UK quarantine rules: Which new countries have been added to the list?

Belgium is a key international crossroads for travellers from the UK to the Netherlands, Germany and beyond

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Friday 07 August 2020 11:40
These are the latest countries on the UK travel quarantine list

Belgium, Andorra and the Bahamas are the latest countries to be added to the UK government’s “no-go” list, following sharp increases in cases of coronavirus in all three nations. These are the key questions and answers.

What has changed – and why?

All three countries have seen sharp increases in new cases of coronavirus over the past few weeks.The Joint Biosecurity Centre and Public Health England, which monitor infection rates and trends around the world, advised ministers to apply the government’s "double-lock".

This measure is intended to dissuade British travellers from venturing to specific destinations with high risk of infection.

Outbound travellers are warned against going to Andorra, the Bahamas and Belgium, while anyone who is currently in any of these countries faces two weeks of self-isolation when they return to the UK.

The timings for the imposition of quarantine differ from one UK nation to another.

The rule has already taken effect in Wales. For travellers arriving in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the measure comes into effect at 4am on Saturday.

How many travellers will it affect?

Adding Andorra and the Bahamas to the no-go list is unlikely to affect many UK travellers at present. Both are predominantly winter destinations, for skiing and sunshine respectively.

In a normal year, though, 1.8 million British citizens travel to Belgium in all seasons. While many are on business, city breaks in Brussels, Bruges and Antwerp (location for the worst spikes in coronavirus) and beach holidays on the North Sea coast are also popular.

Belgium is also a key international crossroads for travellers from the UK to the Netherlands, Germany and beyond – by both rail and road.

What are the legal implications?

Outbound: anyone who goes to a country against Foreign Office advice risks invalidating their travel insurance.

While some in the travel industry claim that cover still applies for incidents unrelated to coronavirus, Malcolm Tarling of the Association of British Insurers says: “An insurer likely to argue that a breach of a policy term that said the policyholder would not be covered for travel against FCO advice was so material, and went to the heart of the insurance contract, that any claim arising from the visit to that country would be rejected.”

The European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) is still valid for British travellers in Belgium until 31 December 2020. It entitles holders to treatment in a public hospital, but does not cover the cost of emergency repatriation back to UK on medical grounds.

Inbound: arriving travellers must go direct to their home or to other suitable accommodation (by public transport) if necessary and self-isolate for 14 days, timed from the day following their arrival. They can leave home only for medical assistance, to attend court or a funeral – or to go shopping for essentials if there is no one else who can supply provisions.

Going out to work, exercise, socialise or walk the dog is not permitted. The penalty for failure to comply is £1,000 (reduced to £480 in Scotland).

I am a key worker. Am I exempt?

Almost certainly not. Most quarantine exemptions are very narrowly defined and cover either transport professionals or staff travelling from abroad to the UK specifically on government business. Holidays do not count.

Can I shorten quarantine by taking a coronavirus test?

No. The government insists there is no viable alternative to quarantine. But Heathrow airport and others are pushing for a system involving a sequence of tests that could approximately halve the length of self-isolation.

The only way to shorten quarantine is to leave the UK again. If you choose to do this, then you must go direct from your place of isolation to the transport terminal for your outbound journey.

I have a Eurostar booking from London to Brussels. What are my options if I no longer want to go?

You will not get a refund but you can postpone your journey – for free if you do so at least 14 days in advance, though you must pay any increase in fare compared with what your originally paid.

With less than 14 days’ notice there is an exchange fee per person and per individual journey in standard class of £30 (£40 in standard premier).

I am travelling on Eurostar from Amsterdam/Rotterdam via Belgium to London. Must I quarantine?

Yes. The government says: “You’ll still need to self-isolate if you’ve visited or made a ‘transit stop’ in the previous 14 days in any country that is not on the list.

“A ‘transit stop’ is a stop where passengers can get on or off a coach, ferry, train or plane.”

Since the Eurostar trains are open to joining and leaving passengers during its stop in Brussels-Midi, it counts as a transit stop, making quarantine mandatory.

The same applies to anyone changing planes in Brussels.

What about flights – can I get a refund?

No, though past experience suggests British Airways will allow people booked to Brussels to claim a voucher for future travel, while Ryanair will insist normal terms apply assuming the flight goes ahead.

While new Ryanair bookings until September offer no flight-change fee flexibility, for other bookings the charge is £35 to £95 per flight – plus any difference in fares.

I am driving back from the Netherlands/Germany via Belgium to France. Must I quarantine?

If you stop and leave your car while in Belgium, you would certainly count as having visited Belgium and must self-isolate on return to the UK.

If you drive straight through, not stopping to refuel or for any other purpose, you may be exempt. The Department for Transport (DfT) has not explicitly said one way or the other. I am urgently seeking clarification from the DfT.

Should quarantine be required, it will persuade many holidaymakers to go the long way around, avoiding both Belgium and Luxembourg (which has also lost its exemption). This will add many hundreds of miles and hours to the journey.

Where’s next?

Who knows? Quarantine is now regarded as the “Martini menace” because the obligation for travellers to self-isolate can be brought in "anytime, any place, anywhere".

France is known to be “on notice” to crack down on new cases or face being placed on the UK’s no-go list. The Joint Biosecurity Centre and Public Health England are watching infection rates closely.

The implications of placing France on the no-go list are wide ranging. There are believed to be between 500,000 and one million British travellers in France, as well as many more who are semi-permanent residents.

If the Foreign Office warns against non-essential travel, and the Department for Transport removes France from the quarantine-exempt list, there would undoubtedly be a rush to leave the country and return to Britain before the deadline.

Concerns have also been mentioned for Croatia and Malta. But studying the data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, it appears neither these nor other Mediterranean nations are on the same alarming trajectory as Belgium at present.

What effect will this decision have on the travel industry?

While Belgium is a relatively minor destination for most of the travel business, it is highly significant for Eurostar. The firm, which runs passenger trains through the Channel Tunnel, is likely to see another slump in bookings.

More widely, the frequent abrupt changes in go/no-go rules are unsettling for travellers to any part of Europe or the wider world.

Instead of joyful anticipation, they feel uncertainty and anxiety – especially for those who cannot take the chance of being stuck the wrong side of a sudden quarantine directive.

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