About five weeks after the UK government eased restrictions on travelling to many European countries, it has now reintroduced quarantines. Jenny Southan reports
From August 15, people travelling from France, the Netherlands, Malta and Monaco, as well as Turks and Caicos, and Aruba to the UK, will have to quarantine for two weeks. This is because of an unnaceptable rise in Covid-19 infections. Spain was put back on the “red list” on July 26.
According to the BBC, there are about 160,000 British holidaymakers in France at the moment (including myself – you can read my review of my outbound journey here) and the French government has said that “reciprocal measures” against subsequent arrivals in France from the UK would be implemented.
This means people travelling will need to isolate in place for two weeks both on arrival and on return. For many, this will put an end to any trips they had booked. For some, though, it won’t be so much of a problem – if they can rent a villa for two weeks, for example, and then work from home.
The UK’s ambassador to France, Lord Llewellyn, said that the new quarantine rule would be “unwelcome news” for Britons, but emphasised that people could continue with their holidays as long as they follow safety precautions and self-isolate on their return.
However, the UK Foreign Office is now warning against “all but essential travel” to France – a detail which means most travel insurance policies will be invalidated. (Here is a useful guide to travel insurance from Which?)
Without an effective track and trace system, combined with testing, quarantines are the only way to reduce the spread of the virus across borders. But little has been said about how it will be enforced on travellers arriving in the UK (there will be fines of £1,000 for anyone who breaches it but who will check?).
UK Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has described quarantine as a “blunt tool”.
Over in Singapore, from August 11, enforcement became more extreme – arriving passengers are now being forced to wear electronic track devices to guarantee they stay in place and self isolate. Hong Kong and South Korea have been handing out GPS wristbands.
Meanwhile, countries such as Iceland are taking the test and trace approach. (You can read a review of Covid-19 testing protocols on arrival in Iceland here.) Globetrender reporter Uwern Jong says: “Iceland’s success in preventing the spread of the virus and keeping its tourism industry tiding over depends on the successful testing and tracing of incoming travellers.
“It affects both domestic and international confidence and is important in keeping residents and visitors safe. But how will it end up? Only time – and careful deliberation and implementation by the country’s government – will tell.”
Four travel industry experts share their views…
Commenting on the UK government’s decision to remove certain countries from the “safe travel” list, Patrick Ikhena, head of travel at comparethemarket.com, says: “Yesterday’s announcement will likely impact the holiday plans of people who considered France, Malta and the Netherlands to be less risky destinations for a summer getaway.
“Those who still plan to travel despite the requirements to quarantine upon return should contact their insurer to explore their options and ascertain their level of cover. Generally speaking, if the FCO has not explicitly stated that you shouldn’t travel to these regions, but you decide not to travel due to quarantine requirements, this will be deemed ‘disinclination to travel’ and you are unlikely to be covered by your policy.
“Many providers have begun to offer ‘enhanced Covid-cover’ to give passengers additional cover and peace of mind before travelling abroad. Whilst these policies are unlikely to cover you or your travel companions if you travel to a region against FCO advice, this type of cover is likely to pay out for any costs or lost funds should you contract Covid-19 before travelling.
“Such enhanced coverage is also likely to protect you in the event that FCO advice prevents you from going away, as well as any emergency medical care and repatriation costs.
“If your holiday plans have been impacted by the government’s decision, it may be worth contacting your airline or other transportation providers who may be able to offer you a change of destination.
“Those who still choose to travel to France, Malta or the Netherlands must follow FCO guidance first and foremost and check for any local restrictions and requirements ahead of departure.
“As these regions are increasingly seen as more risky holiday destinations in light of growing Covid-19 infection rates, it is essential that travellers keep a close eye on restrictions, infection rates and the latest FCO advice for your desired holiday destination, as these can change daily.”
Gloria Guevara, World Travel and Tourism Coucil president & CEO, says: “WTTC is deeply disappointed that thousands of British holidaymakers have had their holidays ruined, now the UK government has added more countries to its quarantine list, including popular summer holidays destinations, France and Malta. While we agree public health should remain the top priority, this move will crush what little confidence there is left in the fragile travel and tourism sector.
“More than 100 of the world’s major travel and global business leaders signed a WTTC letter sent to 10 of the world’s most powerful heads of state, including Boris Johnson, calling for their leadership to coordinate the international response to save the Travel & Tourism sector and the global economy. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has led the positive responses we have received following our plea for urgent action for a range of measures including testing and tracing instead of quarantines.
“The UK clearly lags behind other countries, which have shunned quarantines in favour of comprehensive programmes of testing for everyone departing and arriving back into their respective countries. International co-ordination and programme of testing for anyone who wants to go on holiday to help stop Covid-19 in its tracks are crucial in order to rescue three million jobs in the UK alone.”
Ben Cordwell, travel and tourism analyst at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, says: “The latest government announcement has the potential to effectively end the British holiday season.
“According to GlobalData, 31.6 million tourists from the UK made their way to Spain and France, in 2019, highlighting the importance of the British source market to the Spanish and French tourism industries. An announcement like this during the peak season will be disastrous for all of the countries on the list, as well as for businesses in Britain selling holidays to these destinations.
“According to GlobalData’s latest consumer survey results, 79 per cent of UK respondents are still concerned about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It would be unsurprising if this latest announcement meant that many holidaymakers decided not to travel abroad at all.
“The UK is also the fourth highes-spending source market worldwide, meaning the quarantine extension will be devastating for airlines, travel agents and hoteliers alike. This latest announcement on top of what has already been an extremely tough year for the tourism industry, could see many companies struggling to survive the coming winter months.”
Alastair Thomann, CEO of Generator, says: “This is another big blow to the travel and tourism industry and once again the UK will be amongst the worst hit. Moving away from implementing simplistic quarantine regulations for whole nations and introducing the more sophisticated approach many other European countries have successfully put into place (for example those testing negative being able to avoid quarantine and introducing local lockdowns vs nationwide) will be key to minimising the short and medium term damage to our industry.
“Focusing on our European Millennial and Gen Z dominated guest clientele we have seen an immediate increase in cancellations and renewed downturn in bookings for our London property whilst other European destinations look to be benefitting. Unless the UK governments’ handling of this crisis improves dramatically I fear the worst for our hospitality industry in the coming months.”
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