Champions League final in Istanbul presents challenge for Britons

Britain's Foreign Office's current warning against all but essential travel to Turkey based on COVID-19 risks poses a challenge for football fans wanting to attend the Champions League final in Istanbul.

Duvar English - Reuters

Thousands of Manchester City and Chelsea fans hoping to attend the Champions League final in Istanbul this month face a major obstacle -- Britain's Foreign Office is currently warning against all but essential travel to Turkey based on COVID-19 risks.

Chelsea's 2-0 victory over Real Madrid on May 5 set up a final against their Manchester rivals in Turkey's largest city on May 29, just as the country fights its worst flare-up yet in the coronavirus pandemic.

Turkey has in recent weeks ranked fourth globally in terms of daily COVID-19 cases, prompting a nationwide lockdown this month until May 17. The move has started to curb the outbreak, with daily cases falling to below 27,000 on May 5 from a peak above 63,000 in mid-April.

British fans planning to attend the match do not face any difficulties in terms of Turkish regulations. People from the UK will no longer be requested to show a negative COVID-19 test result on their arrival in Turkey from May 15.

Last week, European soccer's governing body UEFA insisted that the final would take place in Istanbul as planned, despite the current lockdown, with a limited number of spectators.

Turkish Football Federation officials were not immediately available for comment.

The Atatürk Olympic Stadium was due to host last year's Champions League final but the pandemic forced a change of plans with the latter rounds and final taking place in Lisbon.

The stadium hosted the 2005 Champions League final, which Liverpool won on penalties after drawing 3-3 with AC Milan. 

BBC: Britons fly via Turkey to avoid costly quarantine

Separately, UK travelers returning from "red list" countries are flying home via Turkey to avoid hefty hotel quarantine fees, the BBC reported on May 5. 

Passengers are breaking their journey in Istanbul, and staying in hotels there for a fraction of the cost they would have to pay in Britain.

Travelers from countries on the red list would otherwise face bills of up to £1,750-per-person to isolate in a hotel if they flew to the UK directly.

Those using the route must still quarantine at home once back in the UK.

One hotel worker in Istanbul said he had seen British nationals flying in from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh - which are all on the UK's red list.

The BBC has also spoken to travelers returning from Pakistan to the UK, many of whom were attending weddings or funerals and say they couldn't afford the cost of quarantining once the rules changed.

As long as they isolate at home for 10 days after returning from a non-red list country, they are not breaking the UK government's COVID rules.