Differences in UK quarantine rules are “confusing” for travellers, Grant Shapps has admitted, as the four nations take varying approaches to international travel.
The transport secretary acknowledged people’s frustrations, as Scotland and Wales asked arrivals from Portugal and parts of Greece to isolate, but England and Northern Ireland held off. Wales’ rules, including only six Greek islands, began at 04:00 BST on Friday. Travel firms called for urgent clarity.
Some holidaymakers from England who anticipated a change in quarantine rules said they spent hundreds of pounds to get home early. While Wales’ advice has already changed, arrivals to Scotland from Portugal and French Polynesia will also have to self-isolate from 04:00 on Saturday. Scotland has already reintroduced quarantine for arrivals from Greece. The measures will affect those who reside in Wales and Scotland but return to the UK via England. Portugal, Greece and French Polynesia are still on England and Northern Ireland’s lists of travel corridors. Mr Shapps told the difference in quarantine rules was similar to the way lockdown had been applied across the UK.
“It is similar, unfortunately, with the quarantining where we look at the data and then we do speak, but, I’m afraid, quite often come to slightly different outcomes, which I appreciate is confusing for people,” he said. He described Portugal as being on a “borderline”, adding that “the opinion of England and Northern Ireland is that it did not justify quarantine this week”. Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Scotland “sort of jumped the gun” by introducing restrictions for arrivals from the whole of Greece.
“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,” he said.
The seven-day infection rate in Portugal has increased from 15.3 to 23 per 100,000 people, above the threshold of 20. Mr Shapps explained that cases per 100,000 people was just one measure taken into account by the UK’s Joint Biosecurity Centre, with the test positivity rate also a factor. The proportion of tests proving positive in Portugal was lower than it was when quarantine restrictions were lifted last month, Mr Shapps added. But the minister warned: “As I constantly say… we will have to move quickly if the figures change.”
The latest quarantine rules introduced in Wales, which also apply to travellers from Gibraltar, affect six Greek islands – Crete, Mykonos, Zakynthos, Lesvos, Paros and Antiparos.