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Seven Greek islands are being removed from England’s list of locations exempt from 14-day Covid-19 quarantine but not the country’s mainland, in a significant shift in government policy as it in effect embraces regional travel corridors for the first time.
Speaking in the Commons on Monday, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, announced that arrivals from the Greek islands will have to isolate for two weeks on their return to England from Wednesday at 4am but not those arriving from the rest of the country.
The islands of Lesbos, Tinos, Serifos, Mykonos, Crete, Santorini and Zakynthos, known as Zante, will be dropped from the list, throwing holidaymakers’ plans who are already in those locations into chaos as they face a race to get home before measures are imposed.
Separately, Shapps indicated that government officials were working with health experts on the practicalities of cutting quarantine times following weeks of lobbying from the beleaguered aviation industry, which has called for airport Covid-19 tests to be introduced.
Downing Street has faced pressure in recent weeks to consider implementing so-called regional travel corridors whereby arrivals from parts of countries – such as islands – that have lower Covid infections rates are exempted from quarantine restrictions.
However, Shapps stopped short of saying the government would be implementing regional corridors within mainland parts of countries – explaining the data was too patchy and that there was nothing to stop people moving around – but that it could potentially open up quarantine-free travel to islands in future as infection rates change.
Shapps told MPs: “When a region has natural boundaries, like an island for example, the risk diminishes significantly and that presents us with a real opportunity.
“Our passenger locator form, combined with NHS test and trace will give us a clear picture, and has started to give us a clear picture, of exactly where infections are coming from. And, as a result, I can today announce a new islands policy. For the first time, we have the data and the capacity to add and remove specific islands from quarantine … whilst still providing maximum protection to the UK public.”
But Shapps stressed that the policy will not open up additional islands – such as those popular among tourists in the Spanish Balearic and Canary islands – immediately as Covid rates remain too high. “Greece remains within our travel corridor programme but our new analysis shows that some of the islands are well outside of the parameters,” Shapps told MPs.
He added: “However, using our newly acquired JBC [Joint Biosecurity Centre] data, we’re now in a position to remove Greek islands where holidaymakers are at risk of spreading the new infection back home. And seven Greek islands will therefore be removed from [the] travel list at 4am on Wednesday 9 September, whilst maintaining mainland Greece.”
Referencing calls to introduce airport testing, Shapps highlighted concern over asymptomatic arrivals spreading the virus but added: “However, quarantine combined with testing is more promising.”
He explained: “We are working actively on the practicalities of using testing to release people from quarantine earlier than 14 days. For the reasons described, this could not be a pure test-on-arrival option. It would not work but my officials are working with health experts with the aim of cutting the quarantine period without adding to infection risk or infringing our overall NHS test capacity, which also now needs to cater to schools going back and universities returning.”
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has also updated its travel advice to warn against all but essential travel to the seven Greek islands.
England’s move followed last week’s decision by the Welsh government, which like other devolved nations has its own powers on the issue, that it was removing six Greek islands – Mykonos, Zakynthos, Lesvos, Paros, Antiparos and Crete – from its own travel corridor but not the whole of the country.
Separately, Scotland announced it was removing Greece from its own corridor.
Following a rise in the number of Covid-19 cases, the Scottish government also removed Portugal – which was only added to the UK’s travel corridor last month – but England and Northern Ireland have so far resisted doing the same. The Welsh government removed Portugal too but said it was exempting the islands of the Azores and Madeira.
Labour’s shadow transport secretary, Jim McMahon, accused the government of failing to address unanswered questions over its quarantine measures and said it needed to give confidence to the aviation industry that “ministers aren’t simply making it up as they go along”.
He said: “After the mess we’ve seen it is vital that the government undertakes a review into quarantine policy, to report as soon as possible. It should include outlining options for a robust testing regime in airports, and related follow-up tests, that could help to safely minimise the need for 14-day quarantine.”
A Heathrow spokeswoman said: “We welcome the transport secretary’s announcement that testing to shorten quarantine is under active consideration by the government and that air bridges to islands will now be instated where appropriate.
“If introduced, these vital policy changes would show the government understands how critical the restoration of air travel is to this country’s economic recovery.”
Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy the PC Agency, welcomed the government’s policy shift. “Regional corridors are vital to keep travel and tourism alive and well, and I hope it removes the confusion of different UK governments pursuing different approaches to individual countries,” he said.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Coronavirus: seven Greek islands to be removed from England’s safe list | World news