Vaccinologist Dr Shabir Madhi says there is no scientific basis for the United Kingdom’s decision to keep South Africa on its Red List for travel.

Britain published its updated list last week, with South Africa still listed under red. Eight countries were removed from the list, including Kenya and Egypt.

The UK says as of October the new rules do not yet recognize South Africa’s vaccination programme, meaning local travellers would still be subject to tight restrictions.

Madhi says experts find this difficult to understand as the standards of locally-used vaccines are not inferior to jabs in other parts of the world.

“It is more irrational than anything else and there is no scientific basis for this decision to be made. The vaccines that are being used in SA are not inferior to those being used in the UK or anywhere else in the world. SA has the Delta variant that is dominating but SA has more people vaccinated than places such as Kenya and Pakistan for example, which have been removed from the Red List. So it is difficult to comprehend the basis on which this decision has been made.”

Costly test rules scrapped

According to reports, the government will remove the requirement for fully vaccinated travellers to take a lateral flow test before departing their destination and a costly PCR test on their return to Britain, which can add hundreds of pounds per person to a trip.

Ministers will also simplify the destination categories into either low or high risk, scrapping amber, reported the Times newspaper, with many countries, including Turkey, expected to be removed from the high-risk Red List.

Flintham said any new system would be better than the current setup.

“It will improve if we move anywhere away from the draconian measures that we really are using at the moment,” he said.

Data shows that Britain’s recovery is lagging. UK flights were down 39% compared to pre-pandemic levels for the two weeks to early September 6, while France, Spain, and Italy were down between 24-28%, according to Eurocontrol.

On Britain’s red list there are currently 62 countries, a designation that requires 11 nights in a quarantined hotel at a cost of more than 2000 pounds. Quarantine hotels are expected to remain in place for red list arrivals.

Any change to the travel rules will apply to England, but devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland could later follow suit.

More than 135 000 people in Britain have died in the pandemic.

Additional reporting by: Reuters