, who posted Instagram snaps of herself in Dubai.

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Love Island stars such as Laura Anderson, who has since flown back, were also among those to jet off to the Gulf state before the third national lockdown began. One influencer caused fury this week by claiming to be there as an essential worker.

Sheridan Mordew, 24, who has been in Dubai since the start of January, said she was there for an ‘essential work trip’ to provide sunny content for fans in lockdown and ‘motivate them’.

Home Secretary Priti Patel criticised influencers in the Commons on Wednesday as she unveiled the measures for quarantine hotels.

She blasted them for setting a bad example by holidaying in the sun when Britons have been told to stay at home.

The UAE joined the existing red list of 30 countries – mainly in South America and southern Africa – along with Rwanda and Burundi in central Africa.

It could have a much wider impact for British travellers returning from further afield because Abu Dhabi and Dubai are also major international transit hubs. 

Thousands more planning to travel back from Asia and Australasia will now see onward flights axed.

The restrictions mean UK residents who arrive from the UAE after 4am today will have to quarantine for ten days along with their whole household.

They are not entitled to early release after five days with a negative test under the Test and Release scheme. 

Air passengers are pictured inside Dubai Airport this morning which was mostly quiet

Air passengers are pictured inside Dubai Airport this morning which was mostly quiet

The international arrivals hall at London Heathrow Airport's terminal two is pictured yesterday

The international arrivals hall at London Heathrow Airport’s terminal two is pictured yesterday

Emirates planes at Dubai Airport in the United Arab Emirates earlier this month on January 13

Emirates planes at Dubai Airport in the United Arab Emirates earlier this month on January 13

A Department for Transport spokesman said: ‘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 United Arab Emirates, Burundi and Rwanda.’

Q&A on UAE travel – and are there exemptions?

Why is the UAE being added to the travel ban?

It follows evidence that the more infectious South African strain of Covid-19 had been detected in the UAE.

What does this mean?

From 1pm today, no passenger flights from Dubai or Abu Dhabi may arrive in the UK. Non-UK residents will be banned from entering if in the UAE within ten days.

Have all flights been cancelled?

No. Emirates and Etihad Airways said all UK passenger flights from the UAE were suspended, although British Airways told passengers that some were still running.

Are there exemptions?

Yes. British, Irish and third country nationals with residence rights in the UK will be allowed to return from the UAE but they will need to travel via a third country.

Are there many Britons in Dubai?

Up to 10,000 UK residents are thought to be in the UAE

Will arrivals from the UAE have to quarantine in hotels?

Not yet. Officials are said to be considering this from the week beginning February 8. For now, UK residents must self-isolate at home with all members of their household for ten days if returning from the UAE.

Can you circumvent the rules?

Non-UK residents are banned from entering Britain if they have been in the UAE within ten days. So a non-UK resident in Dubai could travel to a country not on the banned list, stay there for ten days, then enter Britain.

British arrivals from ‘red list’ countries are also facing having to quarantine in airport hotels for ten days under new measures announced on Wednesday.

It was still unclear yesterday when they will come into force, but it is understood officials are eyeing the week beginning February 8.

Arrivals from countries not on the red list will still be required to quarantine, but at home instead.

Under the new measures, anyone wanting to leave the UK will also have to complete and present a declaration form at the border stating why their reason for travel is essential.

Border Force and police numbers will be boosted at ports and airports to question outbound passengers.

Carriers will also be responsible for barring any passengers who don’t have the declaration form or whose reason for travel does not meet Government requirements.

Due to border closures caused by Covid-19, Dubai to London was the world’s busiest international route in January with 190,365 scheduled seats over the month, according to airline data provider OAG. 

Emirates and Etihad normally carry large numbers of passengers connecting from Britain to destinations like Australia through their airport hubs, meaning the decision to cancel those flights will have far-reaching implications.

The Australian government said it will add more charter flights from Britain if needed as a result of the Emirates and Etihad cancellations.

Eran Ben-Avraham, an Australian stranded in Britain due to strict limits on the number of arrivals in Australia, said his options for getting home were continually shrinking.

‘At the moment it is only giving us three options of flying Qatar, ANA or Singapore Airlines,’ he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. ‘Every day it is making it more difficult to get home. The flights back are anywhere from like £4,000.’

Asked yesterday what will constitute ‘essential’ travel under the new rules, senior minister Michael Gove told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think if it’s an essential humanitarian reason, if there is a powerful business reason, we can look at specific case by case reasons why people should travel.

‘But we’re very clear that people should not be travelling abroad to go on holiday, to boost their Instagram profile… [or] for anything other than essential reasons.’

He was asked several times when the new measures will come into force, but failed to answer. 

Towie's James Lock and his girlfriend Yazmin Oukhellou were out in Dubai earlier this month

Towie’s James Lock and his girlfriend Yazmin Oukhellou were out in Dubai earlier this month 

Love Island star Georgia Steel was in Dubai but has recently been posting snaps beside crystal blue waters in The Maldives

Molly Mae Hague posted snaps in the Maldvies, but is now back in the UK

Love Island star Georgia Steel (left) was in Dubai but has recently been posting pictures in the Maldives. Molly Mae Hague (right) posted pictures in the Maldvies, but is now back in the UK

Chloe Ferry of Geordie Shore, who travelled out to Dubai at the end of 2020 - before lockdown measures were introduced - originally claimed she had hoped to stay for 'two months'

Chloe Ferry of Geordie Shore, who travelled out to Dubai at the end of 2020 – before lockdown measures were introduced – originally claimed she had hoped to stay for ‘two months’

The travel industry warned yesterday that the UAE move raised fears of more countries being added to the red list. 

Fines for holidays with police checking your passport at the airport 

How can the Government stop Britons from going on holiday?

Lockdown rules already ban people from international travel unless it is for work. Leaving home is only permitted for a small number of reasons.  Under the lockdown laws introduced at the start of January and which will run until March 31, people in England are allowed only to leave the house for a very slim range of activities.  But the rules, which are largely the same as for the second lockdown in November, also ban foreign leisure travel, just as they prohibit domestic leisure travel.

What happens if I want to travel abroad?

People wanting to leave the UK will have to fill out a form giving the reason for their trip. Anyone who turns up at ports and airports without a valid reason for travel will be directed to return home and may face a fine. Priti Patel said: ‘Going on holiday is not a valid reason, so we will introduce a new requirement so that people wishing to travel must first make a declaration as to why they need to travel. This reason for travel will be checked by carriers prior to departure.’ Travel operators are also expected to face fines if they fail to inspect these forms. 

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What will I have to prove if I went to travel? 

Work trips are allowed, so you will have to show some proof that your flight or sea crossing is vital for your employment. However, there are a range of other reasons for ‘essential travel. These are the same at the reasons for leaving your house: medical care, to escape harm, compassionate visits –  for example a funeral – and weddings. The list of travel exemptions will be urgently reviewed so that only the most important and exceptional reasons are included. 

Who is going to enforce these rules?

It is not clear whether airlines and other travel operators will have the unilateral ability to decide whether someone has given a genuine reason for a trip on their forms, or it will end up being referred to police. There will also be an increased police presence at ports and airports, fining those in breach of the stay at home regulations. 

Why is this being highlighted now?

The Home Secretary lashed out at social media influencers who have been posting images of themselves in sunny parts of the world like Dubai during the lockdown. Many have claimed they were travelling for work, but have attracted a backlash from people stuck at home after also enjoying the nightlife and beaches. Ms Patel also singled out people ‘turning up with their skis’ at London’s St Pancras station to catch the Eurostar to European resorts, adding: ‘That is clearly not acceptable.’ 

 

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: ‘I think the Government will need to be clear on why countries are being added to the high-risk list.

‘If it grows each week, with new countries being added, then it will sap consumer confidence in future travel and no-one in the travel sector wants to see blanket hotel quarantine introduced via the backdoor.’  

Meanwhile, after opening itself to New Year revellers, Dubai is now being blamed by several countries for spreading the coronavirus abroad, as questions swirl about the city-state’s ability to handle record spikes in Covid-19 cases.

The government said the kingdom is doing all it can to handle the pandemic, though it has repeatedly declined to answer questions about its hospital capacity.

In a statement, the government said: ‘After a year of managing the pandemic, we can confidently say the current situation is under control and we have our plans to surge any capacity in the health care system should a need rise.’ 

However, Nasser al-Shaikh, Dubai’s former finance minister, offered a different assessment on Twitter, and asked authorities to take control of a spiralling caseload.

‘The leadership bases its decisions on recommendations from the team, the wrong recommendations which put human souls in danger and negatively affect our society,’ he wrote, adding that ‘our economy requires accountability’.

Dubai, known for its long-haul carrier Emirates, the world’s tallest building and its beaches and bars, became one of the first travel destinations to describe itself as open for business last July.

The move staunched the bleeding in its crucial tourism and property sectors after lockdowns and curfews had hit the economy.

As tourism restarted, daily reported coronavirus case numbers slowly grew, but mostly remained stable through the autumn.

But then came New Year’s Eve – a major draw for travellers from countries otherwise shut down over the virus who partied without face masks in bars and on yachts.

For the last 17 days, the United Arab Emirates as a whole has reported record daily coronavirus case numbers as queues at Dubai testing facilities grow.

In Israel, more than 900 travellers returning from Dubai have been infected with the coronavirus, according to the military, which conducts contact tracing.

It said the returnees created a chain of infections numbering more than 4,000 people.

Tens of thousands of Israelis had flocked to the UAE since the two countries normalised relations in September. 

Israeli health ministry expert Dr Sharon Alroy-Preis was quoted by Channel 13 TV as complaining in a call with other officials that a few weeks of travel had been more deadly than decades of no relations with the Arab nation.

Since late December, Israel has required those coming from the UAE to go into a two-week quarantine.

Israel later shut down its main international airport until through the end of the month over rising cases.

Denmark already discovered one traveller coming from Dubai who tested positive for the South African variant, the first such discovery there. 

Yazmin Oukhellou, who appears on Towie

Laura Anderson, who appeared on Love Island

Towie’s Yazmin Oukhellou (left) told fans she was in Dubai ‘for work purposes, for business’, but added: ‘Obviously we’ll make the most of it while we’re here as well.’ Love Island’s Laura Anderson (right) faced a backlash when she spoke about how hard it was to be an ‘influencer’

Fitness influencer Sheridan Mordew, 24, from Sunderland, arrived in Dubai on January 2, just a few days before the third national lockdown

Fitness influencer Sheridan Mordew, 24, from Sunderland, arrived in Dubai on January 2, just a few days before the third national lockdown

Geordie Shore's Sophie Kasaei is another reality TV star who has been out in Dubai recently

Geordie Shore’s Sophie Kasaei is another reality TV star who has been out in Dubai recently

In the Philippines, health authorities say they discovered a British strain infecting a Filipino who made a business trip to Dubai on December 27. He returned to the Philippines on January 7 and tested positive. 

He ‘had no exposure to a confirmed case prior to their departure to Dubai’, the Philippines department of health said.

In the time since, Filipino authorities have discovered at least 16 other cases, including two coming from Lebanon.

As daily reported coronavirus cases near 4,000, Dubai has sacked the head of its government health agency without explanation.

It stopped live entertainment at bars, halted non-essential surgeries, limited wedding sizes and ordered gyms to increase space between those working out. 

Home Secretary Priti Patel (pictured in Bishop's Stortford yesterday) criticised influencers in the Commons on Wednesday as she unveiled the measures for quarantine hotels

Home Secretary Priti Patel (pictured in Bishop’s Stortford yesterday) criticised influencers in the Commons on Wednesday as she unveiled the measures for quarantine hotels

It also now requires coronavirus testing for all those flying into its airport. 

The UAE had pinned its hopes on mass vaccinations, with Abu Dhabi distributing a Chinese vaccine by Sinopharm and Dubai offering Pfizer-BioNTech’s inoculation.

The UAE says it has given 2.8 million doses so far, ranking it among the top countries in the world.

Dr Santosh Kumar Sharma, the medical director of Dubai’s NMC Royal Hospital, told the AP ‘the number of cases (is) ever-rising’, with over half its beds occupied by coronavirus patients.

The World Health Organisation said that before the pandemic, the UAE had nearly 13,250 hospital beds for a country of more than nine million people. 

It said Dubai and the UAE’s northern emirates built field hospitals amid the pandemic with some 5,000 beds, with Abu Dhabi building more.

But Dubai closed its 3,000-bed field hospital in July – the same day it reopened for tourism. Both Dubai and the UAE’s health ministry now advertises for nurses on Instagram.

‘The sad thing is that great efforts have been made since January 2020 for us to come and undermine them with our own hands,’ former finance minister Mr al-Shaikh wrote.

‘What makes things worse is the lack of transparency.’

Earlier this week, the UAE’s autocratic government told those who are worried to ‘refrain from questioning the efforts of all those who have worked to contain this pandemic’.

Which British influencers have defended trips abroad? 

Kady McDermott

 

Former Love Island contestant has hit back at a number of followers who criticised her decision to continue posting sun-soaked snaps from the Maldives, while Britain is in lockdown

On one of pictures, showing her stepping out of a crystal blue sea, a follower remarked: ‘Breaking the rules again – don’t see this as a business trip!’

But Kady hit back: ‘Oh so because you don’t see it as a business trip it means it isn’t? Oh ok lol.’

Replying to another follower on a different picture, she said: ‘This is how I pay my bills!’  

Gabby Allen

 

Former Love Island contestant Gabby Allen moved out to Dubai on December 7.

She too faced criticism but, unlike many other influencers, she quickly set out her argument for the move – saying that her boyfriend, Brandon Myers, had a business.

In a post on Instagram, she said: ‘Hey guys, just to let you know, we made the decision to fly out to Dubai as my boyfriend’s business is based here & luckily allows us to travel,’ she wrote.

‘We were both fit to travel with negative PCR tests [for COVID-19]. I wanted to come on here and acknowledge this to my followers as it was a difficult decision for me.

‘I really hope you can understand that it was an opportunity I had to take.’

Amber Gill

 

Perhaps one of the more bizarre defences came from former Love Island star Amber Gill.

The former reality show winner jetted off to Dubai in December following news that London and much of the south East would be affected by the new rules.

But she said she ‘no idea’ what she was doing and claimed she was confused by the Tier 4 rules.  

In a staggering Instagram post, she wrote: ‘Just want to put it out there that I had no idea Tier 4 was a thing.

‘The flight here was booked way before. I thought the only changes were being made on the 16th meaning I was still allowed to travel for work.’

Laura Anderson

 

Laura Anderson has insisted that flying to Dubai was ‘a coping mechanism’ during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Love Island star, 31, said she ‘felt guilty the whole time’ she was away after claiming she’d flown to the UAE for a ‘business trip’ following backlash towards influencers bending travel restrictions to fly abroad. 

During an Instagram Q and A, after being asked whether she felt guilty about being in Dubai, she said: ‘I felt guilty the whole time. I don’t think anyone realised how bad the strain would get, and how quickly. So hearing people upset, I felt horrific.’ 

Holly Hagan

 

Geordie Shore’s Holly Hagan – who has remained in the UK – weighed in on the widely-discussed issue of reality stars jetting to Dubai amid the coronavirus pandemic.

During an Instagram Q&A on Tuesday evening, the TV personality, 28, was quizzed over her thoughts on the vast amount of celebrities, including her MTV co-stars and Love Islanders, heading to Dubai amid restrictions and rules.

She was quick to defend her peers and pals, and while she admitted it is ‘frustrating’ for social media users to see their lavish antics, she personally would prefer ‘people to be happy in Dubai than suffering at home’.

Holly remained at home during the pandemic, while many of her pals – including Chloe Ferry and Sophie Kasaei – upped and left to Dubai.

Sheridan Mordew

 

The fitness influencer sparked a backlash earlier this week when she defended her decision to leave the UK for Dubai on This Morning.

The 24-year-old, from Sunderland, who has a following of around 11,000 on Instagram, arrived in Dubai on January 2, just a few days before the third national lockdown.

Since then, the social media star, who runs ‘Shape Up With Sher,’ has been sharing glamorous, sunshine-filled content with her Instagram followers as she enjoys relaxed restrictions in the United Arab Emirates. 

But as she tried to justify her travels to Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby on This Morning, the influencer failed to win over viewers.

They called her ‘selfish’ and ‘disgraceful’ for trying to imply her work – sharing sun-soaked selfies and outdoor fitness classes – was essential.

‘The reason I came to Dubai was purely for business,’ Sheridan started during a video call with the This Morning duo.

A cynical Phil told Sheridan: ‘A lot of the fitness stuff, this could be in your garage in Bolton, you don’t have to be in Dubai to do that.’

The influencer claimed she had travelled to the United Arab Emirates because she was struggling with her mental health, adding that ‘clients depend on me to bring them happiness’.

She said her thought process was: ‘The only way I’m gonna get out of this is to find an opportunity to get out of here on a plane to Dubai.

She said the travel was ‘the opportunity to get good content,’ and stressed she has no children and no ties

‘I’m not going to get content at home watching Netflix,’ she said. ‘It is all about the whole aspect of content, getting clients, all that kind of stuff.’

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