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Wed, 30 September 2020

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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defends short notice for France quarantine and says holidaymakers went in with ‘eyes open’

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defends short notice for France quarantine and says holidaymakers went in with ‘eyes open’

The move comes after a 66% increase in newly reported Covid-19 cases in France over the past week. (PA)

5 min read

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has insisted Britain “had to act” to impose coronavirus quarantine measures on people coming to the UK from France — and said holidaymakers had gone abroad with their “eyes open”.

The Cabinet minister said there was “no perfect way” to announce changes to travel advice as he revealed that an estimated 160,000 British travellers in France would be affected by the new requirement to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival in the UK from Saturday morning.

And he batted away a call for extra financial support for those unable to work from home, saying there had always been a “significant chance of this happening”.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office announced on Thursday night that six more destinations including France and the Netherlands are being removed from the UK’s safe travel list and will be hit by quarantine measures.

The changes, taking effect from 4am on Saturday, also cover Monaco, Malta, Turks and Caicos Islands and Aruba.

The move comes after a 66% increase in newly reported Covid-19 cases in France over the past week, and a 52% spike in the weekly incidence rate per 100,000 people. 

Meanwhile the Netherlands has seen what the FCO called a “consistent rise in newly reported cases” over the past four weeks, and a 52% rise in newly reported cases in the past week alone.

Even bigger spikes have been recorded in the Turks and Caicos Islands, Aruba and Malta.

Explaining the move on Friday morning, the Transport Secretary, who had to quarantine himself after a holiday to Spain was cut short, told the Today programme it had “not been the easiest of summers to take holidays abroad”.

He said the Government estimated “about 160,000 holidaymakers in France” would be affected by this.

But he said: “I'm afraid it is one of these summers where no one controls this virus, even less so outside of the United Kingdom. 

“And I suppose we went into it with our eyes open and unfortunately in the case of France, as the French Prime Minister Jean Castex said this week, France is going the wrong way with coronavirus.”

Defending the amount of notice given to holidaymakers, Mr Shapps said the UK had been “hoping” to avoid imposing restrictions on those travelling from France.

"A lot of people will have gone in knowing that there was a significant chance of this happening" - Grant Shapps

But he said the 66% increase in cases in the last week meant “we must act”.

“That information... came out last night, which is why we acted last night.

“And we've done it, as we did with Belgium last week, where we did allow until 4am Saturday, and that just provides a little bit of time.

“I appreciate that there is no perfect way to do this. No one wants to be having to live alongside this virus, I'm afraid.”

'EYES OPEN'

The Transport Secretary was also pressed on calls for the Government to do more to support workers who will now find themselves unable to head in because they are in self-isolation.

Senior Conservative MP David Davis this week said the Government should offer sick-pay style compensation to those affected if Britain shifts its quarantine policy while they are out of the country.

But Mr Shapps said: “I think people this year will have gone away knowing that there was a significant risk. And because of that, people will have gone with their eyes open.”

He added: “A lot of people will have gone in knowing that there was a significant chance of this happening and actually a lot of people I know will have amended their holidays to sort of take account of it, perhaps going a bit earlier, knowing that there was a chance of quarantine or indeed may have already come home or come home during the day today.”

'BLUNT TOOL'

Responding to the announcement, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “While we support evidence based measures at the border, it’s vital that the Government has a joined-up strategy, and recognises the impact of this on travel-related businesses.

"It is vital that a sector-specific deal is put in place urgently.
 
“That the Government has still not put in place an effective track, trace and isolate system has made matters far worse and made it more likely that we are reliant on the blunt tool of 14-day quarantine.

"The Government should publish all of the scientific evidence its decisions are based on and details of any work being done to reduce the time needed to isolate through increased testing and other measures.”

Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael meanwhile said: "It's right that the Government is taking steps to minimise the risk of COVID-19 by updating the 'travel corridor' as the situation overseas evolves.  

"However, the Foreign Office must acknowledge the significant disruption and disappointment this will cause. All impacted customers must have the chance to reschedule or be offered a full refund, and the Government must underwrite these commitments."

Under the Government’s quarantine policy, which has been criticised by the travel industry, Brits will still be able to travel to the destinations advised against.

But they are not allowed to leave the place they are staying for the first 14 days in which they are back in the UK.

Those who are travelling to the UK for less than two weeks are expected to self-isolate for the duration of their stay.

Fines up to £3,200 can also be imposed on anyone who does not accurately declare contact details of the place they will be staying to UK authorities.

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