Quarantine: for travellers and the travel industry, things can barely get worse

·2-min read
A trip to Venice seems out of reach (Getty)
A trip to Venice seems out of reach (Getty)

"Things will get worse before they get better,” the health secretary told the Commons as he outlined the latest measures to try to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Matt Hancock is co-chairing the Global Travel Taskforce with the transport secretary. And a few hours later, his colleague Grant Shapps was tasked with adding to the government’s gradual shutdown of global travel.

The last great Mediterranean country that all UK holidaymakers could visit without needing to quarantine on return has been put on the “no-go” list (along with plucky San Marino and the Vatican City) because of the rapidly rising infections.

Cyprus remains an option for half-term holidaymakers, along with most of Greece – though the whole nation is off limits to travellers from Scotland until 18 October.

Compared with other countries in the world, with the possible exception of Ireland, the UK’s positions on the management of international travel in the time of coronavirus has been unusual.

Restrictions began in a logical fashion, with targeted quarantine aimed at travellers returning from locations with high levels of coronavirus: parts of China, certain towns in northern Italy, Iran, etc.

Very soon, though, the UK certainly started blazing its own trail. In mid-March, as barriers to travel multiplied across the world as nations sought to reduce the spread of infection, Britain lifted all restrictions – on the grounds that, with sustained transmission in the UK, “travel restrictions would have no impact”.

A U-turn in June led to all other parts of the world, except Ireland, being declared “unacceptably high risk” by the UK.

There followed careful briefing of friendly newspapers about a new “traffic light” system which would allow international travel to restart. It mirrored proposals currently being pursued by the European Union.

The illuminations were never switched on. Instead, a binary system was introduced allowing trips to all our European holiday favourites – except Portugal.

Gradually, these so-called “travel corridors” have almost all shut down, even though many of them remain much safer in terms of coronavirus infections than the UK.

Speaking on Wednesday to Abta, the travel association, the transport secretary said: “Travel and tourism [is] vital to our national prosperity, contributing over £250bn a year.

“Let me assure you of one thing: that fact is appreciated and understood by everyone in government.”

After the Italian disconnection, and the harm it will cause to holidaymakers, airlines and the rest of a travel industry already on its knees, Mr Shapps’s words ring distinctly hollow.

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