UK sets date to accept UAE-vaccinated travelers after months blocking popular travel route

Businessman walk past an Emirates Airbus A380 during the Dubai Airshow on November 18, 2013 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.Christopher Furlong | Getty Images

The U.K. will accept travelers vaccinated in the United Arab Emirates beginning Oct. 4, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Wednesday, reopening a popular travel route after months of deterring people coming from the UAE with costly and strict hotel quarantine requirements.   

“We will be accepting UAE vaccination certificates from 4th Oct following updates to their vaccination app,” Shapps said in a Twitter post. “As a major transport hub which is home to many British expats, this is great news for reopening international travel, boosting business & reuniting families.” 

The news comes as a relief to many in the expatriate-majority desert sheikhdom of 10 million, of which at least 150,000 are British citizens who were unable to visit their families since the U.K. put the UAE on a red list for travel last January. 

“I'm well chuffed about the idea of visiting my family and poorly grandad hassle free,” Amy Saraireh, a British national living in Dubai, told CNBC in response to the news.

The red list designation meant that travelers from the UAE — including British citizens and those who had been vaccinated in the UAE — had to quarantine for 10 days in a U.K.-government-designated hotel at a personal cost of nearly £2,000 if they wanted to enter the country.  

By spring, tens of thousands of people living in the UAE had signed a petition demanding the U.K. government change the travel designation, citing high Covid vaccination rates in the country. But the U.K. government resisted making changes, citing the UAE's status as a popular travel hub as a risk, despite cases of the delta variant sweeping the U.K. at the time.

Dubai International Airport was ranked as the busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic in 2019, and the Dubai-London route was one of the most popular for Dubai's flagship carrier Emirates Airline. 

The UAE has one of the world's highest rates of vaccination against the coronavirus. The country's vaccine drive has relied heavily on the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine, amid questions about the effectiveness of the shot compared to those made elsewhere. At the same time, breakthrough cases have surged among people vaccinated by American and European-made shots as well. 

It is unclear whether Sinpoharm-vaccinated travelers will fall into the same category as those vaccinated with U.K.-approved shots like those developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-Astrazeneca.  

The change to the travel rules will come just after the start of Dubai's flagship Expo 2020 event, which begins Oct. 1 and was postponed for a year due to the pandemic. It will carry on for six months, and the emirate hopes to attract 25 million visitors to the event, a year-and-a-half after Covid brought global mobility to a standstill. 

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