The government’s confusing list of quarantine-exempt destinations will push the tourism industry to breaking point

It’s increasingly clear that our travel policies are just as shambolic as other areas of our coronavirus strategy, writes Helen Coffey

Saturday 01 August 2020 00:18 BST
The UK government has continued to back its support for a 14-day quarantine on travellers from Spain
The UK government has continued to back its support for a 14-day quarantine on travellers from Spain (EPA)

The phrase “travel chaos” may get bandied around a lot in this business, but rarely has it felt so apt.

The last week alone has seen Spain suddenly and without warning pulled from the government’s list of quarantine-exempt countries while thousands of Brits were still on holiday there. The Foreign Office’s separate list of destinations where its blanket travel warning has now been lifted also removed Spain, but hung onto the Canary and Balearic Islands. Then it inexplicably changed its mind and removed them too, despite their low rates of coronavirus.

Meanwhile Luxembourg, which has seen coronavirus cases surge to more than 200 per 100,000 residents (for comparison, the UK’s is currently around 14) remained on both lists until a full five days later. And despite much speculation, poor Portugal remained off-limits, a move that feels unfair considering that outside the Covid hotspot of Lisbon, popular holiday regions such as the Algarve continue to report low infection rates.

The debacle has seen tourism industry leaders finally proclaim that enough is enough – and I can’t blame them. EasyJet, Tui, British Airways and Heathrow airport were among 47 signatories to write an open letter to the government demanding a more “nuanced” approach to quarantine.

Testing for inbound arrivals from high-risk areas is increasingly being pushed as a solution, as is the idea of regional travel corridors. Instead of the blanket self-isolation measures currently being applied to entire countries, surely by this point we can develop a more sophisticated system? Why, after all, are the Canary Islands being tarred with the same brush as Barcelona, when they currently have just two cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 people?

The government’s travel policies seem to have proven just as shambolic and ill-thought-out as the rest of its coronavirus strategy; if any remnant of the tourism industry is to survive this pandemic, one-size-fits-all measures urgently need to be replaced by smart, targeted and agile ones.


Helen Coffey

Deputy travel editor

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