Hotel quarantine for travellers arriving in England will be abandoned, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has announced.
The Cabinet minister told the Commons that the 11 countries on the red list will be removed at 4am on Wednesday.
The list was resurrected last month in a bid to reduce the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
People arriving in the UK from 11 African countries such as South Africa, Nigeria and Zambia have been required to spend 11 nights in a quarantine hotel at a cost of £2,285 for solo travellers.
Mr Javid said the spread of Omicron in the UK and the world means the travel red list is “now less effective in slowing the incursion of Omicron from abroad”.
He told MPs: “Whilst we’ll maintain our temporary testing measures for international travel, we will be removing all 11 countries from the travel red list effective from 4am tomorrow.”
He went on: “Those people already in managed quarantine, I’m told that the practice in the past on this has been requiring them to complete their quarantine period.
“However, I do understand the importance of that and I have asked for urgent advice about what this means and I hope to act very quickly on just that.”
Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay later said the Government would permit “early release” of people who went into managed quarantine before the changes to the red list.
He said: “Anyone who has tested positive will need to continue to stay in managed quarantine.
“This will require changes to regulations, and we will look to implement this as quickly as possible. And we will set out further specific guidance for affected individuals imminently.”
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry body Airlines UK, claimed the decision to remove all countries from the red list “makes complete sense but doesn’t go nearly far enough”.
He said: “If the red list isn’t necessary given that Omicron is established here at home, then neither are the costly emergency testing and isolation measures imposed on even fully vaccinated travellers, which again put us completely at odds with the rest of Europe.
“It is testing that is the deterrent to travel, not the relatively limited red list.”
Travellers entering the UK are required to take a pre-departure test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result from a post-arrival test.
Mr Alderslade warned that the key Christmas and New Year booking period will be “undermined” unless testing rules are eased.
“This is make or break for UK aviation and if Government is unable to row back from these restrictions over the New Year, it will need to step in with further economic support for a sector that again has been singled out,” he added.
Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee said: “The removal of all the countries from the red list is a welcome recognition that these measures have little purpose when Omicron is rapidly becoming the dominant variant in the UK.
“It is difficult to understand why the UK and devolved governments did not recognise that the same logic applies to the blanket, expensive and burdensome testing regime.
“The UK is only country currently that requires both a pre-departure test and a post-arrival test for all arrivals, regardless of vaccination status.
“UK tests remain significantly more expensive compared to the rest of Europe.
“They therefore place a heavy burden on families just as many were hoping to finally reunite with loved ones who live abroad over the Christmas period.
“The four UK governments should urgently reinstate the pre-Omicron travel regime, or risk ruining Christmas plans for so many across the country.”
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of travel association Abta, said: “With the testing measures now extending over the Christmas and New Year period, and the industry quickly approaching peak-booking season for summer 2022, travel businesses are facing a very serious situation.
“Consumer confidence in travel has suffered a significant setback, which will outlast these restrictions.
“The Government must acknowledge this by bringing forward grant support to help businesses through the difficult weeks ahead.”
David Frost, chief executive of trade body South Africa Tourism Services, said: “This is welcome news but red-listing southern Africa for just three weeks caused incalculable damage to jobs and livelihoods in the region, with little discernible benefit to health outcomes in the UK.
“The UK Government must now consign this blunt instrument to history and recognise the devastating impact red lists have to confidence amongst the travelling public.”
World Health Organisation director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the move, saying a blanket travel ban “doesn’t help”.
He told a press briefing on Tuesday: “I just would like to use this opportunity actually to appreciate the United Kingdom for lifting the travel ban.”