Stop playing ‘quarantine roulette’ with holidays: Grant Shapps admits holidaymakers face ‘confusion’ because England is keeping Portugal ON safe list as Scotland and Wales impose curbs – but insists other nations ‘didn’t look at figures’ properly
Grant Shapps admitted the government’s coronavirus quarantine rules cause ‘confusion’ today after England kept Portugal on the safe list – despite Scotland and Wales imposing curbs.
Amid rising anger from bewildered holidaymakers that the system amounts to ‘roulette’, the Transport Secretary conceded that starkly different approaches within the UK were a problem.
But he insisted that the Westminster government had assessed the best evidence and concluded that Portugal was still low-risk, and swiped at Scotland for decreeing that travellers from Greece must self-isolate this week before even seeing the latest data.
Mr Shapps also hinted that the government could take a more regional approach in future, and admitted that airport testing – demanded by many to save the aviation industry – could cut the 14-day quarantine period in half.
Portugal has been above the trigger threshold for UK quarantine measures for the past few days – but Grant Shapps said they were also looking at the proportion of tests that come back positive, and that had fallen
Scotland and Wales have imposed restrictions on Greece, even though the case rates are still relatively low
An exclusive poll for MailOnline by Redfield & Wilton Strategies found just 24 per cent believe the quarantine system is working, while 48 per cent say it is not
The desperate defence came amid growing evidence that the public is losing patience with the regime. An exclusive poll for MailOnline by Redfield & Wilton Strategies found just 24 per cent believe it is working, while 48 per cent say it is not.
Most believe the arrangements are too loose, with around a third wanting more countries added to the ‘red’ list.
Expectations had been growing for days that Portugal would be added to the quarantine roll this week after the total weekly cases per 100,000 of population rose above the UK’s trigger threshold of 20.
Mr Shapps had previously indicated that this was the main metric the government would look at to impose restrictions. But last night, he announced that there would be no change – pointing out that the proportion of tests coming back positive still remained low.
The move left some holidaymakers complaining that they had been forced to come home early unnecessarily to avoid quarantine, while others had stayed on and were caught out by the change in the nations.
The Cabinet minister took thinly-veiled swipes at Wales and Scotland for their action today.
Scotland and Wales are imposing 14 days of isolation on arrivals from Portugal. Scotland is also including Greece on its quarantine list, while Wales added seven Greek islands.
Mr Shapps told Sky News: ‘I do realise it creates confusion for people not to have a single rule, but we do have this devolved approach throughout the United Kingdom and I can only be responsible for the English part of that.’
He said that Welsh ministers ‘had not perhaps noticed or seen’ that the proportion of positive tests had fallen in Portugal, as the overall number of tests were up.
And Mr Shapps claimed that Scotland had taken steps against Greece earlier this week without waiting to see the latest data from the Joint Biosecurity Centre.
He said the UK Government’s review concluded no changes were necessary partly because test positivity in Portugal came down while the number of cases overall in Greece had fallen.
Ms Shapps said testing at airports is not a ‘silver bullet solution’ to end quarantining and the ‘vast majority’ of asymptomatic cases would not be detected by one test alone.
But he told Sky News they were not ‘ignoring’ calls for testing at airports – and it could potentially slash the quarantine period in half.
‘I know that airport testing is one of those things that sounds so logical. You come in, you get a test, perhaps one of these very quick test and you are free not to quarantine,’ he said.
‘The problem we have, and this is what I am working with airports on at the moment, and the industry, is that a day zero test as you get home is unlikely to find the vast majority of people who have travelled with coronavirus but are asymptomatic…
‘There are arguments about this, but PHE say that would perhaps pick up just seven per cent of people who are in fact positive, and allow those people to sort of go off.
‘So you probably have to have some kind of quarantine period in here, perhaps seven or eight days, maybe a test then.
‘But these are the things that we are working through at the moment.’
Mr Shapps also said there was an ‘argument’ for judging islands separately from mainland countries. ‘I think there is an argument for regionalising it… but having said that… actually the islands (in Spain) now wouldn’t be fine.
‘But it is fluid and I do accept there is space to look at those types of things.’
There had been speculation that Westminster would reimpose the requirement on Portugal due to a spike in Covid-19 cases, leading many holidaymakers to pay hundreds of pounds to fly home this week.
Jonathan Lake with his son. The Welsh father-of-two whose family will have to self-isolate for 14 days after remaining out in Greece has branded the inconsistency between Westminster and Cardiff ‘an absolute joke’
In a round of interviews today, Grant Shapps admitted the government’s coronavirus quarantine rules cause ‘confusion’ after England kept Portugal on the safe list – despite Scotland and Wales imposing curbs
In Wales, the need to isolate for 14 days when arriving from Portugal, Gibraltar and seven Greek islands came into force at 4am on Friday.
In Scotland, passengers arriving from Portugal will have to quarantine from 4am on Saturday, as well as those arriving from French Polynesia.
Scotland began requiring travellers from anywhere in Greece to enter quarantine from Thursday.
There were 23 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people in Portugal in the seven days to Wednesday, up from 15.3 a week earlier.
A seven-day rate of 20 is the threshold above which the UK Government has considered triggering quarantine conditions.
Industry leaders and holidaymakers criticised the Government, saying travellers are ‘totally confused’ by the different approaches in Westminster and the devolved administrations. Critics have labelled the system ‘quarantine roulette’.
Kelly Jones and her family changed their flights home from the Algarve from Saturday to Friday at a cost of £900 to avoid a potential quarantine, because she did not want her children to miss two weeks of school.
The 45-year-old from Birmingham said the situation was ‘absolutely disgusting’, telling the PA news agency: ‘The Government just change the goalposts left, right and centre at the moment. It’s embarrassing.’
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy the PC Agency, said: ‘The quarantine policy is in tatters and dividing the United Kingdom.
‘Consumers are totally confused by the different approaches and it’s impossible to understand the Government’s own criteria any more on when to add or remove a country.’
It came as figures showed the number of close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 being reached through Test and Trace was at its lowest since the system was launched.
Thursday also saw the highest daily total of virus cases since June 4, with 1,735 positive results in the 24 hours to 9am.
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