The Foreign Office needs to look at infection rates more logically, says Responsible Travel’s Bryony Cottam

The UK government added the first two African countries to its list of travel corridors last week, but with another announcement due today it’s worth questioning why so few countries outside of Europe have been approved for travel.

Over the summer, as European countries were regularly added and removed from the list, the Foreign Office (FCDO) hasn’t given tourism in Africa, South America and Asia the same priority. Despite low rates of infection, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, African countries were left off until last week.

The inclusion of Rwanda and Namibia, which came into force on Saturday (November 21), followed pressure from tour operators who have been demanding the government review its advice against all but essential travel to every country in mainland Africa when current lockdown restrictions end.

An online petition, supported by hundreds of travel specialists, called for the continent to be assessed “in line with the same metrics used for the rest of the world”.

In addition to case numbers, the FCDO has said countries are reviewed based on factors including their infrastructure and how it is thought they would cope in the event of a large outbreak of Covid-19.

But as Jim O’Brien, founder of adventure tour specialists Native Eye, put it: “That made sense back in April-March when no one knew what was going on, but six months down the line you really can’t be basing your advice on ‘what ifs’.”

Like Jim, we want the FCDO to look at things a little more logically, to look at the actual rates of infection and base advice on tangible criteria to acknowledge that so many of our destinations are far, far safer than the UK in terms of Covid risk.

It can make it difficult for travellers to have confidence in the FCDO when its advice makes no sense, particularly when travelling with an experienced tour company.

Rwanda, a country with only 5,543 recorded cases of Covid-19, is one example of where much stricter measures are in place for containing the virus than in the UK.

Visitors are required to take a test prior to travelling to Rwanda, on arrival and once again on departure, with additional screening for visits to national parks. Currently, there is no such requirement for travellers leaving and entering the UK to be tested, with the ‘test to release’ scheme announced by the government this week an opt-in measure.

The granting of travel corridors is not the first time the FCDO’s travel advice for Africa has appeared disproportionately cautious in comparison with its advice for the rest of the world. Despite no recorded terror attacks in Mauritania since 2011, the FCDO has yet to update its recommendations against travelling to the country. By way of comparison, there have been nine terrorist attacks in France between 2015 and 2020.

Native Eye’s Jim O’Brien says this is a consistent trend and he perhaps sums it up best: “When it comes to African countries, the FCDO often errs on the side of caution; doesn’t look into things in the same detail, is very quick to put negative advice in place, and is monumentally slow to remove it.”

Bryony Cottam is a travel writer for Responsible Travel