UK Split on ‘Confusing’ Safe Travel Policy
Cracks are appearing in the way the four UK nations are implementing their safe travel regulations, as industry leaders call for testing at airports, and a government minister admitted the situation was ‘confusing’.
All week there had been widespread speculation that Greece and Portugal would be the next two countries to be removed from the UK safe travel list, especially when Scotland unilaterally decided to remove Greece from its safe travel corridor as of 3 September.
However, while both Scotland and Wales made the decision to impose a 14-day quarantine upon people arriving from Portugal, England and Northern Ireland failed to follow suit.
Wales and Scotland Go It Alone on Safe Travel Policy
Wales’ restrictions only apply on those arriving from mainland Portugal, while Scotland’s apply for all territories. Wales has also imposed restrictions upon people arriving from the Greek islands of Mykonos, Lesvos, Paros, Antiparos, and Crete, in addition to Zakynthos and Zante. The Principality also removed Gibraltar and French Polynesia from its quarantine-free travel list.
While the restrictions remain unchanged for both England and Northern Ireland, Scotland also removed French Polynesia from its safe travel list, and said it was considering doing the same for Gibraltar.
Announcing the Greek decision, Welsh health minister, Vaughan Gething, said, “This action is being taken as a result of a large number of cases of coronavirus [that] have been imported into Wales from tourists returning from the Greek islands, in particular. In the last week, there have been more than 20 cases confirmed in passengers on one flight from Zante to Cardiff.”
Confused? You Will Be
Many expected that Portugal would be removed from the safe travel list, especially once it had passed the 20 cases per 100,000 that the UK Government had previously used to determine exclusions.
Only last week Switzerland, Czech Republic and Jamaica were removed from the list even though they had less cases per capita (22, 20.2 and 20.8 respectively) at the time than Portugal (23) currently does.
However, the UK Government has always stated that this was only one of a number of criteria it would use to determine which countries should be removed from the travel corridor.
“Portugal has drastically increased its testing capacity, as well as taking measures to control the spread of the virus,” a government spokesperson said, adding that they were monitoring the situation closely.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast UK Transport Minister Grant Shapps admitted the situation was “confusing”.
Call to Test at Airports
The enforceability of the 14-day quarantine had been called into question before the latest division.
Passengers returning to the UK have commented upon how nobody had checked their Public Health Passenger Locator Form upon arrival.
Previously officials have admitted that only a proportion of those people supposed to be quarantined will actually be contacted by phone at their home to check whether they are conforming with the regulations.
With all this confusion and division, industry leaders have called upon the government to implement testing upon arrival and regional bans, as happens in various countries across Europe. Heathrow Airport has introduced a testing system at Terminal 2, which is awaiting government approval.
The full UK quarantine exemption list can be found here.