An estimated 10,000 British holidaymakers in Turkey face a choice between paying fortune for a flight home on Friday – if they can find one – or spending two weeks in self-isolation when they return to the UK.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said data on Covid-19 infections meant anyone travelling back from Turkey or Poland after 4am on Saturday must quarantine for 14 days.
At the same time the maximum fine for breaching self-isolation rules will rise to £10,000.
While other countries’ infection rates have been rising sharply, Turkey’s have barely changed throughout September – with an average of 13 new cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day spell.
But this appears to have raised suspicions among the health officials in the UK that the figures cannot be trusted.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said: “The Turkish Health Ministry has been defining the number of new Covid-19 cases in a different way to the definition used by international organisations such as the World Health Organisation and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, so we have updated our risk assessment for the country.”
The move will cause massive disarray in the travel industry as one of the last remaining options for British holidaymakers narrow is being closed off.
A spokesperson for Manchester Airports Group, which also includes Stansted and East Midlands, said: “Poland and Turkey are hugely popular destinations, and their removal from the safe travel list means that a large proportion of the markets our passengers usually travel to are now effectively closed-off, despite many of them having much lower infection rates than the UK.
“This reinforces just how vital it is for the government to establish a testing regime which would allow for a safe reduction in quarantine periods for passengers arriving from abroad.
“We welcomed confirmation in early September that this is being actively worked on.
"Customers need confidence now as they look to book holidays for next year, and we look to Government to provide an update on this work as soon as possible.”
The cheapest one-way flight on British Airways from Istanbul to Heathrow on Friday stood at £315 at 6pm on Thursday.
The Poland decision was widely expected after new infection rates per 100,000 cases increased well above the government’s threshold. At 26, it is still only 40 per cent of the UK’s rate of 65. Air routes to Poland had been proving reasonably viable for airlines including Ryanair and Wizz Air.
Greece and Italy, which have reached the government’s threshold for quarantine, have escaped losing exemption.
The Dutch Caribbean islands of Saba, Bonaire and St Eustatius have also been placed on the no-go list, but that rating is irrelevant because anyone travelling from them would need to transit in Amsterdam, which in itself would trigger 14 days of self-isolation.
A statement from the DfT said: “Data from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and Public Health England has indicated a significant change in both the level and pace of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Poland, Bonaire, and St Eustatius and Saba, leading to Ministers removing these from the current list of travel corridors."