The list of countries that Britons can travel to and return from without quarantining or taking Covid tests reduced to just nine yesterday.
Ministers removed four more nations from the safe list – Denmark, Iceland, Slovakia and the Caribbean island of Curacao, with quarantine required on return to the UK from tomorrow at 4am.
While there are still more than 60 countries on the UK’s ‘green list’ where quarantine is not required on return, many have their own restrictions on arrival or are closed to visitors completely.
It means holidays are only currently possible without any restrictions to Germany, Poland, Sweden, Italy, Turkey, mainland Greece, Gibraltar, San Marino and Liechtenstein. The last two are so small they don’t have their own airports, meaning just seven true air bridges are in place both ways.
Mainland Greece risks slipping off the list next week as infections there have reached about 20.9 cases per 100,000.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced Denmark, Slovakia, Iceland and Curacao are being added to the Government’s travel quarantine ‘red list’
Ministers typically impose quarantine measures for countries recording at least 20 cases per 100,000 over seven days, but left mainland Greece alone.
Quarantine measures are already in place for arrivals into England from seven Greek islands, including Crete, Mykonos and Santorini.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced the updated list last night and said the restrictions on Denmark, Iceland, Slovenia and Curacao would apply to the whole UK. Previously piecemeal decisions had been taken by individual devolved nations.
In the past two months the Government has hacked its list of ‘green’ countries down dramatically – axing Spain, France, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Malta, the Netherlands, Czech Republic and mainland Portugal.
Mr Shapps reminded travellers that they are legally required to fill out a ‘Passenger Locator Form’ when they return to England.
Announcing the changes, Mr Shapps tweeted: ‘Data shows we need to remove DENMARK, SLOVAKIA, ICELAND, and CURACAO from the Travel Corridor list.
‘If you arrive in the UK from these destinations after 4am this Saturday, you will need to self-isolate for 14 days.
‘We will not be adding any destinations to the Travel Corridor list this week.
‘Remember: You MUST complete a Passenger Locator Form by law if you enter the UK.
‘This protects public health and ensures those who need to are complying with self-isolation rules.’
The UK Government currently uses a threshold of 20 cases per 100,000 when it makes decisions on whether to add or remove countries from its quarantine list.
Downing Street remains under intense pressure to change the UK’s travel quarantine rules amid growing fears for the future of the aviation and travel industries.
Ministers have faced calls for months to replace the current 14 day self-isolation restrictions for people returning to the UK from high risk countries with a more nuanced system of airport testing.
Advocates believe testing on arrival could open the door to significantly reducing the two week quarantine period to potentially less than seven days.
A double testing approach would see travellers tested on arrival and then told to self-isolate for something like five days when they would then be tested for a second time.
Two negative tests would be enough to allow people to end their period in quarantine and return to normal life.
However, ministers have been reluctant to approve airport testing because of concerns that the approach could fail to identify some people who have the virus.
This is because of the amount of time it can take for the virus to be detectable after the moment of infection.
But many MPs believe the current blanket approach to travel quarantine cannot continue for much longer because of the damage it is doing to the aviation sector.
The extensive list of no-go destinations means demand for autumn getaways in Turkey and Italy have risen dramatically amid dwindling options for would-be travellers looking for breaks over the October half-term period.
Both countries remain on the guarantee-free, ‘travel corridor’ list.
Price comparison website Travelsupermarket said demand for holidays in Turkey was up 15 per cent over the last two weeks and up 18 per cent for Italy.
Demand for breaks in Poland is also up by 25 per cent, mainly for city breaks to destinations such as Krakow.
Overall, demand for Greek getaways has plummeted 17 per cent, but it remains high for some islands still on the safe list – up 99 per cent for of Kos, 80 per cent for Rhodes and 46 per cent for Corfu.
Emma Coulthurst, the website’s travel commentator, said: ‘There continues to be definite winners and losers in the outbound holiday market.’
It leaves airlines scrambling to find ways to tempt would-be tourists into travelling amid tumbling turnover.
Ryanair yesterday announced it would offer a ‘buy one, get one free’ flight deal for the first time in its 35-year history. It will apply to trips taken before mid-December on 1,600 routes.
The carrier’s chief Michael O’Leary told Sky News that demand for flights was ‘terrible’.
He said: ‘Into November and December our forward bookings are running at around 10 per cent; that’s about a quarter of where they would normally be at this time of the year.’ The industry wants a Covid-19 testing system rolled out for arrivals to drastically cut the length of the two-week quarantine.
Critics also say the Government’s weekly review system should be scrapped to cut confusion.
They are calling for it to be replaced with a ‘traffic light’ system under which countries would be ranked as ‘green’ for ‘go’, ‘orange’ for ‘wait’ or ‘red’ for ‘stop’.
This would help travellers better decide where’s safe to book.
Ben Bradshaw, the Labour MP for Exeter, told the Mail: ‘Why it’s beyond the competence of ministers to devise a traffic light system, or clearer way of communicating to travellers and the industry I just don’t know.’
Denmark was added to the list after recording a seven day case rate of 65.2 per 100,000 people, with Iceland posting 80.4. Slovakia’s was 25.9.
Recent weeks have seen British tourists have to make a drastic dash back home in order to meet the government’s quarantine deadline from destinations such as France and Greek islands like Crete and Santorini.
Frustrated Brits have blasted the announcements, which have left them with little notice and scrambling to book last-minute flights, often at hugely inflated prices.
Many have also bemoaned the fact they’ve felt safer abroad than they do at home, then been told they need to quarantine due to rising case numbers.
It first emerged earlier this month that ministers were exploring plans to cut the quarantine time for holidaymakers to just five days by testing them 48 hours before they arrive in the UK.
Recent weeks have seen British tourists have to make a drastic dash back home in order to meet the government’s quarantine deadline from destinations such as France and Greek islands like Crete and Santorini
Frustrated Brits have blasted the announcements, which have left them with little notice and scrambling to book last-minute flights, often at hugely inflated prices
Mr Shapps was said to have ‘warmly welcomed’ the proposal which would more than halve the 14-day self-isolation period.
Under plans by industry leaders, tourists and business travellers would undergo a second test five days after landing. If both tests are negative, they could leave quarantine.
This would satisfy experts on the Sage committee of scientific advisers, who say a second test around eight days after the first will pick up the vast majority of cases.
It would also allay Government concerns about the shortage of tests here by putting the onus on other countries to carry out the first tests.
It comes after Ryanair announced it will further reduce its operations due to coronavirus travel restrictions and blamed ‘government mismanagement’ for lack of customer confidence in travel.
The budget airline said its capacity in October will be 40% of 2019 levels, compared with the 50% it previously announced.
The firm said it expects to fill 70% of seats on its planes.
A Ryanair spokesperson said: ‘We are disappointed to reduce our October capacity from 50% of 2019 to 40%.
‘However, as customer confidence is damaged by government mismanagement of Covid travel policies, many Ryanair customers are unable to travel for business or urgent family reasons without being subjected to defective 14-day quarantines.
‘While it is too early yet to make final decisions on our winter schedule (from November to March), if current trends and EU governments’ mismanagement of the return of air travel and normal economic activity continue, then similar capacity cuts may be required across the winter period.’
Meanwhile, Heathrow’s chief executive has warned that the Government’s Covid quarantine policy is ‘strangling’ the UK economy and costing jobs ‘every day’.
The west London airport registered an 82 per cent fall in passenger numbers in August compared to last year, as it repeats its call for Boris Johnson to introduce testing as an alternative to Britain’s 14-day quarantine rule.
Heathrow, which before the Covid-19 pandemic was the busiest airport in Europe, said that North American passenger numbers were down 95 per cent compared to last year as the coronavirus quarantine rule deters long-haul travel.
Just 1.4 million people travelled through the major London airport in August, compared with 7.7 million during the same month in 2019.
A spokesman for Heathrow Airport said this month that Covid-19 has ‘decimated the aviation industry’, caused an ‘unprecedented drop in passenger numbers at Heathrow’, and cost the airport over £1billion since March.
It comes as the coronavirus crisis takes a sledgehammer to the travel industry in its gravest ever crisis, with airlines forced to cut thousands of jobs and slash the number of flights they provide as demand for international travel falls.
John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s boss, has said over 30 airports worldwide are using testing of travellers as a way of reducing quarantine requirements – with one of those, Germany’s Frankfurt, having overtaken Heathrow in passenger numbers.