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World’s busiest air route hit by COVID-19 ban

New travel bans imposed by the United Kingdom limiting arrivals from the United Arab Emirates and other destinations in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID are likely to impact what has become the world’s busiest airline route.

The UK on Friday imposed the new restrictions as it tightened quarantine measures in an effort to reduce Europe’s worst outbreak of the virus. COVID deaths this week crossed the 100,000 threshold in the UK.

Grant Shapps, the UK’s transport minister, announced on Thursday that the UAE, Burundi and Rwanda were being added to a “red list” of countries seen as high risk for travel because of rising COVID cases.

“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 10 days at home,” he said.

It comes after the UK announced a new policy of enforced hotel quarantine for travelers from 30 countries on Wednesday. However, Shapps emphasized that British, Irish and third country nationals with residence rights coming from the United Arab Emirates, Burundi and Rwanda would only need to isolate at home and not in a hotel.

Passengers are still required to present proof of a negative coronavirus test and complete a passenger locator form. Failure to do so will mean a £500 (about $680) fine for each offense, Shapps warned.

Variant discovery

These new travel bans follow the “discovery of a new coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa, that may have spread to other countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Burundi and Rwanda,” a statement from the UK’s Department for Transport said.

The restrictions placed on UAE arrivals will likely have an affect on air traffic between London’s Heathrow and Dubai International airports, a route that due to COVID restrictions elsewhere in the world, has emerged as the world’s busiest.

Travel data analyst OAG says the route accounted for 190,365 seats in January 2021, making it the highest capacity international route. The next busiest was Cairo and Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, with 154,337.

UAE carrier Emirates has been offering several daily flights between London and Dubai.

Dubai’s popularity with UK visitors in recent months has been fueled by the fact that it has been one of the few winter sun tourist destinations open to British travelers that hasn’t seen them facing the need to quarantine on return.

However, a recent UK lockdown forbidding Brits from embarking on international leisure travel has also curtailed most trips abroad.

Dubai is one of the few destinations worldwide that is open to all visitors, provided they meet COVID testing requirements.

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