Dubai is known for its modern architecture, including the Burj Khalifa, which is almost twice as tall as the Empire State Building at 2,700 feet.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The United Arab Emirates’ potentially indeterminate status on the UK’s “Red List” for travel has created anger and confusion, made more uncertain by recent statements from the UK government.

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps pointed out that due to its status as an international transport hub, the UAE could remain on the UK red list despite falling infection trends and the world’s second fastest vaccination campaign.

“We are not restricting the UAE due to the coronavirus level in the UAE,” Shapps said at an aviation event on Wednesday. “The problem is that of transit.”

The comments were sharply criticized by Emirates President Tim Clark: “It makes no sense to keep us on the ‘Red List’ for transit reasons, as (passengers) can easily pass through other hubs,” he said at a recent online event. “It puts our operations in the UK at risk for Emirates. It’s a shame if they keep us on the red list.”

Inclusion on the UK Red List comes at a high price and has real ramifications for the 120,000 Britons living in the Gulf State and their families. Anyone entering the UK from a Red List country must be quarantined in a government approved hotel and pay their own room and board expenses for 10 days at a cost of £ 1,750 (US $ 2,428) per person.

“When someone asks me about my home, I cry,” said a British national who works in Dubai and has not seen her family in the UK since mid-2020.

“The ambiguity is unbearable,” said the source, who asked not to be identified due to job restrictions. “It is much easier to find and maintain a balance in your life when you have a plan in place. Changing positions in the UK makes this impossible and is so detrimental to people’s wellbeing.”

People are waiting for their turn to be vaccinated against the coronavirus on February 3, 2021 at a vaccination center at the Dubai International Financial Center in the Gulf emirate of Dubai. The UAE has administered more than a quarter of at least three million doses to its population.


The UK’s red list, banning air travel or imposing costly quarantine on arrival, currently lists 40 high-risk countries considered too dangerous to travel, including India, where new infections have skyrocketed to over 300,000 cases per day are.

The UAE remains on the list, although infection rates drop to around 2,000 cases per day. Abu Dhabi has now put Great Britain on its own “green” list of travel destinations.

CNBC has asked the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth Office for comment.

Growing support

A petition to remove the UAE from the UK Red List had received over 8,500 signatures on April 26, amid growing frustration over travel restrictions and quarantine costs on one of the world’s busiest air routes.

“I want the government to remove the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from the red list by the summer so that travelers can visit the safe country without being quarantined in a hotel on their return,” wrote petitioner Mikael Aziz.

The UK government must respond if the petition receives 10,000 or more signatures.

“You need to rethink Dubai’s red list. Most of the UK citizens who work there are fully vaccinated and should be allowed to travel to the UK. You could have a PCR test before and when you arrive.” Twitter user @ DawnWilson2606 tweeted to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Any decision to remove the UAE from the Red List is made even more difficult by the different restrictions between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The UAE’s most populous emirates have enforced separate access, travel, testing, and quarantine rules since the pandemic began – despite being less than a two-hour drive away from each other.

Removal of the red list “as soon as it is feasible”

Amid criticism and confusion over recent travel restrictions, there are indications that the 10 million desert sheikh dome, which is predominantly overseas, could still be removed from the red list.

“We are working very closely with the UAE authorities to ensure that we can remove the UAE from the red list as soon as possible,” said Simon Penney, British Consul General in Dubai and Trade Commissioner in the Middle East. Penney’s comments came on April 21st, the same day as Shapp’s suggestion that the UAE could remain on the red list.

The UK government is expected to review its ban on non-essential international travel from May 17th. However, it is unclear which targets will receive approval.

Commuters cross London Bridge at sunrise on March 1, 2021 in London, England.

Hollie Adams | Getty Images

“It is too early today to say which countries are on the green list and which are not, and we have to wait until early May before we have any further clarification,” said Penney during an interview with a radio station in Dubai

“The decisions made are driven by data and science. The keys to this are the launch of the vaccine, the number of daily cases and the prevalence of harmful variants,” he added.

The UK Foreign Office said it “advises against all travel across the UAE based on the current COVID-19 risk assessment. The UAE outperforms most of the developed world in vaccine adoption by almost 40% of the population are fully vaccinated.

“Visitors who have been to the United Arab Emirates or have traveled through the United Arab Emirates in the past 10 days are not allowed in,” said an April 25 report.

“A travel corridor worth reopening”

“The positions of the countries on each other’s lists need not be reciprocal,” Rob Willock, director of the Economist Corporate Network advisory service, told CNBC on Sunday.

“Given that the UAE and the UK are second and third in the global vaccination league, and more than half of their populations have had at least one vaccine, one would imagine this is a travel corridor well worth it to be reopened. “

The UK, one of Dubai’s biggest tourist sources and a key itinerary for Emirates, removed the United Arab Emirates from its “safe travel corridor” in January as falls in Dubai skyrocketed after an influx of British travelers in November and December.

The UAE reported just over 2,000 new infections on Saturday. The country has so far given 9.9 million doses of vaccine.

US travel warnings

It is not just Britain that is holding back on opening up. The US added more than 100 countries to its Level 4: Do Not Travel list last week, including Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

“Things change, and they will change over time,” IATA director general Willie Walsh told CNBC when asked if the State Department misunderstood the advice.

Certain countries on the American list also have their own restrictions on travel by foreigners, while others allow entry by air with proof of vaccination and a negative Covid test or other criteria.

“We’re not suggesting that you lift all restrictions now,” said Walsh. “We urge governments to come up with a plan that will give an indication of when they believe international air travel will start and how international air travel should work when things start moving again.”