Britain is banning direct passenger flights to and from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from Friday, shutting down the world’s busiest international airline route from Dubai to London.
Britain said it was adding the UAE, Burundi and Rwanda to its coronavirus travel ban list because of worries over the spread of a more contagious and potentially vaccine-resistant COVID-19 variant first identified in South Africa.
“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,” UK Transport Minister Grant Shapps said on social media on Thursday.
Emirates and Etihad Airways said on their websites they would suspend all UK passenger flights from 13:00 GMT on Friday when the ban takes effect.
The UK transport department advised British nationals currently in the UAE to make use of indirect commercial airline routes if they wished to return to Britain.
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.
The UAE is home to thousands of British expatriates and has been a popular destination for social media influencers during the pandemic, who have created upset in the UK by claiming to have travelled for work and then posting holiday pictures online. The country is currently in lockdown with people told not to travel overseas.
Dubai last week clamped down on its entertainment scene and suspended non-essential surgery in hospitals after a spike in coronavirus cases.
One of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, Dubai has branded itself this northern hemisphere winter as an open, sunny and quarantine-free escape.
But COVID-19 infections have surged since the New Year.
The UAE flag-carriers, Emirates and Etihad, also usually carry large numbers of passengers connecting from Britain to destinations such as Australia so the decision to cancel the 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 ban.
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 pounds ($5,487).”