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

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates’ potentially indefinite status on the U.K.’s “red list” for travel has stoked anger and confusion, made more uncertain by the latest statements coming from the British government.

Britain’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps indicated the UAE might stay on the U.K.’s red list due to its status as an international transit hub, despite its falling infection trends and the world’s second-fastest vaccination campaign.

“We’re not restricting the UAE due to the level of coronavirus in the UAE,” Shapps told an aviation event on Wednesday. “The issue is one of transit.”

The comments drew sharp criticism from Emirates’ President Tim Clark: “Leaving us on the ‘red list’ for reasons of transit doesn’t make any sense because (passengers) can just go through other hubs,” he told a recent online event. “It compromises our United Kingdom operation for Emirates. It’s a real pity if they keep us on the red list.”

Being on the U.K.’s red list comes with a high price, and has real consequences for the 120,000 Brits living in the Gulf country and their family members. It requires anyone entering the U.K. from a red list country to quarantine in a government-approved hotel and cover their own lodging and food costs for 10 days, at a cost of £1,750 ($2,428) per person.

“If anyone asks me about home, I cry,” said one British citizen working in Dubai who hasn’t seen her family in the U.K. since mid-2020. 

“The ambiguity is unbearable,” said the source, who asked not to be identified because of professional restrictions. “It is much easier to establish and maintain balance in your life when you make a plan — the U.K.’s interchanging positions make that impossible and it’s so detrimental to people’s well-being.”

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


The U.K. red list, which bans air travel or forces a costly quarantine on arrival, currently names 40 high risk countries deemed too dangerous to travel, including India, which has seen new infections skyrocket to over 300,000 cases a day. 

The UAE remains on the list, despite infection rates falling to around 2,000 cases a day. Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, has placed the U.K. on its own “green” list of travel countries.

CNBC has reached out to the U.K.’s Foreign Commonwealth Office for comment.

Growing support 

A petition to remove the UAE from the U.K. red list had received over 8,500 signatures as of April 26, reflecting a growing frustration over the travel restrictions and the cost of quarantine for one of