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Britain bans flights from Dubai — as influencers and TV stars who flocked to the city rush to get home

A commercial airplane flies past the Burj Khalifa in Dubai on Jan. 9. (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP)

LONDON — Social media influencers and reality TV stars who left Britain for sun-soaked destinations, citing work purposes, have been slammed by the government, and by fans, for maintaining opulent presences on social media while those at home remain subject to a third nationwide lockdown as the coronavirus crisis rages on.

But now, they face a desperate rush to fly back home by a Friday afternoon deadline. Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, said Thursday that the U.K. would begin banning direct flights from the United Arab Emirates — which includes the luxury tourist city of Dubai — to its “red list” of countries subject to a travel ban.

Earlier this month, the UAE was removed from Britain’s travel corridor list following a surge in infections, meaning that those arriving from the UAE — including Dubai — would have to self-quarantine for 10 days.

Dubai has become one of the top attractions for those seemingly seeking to dodge Britain’s stay-at-home measures, with celebrities flocking to the city to pose poolside and bask in the heat. Many stars have documented their trips in detail, drawing widespread rebukes.

While some have argued that their trips were genuinely necessary for business reasons, many appear to have exploited a business loophole, while millions of people have been confined to their houses and separated from their loved ones. Britain has recorded more than 100,000 coronavirus deaths. In recent days, the British government has vowed to clamp down on those attempting to embark on nonessential trips.

Dubai seemed to have the coronavirus licked. Then it flung open its doors.

“Technically any influencer can go to Dubai take a few photos and claim it’s work,” wrote one user on Instagram earlier this week. Many others declared they were unfollowing celebrities posting travel photos.

“Passengers must still have proof of a negative test and completed Passenger Locator Form before arrival – or could otherwise face a £500 [$685] fine for each,” Shapps said Thursday, adding that Abu Dhabi, Rwanda and Burundi had also been added to prevent the spread of the coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa.

On Wednesday, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced she would seek to change the regulations. Under the new measures, travelers will be required to fill out a form that states why they are leaving the country, and may be sent home if their reason is not deemed sufficient enough.

“Going on holiday is not an exemption, and it’s important that people stay at home,” Patel said as she outlined plans to reduce the flow of passengers at British airports.

“It is illegal to leave home to travel abroad for leisure purposes,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said as he outlined steps to test and isolate those entering Britain from other countries in a bid to keep new variants of the virus out.

Scientists and members of the public have long criticized the government’s handling of the pandemic, accusing Johnson of being too slow to act and failing to close Britain’s borders or require international visitors to quarantine earlier.

Celebrities are traveling where we’re banned. These loopholes may be how.

On Jan 18, Britain suspended all travel corridors because of the ongoing severe outbreak, meaning that all visitors to the country must now quarantine on arrival — a drastic step but one deemed necessary, and one that many say should have been taken much sooner.

Britain’s clampdown came as a number of countries considered more-restrictive travel policies in response to the spread of virus variants that pose additional risks.

Cast members of the British television program “The Only Way Is Essex” are among some of those being scrutinized for their decision to travel to Dubai, with many people leaving angry comments underneath photos of the stars sipping wine in bars and relaxing on sun loungers.

“Can’t see much work happening, incredibly irresponsible,” read one comment, while others took to the platform to remind the celebrities that the National Health Service is in turmoil and that “people are dying.”

Cases are once again climbing in Dubai, which has continued to welcome tourists during the coronavirus outbreak while many other countries have closed their borders to curb new infections.

Daily coronavirus cases have tripled in the last two weeks, with more than 3,900 new cases recorded by the UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention on Wednesday.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant. Here’s some guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

Variants: Instead of a single new Greek letter variant, a group of immune-evading omicron spinoffs are popping up all over the world. Any dominant variant will likely knock out monoclonal antibodies, targeted drugs that can be used as a treatment or to protect immunocompromised people.

Tripledemic: Hospitals are overwhelmed by a combination of respiratory illnesses, staffing shortages and nursing home closures. And experts believe the problem will deteriorate further in coming months. Here’s how to tell the difference between RSV, the flu and covid-19.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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