The temporary suspension is believed to be related to the new COVID-19 strain and a spike in numbers in those countries.
Qatar Airways [QA] has suspended any new bookings from passengers in the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, and Rwanda until February 5th, the national carrier announced in a tweet.
#QatarAirways has temporarily suspended acceptance of new bookings from UAE for the next 7 days due to UK government concerns. South Africa & Rwanda are also temporarily suspended – exceptions include GCC nationals & Resident Permit Holders returning to other GCC countries. pic.twitter.com/UQFhcPK1xs
— Qatar Airways (@qatarairways) January 29, 2021
The UAE suspension was implemented due to UK government concerns, the airline added. Although the tweet did not elaborate on what those ‘concerns’ are, it is understood that tens of thousands of coronavirus cases in Britain have been a direct result of travel between the Emirates and the United Kingdom.
“The UK and other nations decided to ban travel between their nations and the United Arab Emirates over COVID19 spread concerns, but specifically over concerns of the more infectious strain of the virus which was identified in South Africa. Just last week, Denmark confirmed their only cases of the South African strain were from ‘infected travellers who had arrived from Dubai,” aviation analyst Alex Macheras told Doha News.
Read more: Qatar Airways first to trial ‘digital passport’ mobile app.
Exceptions to the suspension include GCC citizens and residents who are returning to other GCC countries, the company said, adding that bookings for regional travel can still take place.
Rwanda was also among the countries added to the UK’s “red list,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.
In the past couple of months, QA has seen a significant amount of passengers flying to and from the UK on its flights, with some figures estimating that more than 80,000 people used Qatar Airways from UK airports last month alone. Analysts say the airline’s sudden suspension is an effort to maintain its customer base there.
“Naturally, in light of the latest UK ban, Qatar will want to ensure it’s working with the UK to ensure their public health bans are effective, while also retaining its own routes to/from the UK for essential travel from the rest of Qatar’s route network,” said Macheras.
“This is especially important for countries like Australia, given over 30,000 Australians remain stuck outside their own country, many in UK, with extremely limited options to return home. Most have been on long waiting lists for several months due to the country’s limit on daily passenger arrivals, and are heavily reliant on Qatar Airways’ ongoing service to Australia,” he added.
However, questions remain over the airline’s decision to ban Rwanda given that despite its curve spike, its cases per capita remain the lowest in the world, although that could be due to its lower level of testing.
The temporary ban comes at a particularly bad time given that Qatar Airways has only recently resumed flights to the United Arab Emirates after almost three years due to the illegal blockade on Doha.
The resumption of Qatar-UAE daily flights came after all GCC countries signed Al-Ula declaration during their annual summit in Saudi Arabia, ending the Gulf crisis and restoring full diplomatic ties.
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