The UK government is expected to announce the reimposition of 14 days of quarantine for arrivals from Portugal on Thursday, as the devolved nations differ over travellers from Greece.
For the past three days, the number of coronavirus cases in Portugal has been above 20 per 100,000 people – the level at which the UK government considers triggering quarantine conditions. The current seven-day case rate average is 22.7, compared with 14.2 for the previous week.
Ministers are therefore likely to remove Portugal from the safe list at a meeting on Thursday after reviewing the latest assessment of risk by the Joint Biosecurity Centre. If they do, the new rules for travellers arriving from Portugal will be imposed from 4am on Saturday – only two weeks after they were lifted.
A government source said: “Given the evolving public health picture across Europe, expect an update around teatime on Thursday.”
Meanwhile, new quarantine rules imposed by the Scottish government for travellers from Greece came into force at 4am on Thursday. The Welsh government has adopted a more targeted approach to Greece by asking only arrivals from the island of Zante to enter quarantine. And the UK’s biggest tour operator, Tui, has suspended its holidays to the resort of Laganas on Zante.
The Welsh health minister, Vaughan Gething, urged the UK government to call an urgent meeting to consider the potential risk from Greece.
It is thought unlikely that Westminster will impose quarantine rules on travel to Greece, as the level of infection is below that which is considered dangerous. There were 14.3 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in Greece in the seven days to 1 September, a similar level to that in the UK.
Greece’s tourism minister, Harry Theoharis, said: “We’re doing everything in our power to ensure that every person that comes from the UK is kept safe in Greece.”
Last week, the UK transport secretary, Grant Shapps, rejected the idea of imposing UK quarantine on people returning from specific regions within countries. A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “We are taking a national approach to protecting public health. But it is up to the devolved administrations to make their own public health decisions.”
Paul Charles, chief executive of the travel consultancy the PC Agency, predicted that Portugal would be removed from the safe travel list, but that Greece would remain on it despite the action of the Scottish government.
Holidaymakers hoping to avoid quarantine face limited options and expensive fares, despite airlines operating additional flights. Google search data showed a significant rise in searches for the term “flights to Portugal” by users in the UK at about 6pm on Thursday 20 August, the day the news about the quarantine change was announced.
EasyJet and British Airways have no available flights from Faro – which serves the Algarve – to Britain on Friday.
Rory Boland, travel editor at consumer group Which?, condemned the UK’s approach to quarantine measures.
He said: “Yet again haphazard announcements and rumours around quarantine have sparked chaos and confusion for holidaymakers, with many facing an unenviable choice between paying extortionate prices for last-minute flights home or the disruption caused by two weeks in isolation on their return.”