LONDON: The UK government on Saturday said all inbound travellers to England would now be required to take a pre-departure Covid test, while Nigeria became the latest addition to its red list for travel.
UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the government had decided to move after receiving new data about the spread of the Omicron variant, which was first identified in southern Africa.
“Since we have learnt of this new variant our strategy has been to buy time. We have always said we will act swiftly should new data require it,” he told journalists.
“Over recent days we have learnt of a significant number of growing cases linked to travel with Nigeria.
“There are 27 cases already in England and that’s growing. Nigeria now is second only to South Africa in terms of linked cases to Omicron.”
The UK’s Omicron confirmed cases number now stands at 160.
Under the new UK travel rules, from 4am on Monday only British and Irish nationals travelling from Nigeria will be allowed into the country and they must isolate in a government-managed quarantine hotel.
And from 4am on Tuesday, anyone travelling to the UK from countries not on the red list will be required to take a pre-departure test a maximum of 48 hours before leaving, regardless of their vaccination status.
The data that prompted the rule changes came from the UK Health and Security Agency. It indicated symptoms take less time to appear after infection with Omicron than in other variants.
“Given the reduced incubation period of the Omicron variant, passengers are advised to take the pre-departure test as close as possible to their scheduled departure to the UK and no earlier than 48 hours before travelling,” said the UK’s healthy ministry.
Nigeria races to start vaccine boosting
Nigeria earlier on Saturday confirmed it will start vaccine booster shots from next week.
Faisal Shuaib, executive director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, said booster shots will be available from December10 for those that have been fully vaccinated. Only 2.9 per cent of Nigerians eligible to get vaccines have been inoculated so far.
The Omicron Covid variant poses a high risk of infection and has highlighted the disparity between vaccination programmes in rich nations and the developing world.
The Nigerian government is planning a huge vaccination campaign with the aim of reaching herd immunity by the end of January.
Mr Shuaib said booster shots will be available for those that have “completed two doses of AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, or one dose of Johnson & Johnson.”