Coronavirus: England will target specific islands in future quarantine lists

7 September 2020, 15:46 | Updated: 7 September 2020, 18:32

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Future quarantine lists for people returning to England from overseas will target specific islands rather than whole countries, the transport secretary has announced.

Grant Shapps was updating MPs in the Commons on Wednesday on how coronavirus travel corridors would be decided from today onwards.

He said due to collaboration with other governments, England could now adopt a more "granular" approach to future quarantine lists.

Although the rule will remain the same for regions within a country's mainland if there are clear geographical boundaries - such as an island being surrounded by water - England will now adopt a more targeted approach.

However, he said the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands will not be removed from the quarantine list despite the new approach.

Seven Greek islands will be added to England's quarantine list from 4am on Wednesday, Mr Shapps added.

These include Lesvos, Tinos, Serifos, Mykonos, Crete, Santorini and Zakynthos.

Read more: Seven Greek islands placed on travel quarantine list from Wednesday

Read more: Portugal and Greece remain on England's travel corridor list

England will target specific overseas islands in future quarantine lists
England will target specific overseas islands in future quarantine lists. Picture: UK Parliament

However, mainland Greece will remain on England's safe travel corridor list meaning people returning from the country will still not have to self-isolate for 14 days when they get home.

A similar policy for six Greek islands (not including Tinos, Serifos or Santorini) is in place in Wales, while the whole of Greece is on Scotland's quarantine list.

Mr Shapps said: "Our top priority has always been to keep domestic infection rates down, and today we're taking the next step in our approach.

"Through the use of enhanced data, we will now be able to pinpoint risk in some of the most popular islands, providing increased flexibility to add or remove them - distinct from the mainland - as infection rates change.

"This development will help boost the UK's travel industry while continuing to maintain maximum protection to public health, keeping the travelling public safe."

Read more: Which countries are exempt and could future changes affect my booking?

Read more: People returning from Portugal to Scotland and Wales face 14-day quarantine

Monday's update will allow the government to keep travel corridors open if an island has a low rate of infection, despite its governing country having a high rate.

However, other considerations will be made about that island to ensure it remains safe for English people to travel to and from, such as if it has "internationally comparable data" on coronavirus cases.

The transport secretary said: "The JBC (joint biosecurity centre) and this government are therefore at present unable to introduce regional travel corridors from within the geographical boundaries of a nation-state.

"However, when a region has natural boundaries like an island, for example, the risk diminishes significantly.

"That presents us with a real opportunity. Our passenger locator form, combined with NHS Test and Trace, will give us a clear picture, and has been starting to give us a clear picture, of exactly where infections are coming from.

"As a result, I can today announce a new islands policy.

"For the first time we have the data and the capacity to add and remove specific islands from quarantine while still providing maximum protection to the UK public."

Mr Shapps told MPs the data showing infections within countries is "too patchy" to have regional quarantine arrangements at the moment.

"In many cases, the international data is still simply too patchy and, in all cases, there is next to nothing to prevent people from moving around within a country's border," he said.

A Heathrow Airport spokeswoman said: "We welcome the Transport Secretary's announcement that testing to shorten quarantine is under active consideration by the government and that air bridges to islands will now be instated where appropriate.

"If introduced, these vital policy changes would show the government understands how critical the restoration of air travel is to this country's economic recovery. The government needs to build on these developments and show global leadership to establish Common International Standards for testing before flight."

Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: "It's to be warmly welcomed that the government is amending its quarantine policy - opening up some islands to British tourists again without them having to quarantine.

"Regional corridors are vital to keep travel and tourism alive and well, and I hope it removes the confusion of different UK governments pursuing different approaches to individual countries.

"It's sad news for the Greek islands who can't yet open up but I hope this policy provides impetus for them to get their cases under control."

A spokesman for British Airways' owner IAG said: "It was evident back in July that islands should be treated separately. The government is being too slow in making obvious decisions.

"For most families summer is now over and the damage to the industry and the economy is done. On testing, we need to get on with it. We are way behind other countries on what has to be a more nuanced approach."

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