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Sun, 27 September 2020

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The UK Nations Are Split Over Their Approach To Coronavirus Quarantine Rules And It's Causing Chaos For Holidaymakers

The UK Nations Are Split Over Their Approach To Coronavirus Quarantine Rules And It's Causing Chaos For Holidaymakers

Travellers have been left "confused" by quarantine rules (PA)

4 min read

Holidaymakers and travel firms have been left baffled by increasingly divergent approaches taken by the UK, Welsh and Scottish governments to imposing quarantine restrictions on those returning from abroad.

On Thursday, the UK-wide approach appeared to splinter after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced there would be no new additions to England's quarantine list, despite speculation that a surge in cases in Portugal meant it was likely to be added to the so-called "red list".

But just minutes after the announcement, Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething revealed he was imposing self-isolation restrictions on all travellers returning from mainland Portugal at 04:00 on Friday, but excluding the Azores and Maderia.

Mr Gething also chose to include the Greek islands of Mykonos, Zakynthose, Lesvos, Paros and Antiparos and Crete after six clusers amounting to more than 30 cases had been traced back to flights from the holiday hotspots.

That was followed by an announcement from Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in which she ordered Scottish travellers returning from Portugal and French Polynesia to self-isolate for 14 days, but said the changes would only apply from Saturday morning, a full 24-hours after the Welsh rules came into force.

Scotland had already opted to introduce quarantine rules on Greece earlier in the week, following similar concerns that a surge in infections had been "imported into Scotland" by those returning from holiday.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland said Portugal and Greece would remain exempt from quaratine and said there would be "no changes to the current travel quarantine rules".

Until now, the approach to quarantine rules had largely been driven by country-wide infection rates, with those destinations reporting more than 20 cases per 100,000 population likely to be added to the list. But the decision by Edinburgh and Wales to ditch 'blanket quarantine' has triggered chaos for travellers.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Shapps admitted the splits were "confusing".

"You are quite accustomed to seeing, for example, Scotland do one thing and say you can meet with so many people and Wales do another and so on and so forth," he said.

“The travel corridors are similar to that and I do realise that it creates confusion for people not to have a single rule but we do have this devolved approach throughout the UK.

"I can only be responsible for the English part of that."

And he accused Scotland of having "sort of jumped the gun" by announcing restrictions for the whole of Greece, despite it currently remaining under the infection threshold used to classify countries as "safe" to return from.

He added: "I'm very keen and do try to coordinate... with the other administrations so we can both announce at the same time, and ideally both announce the same things, and this week that didn't work out."

Ministers had initially hoped the 'travel corridor' scheme would provide clarity for travellers, warning that those who refused to self-isolate for 14 days after their return could be hit by a £1,000 fine.

But the approach has caused frustration among travel firms and holidaymakers, with Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, saying the policy was "in tatters and dividing the UK".

"Consumers are totally confused by the different approaches and it's impossible to understand the Government's own criteria any more on when to add or remove a country," he added.

"The current strategy has to change, the weekly reviews have been causing anxiety and financial pain for so many consumers and travel firms."

Days of uncertainty around which countries were likely to be added or removed from the list has also lead to many travellers booking expensive last-minute flights to return to the UK before they are caught by the manadatory self-isolation rules.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said the approach offered "no clarity" to those stuck abroad.

"Days of speculation around this announcement meant many people rushed to pay extortionate prices for flights back to England to avoid having to quarantine on their return - only to now find out there was no need," he said.

"The government knows this and yet it continues to offer no clarity around how these decisions are made."

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