Minister says travel quarantine rules do not apply to ‘important people’

‘So people who want to go on holiday are not important. Is that what you’re saying?’ – Kay Burley’s challenge to media minister John Whittingdale

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 23 June 2021 08:53 BST
<p>Danger zone? St Julian’s in Malta, which may be added to the ‘green list’ on Thursday </p>

Danger zone? St Julian’s in Malta, which may be added to the ‘green list’ on Thursday

The media minister has said that “people who are important” should be entitled to avoid tough quarantine rules when travelling to the UK.

Speaking on Sky News, John Whittingdale was asked why players, officials and others coming to London for the Euros final on 11 July should be allowed in without self-isolating.

He said: “We’ve always said that for some people who are important, players, for instance …”

The presenter, Kay Burley, interrupted him, saying: “So people who want to go on holiday are not important. Is that what you’re saying?”

“No of course not. We’re talking a very limited number of people who are coming in and they’re also subject still to quite significant restrictions.

“They’re not just able to travel around Britain. They come in to attend a match then go away again.

“We wouldn’t have been able to host the tournament at Wembley if we hadn’t allowed the players and people associated with the teams to come in and do so.”

Mr Whittingdale was speaking as travel industry leaders gather in London for a day of action in protest at the quarantine rules on returning to the UK which, they say, amount to a ban on international travel.

Ministers are due to decide on Thursday what changes to make to the changes to the red, amber and green lists – the last of which is the only group of countries from which travel to the UK is permitted without quarantine.

At present the only feasible holiday destinations from the UK are Gibraltar and Iceland.

The media minister said: “We have said that we will be looking later in the week to make revisions to the green list, and I hope that we can put more countries on to it.

“I quite understand why people want to go on their holidays.

“I would say to them, you can have a great holiday in Britain and I think a very large number of people will decide this year that that’s what they will do.”

He said he could “understand the frustration” of travel industry leaders who have announced legal action against government decisions on international travel.

The UK has far higher infection rates than popular holiday destinations, including Malta, Italy, Spain, France, Greece – and Portugal, which was moved from green to amber in the last review.

“We were forced, sadly, to put Portugal temporarily back on to the amber list because of the case rate there,” Mr Whittingdale said.

“These are expert decisions by the scientists. They make recommendations to government and it takes account of a range of factors.”

Mr Whittingdale played down hopes of an early decision for fully vaccinated travellers to avoid quarantine, saying only: “I hope it may even be possible in due course to relax for example restrictions for people who for instance have had two vaccines.

“But these are things that are being kept under constant examination.

“When we feel it is safe to make those changes, then we will do so.”

The minister claimed: “We are way ahead of any other country in Europe in terms of the proportion of our population who are vaccinated and that offers a degree of protection.”

In fact, Malta has vaccinated a significantly higher proportion of its people than the UK.

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