As holidaymakers and the travel industry anxiously wait to see whether the UK government will impose mandatory self-isolation on all arrivals from France, airports are demanding a nuanced quarantine policy.
At present, the Department for Transport (DfT) rates each country either as low-risk or high-risk for travellers bringing back coronavirus.
There is no differentiation between regions within a nation, which is causing mounting unhappiness for airlines, tour operators and travellers with exiting bookings – particularly for Spain and Portugal, whose islands have seen low levels of coronavirus infections.
Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, has called for Spain’s islands to have the quarantine restrictions lifted – saying it “risks further damaging the fragile re-start of the aviation sector”.
Writing in Business Travel News, Ms Dee said: “These islands demonstrate that a blanket quarantine policy is not fit for purpose with the clearest example being the inclusion of Lanzarote, which as well as having low infection rates, is over 600 miles from the Iberian peninsula.”
The Balearic and Canary Islands normally account for 27 per cent of flights from airports outside the London area. From the capital’s airports, the figure is 15 per cent.
Ms Dee warned: “Despite the valiant efforts of airports, airlines and travel companies passenger numbers remain low and our industry remains in a very precarious situation.
“With passenger numbers not predicted to return to pre-Covid levels before 2023 at the earliest, we face a very long and dangerous road to recovery.
“The government must look urgently at a more nuanced risk-based approach which includes regional travel corridors allowing safe travel to areas with low infections, whilst also protecting against a potential second wave. It must also include working with airports to find broader solutions, such as testing.”
The government says: “We are monitoring the international situation very closely and keeping this advice under constant review so that it reflects our latest assessment of risks to British people.
“We take a range of factors into account. For coronavirus, this includes the incidence rate and the resilience of healthcare provision in each country. “
Mandatory self-isolation was introduced for all arriving travellers to the UK on 8 June. On 10 July, quarantine was lifted for dozens of countries and territories – including Spain but not Portugal.
Within 15 days, though, the government reversed its decision on Spain due to rising infection rates in the northeastern regions of Catalonia, Navarra and Aragon.
The first holidaymakers returning from Spain to be affected by quarantine are experiencing their first day of freedom today. They were given under five hours’ notice to return to the UK.
In contrast, when quarantine was reimposed for arrivals from Belgium, travellers were given 32 hours’ warning – at least from the authorities in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Holidaymakers returning to Wales had four hours’ notice.