An estimated 20,000 Britons in Croatia are scrambling to get home with just hours before the new 14-day quarantine rules come into effect at 4am tomorrow.
The cheapest direct flight from Zagreb to Heathrow today was £286 on British Airways, while a Croatia Airlines flight between the two airports was £496.
The cheapest flight with a change that would get back before 4am tomorrow is £230 with Eurowings, via Stuttgart. There are also KLM flights via Amsterdam, but this would involve quarantining – with the Netherlands already off the air bridges list.
A British mother holidaying in Croatia said today she would not cut short her trip despite the new quarantine forcing her son to miss his first week of school.
Jennie Dock’s 11-year-old son Cass Robertson-Dock will be in self-isolation when his new school starts back, after Croatia was removed from the UK’s list of air bridges.
But Ms Dock, who is on holiday with friend Elle Mitchell, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘We’re both lucky in that we can both work from home, both work remotely.
‘Cass was year six last year, so he did manage to get in for around six weeks or so at the end, which he really enjoyed. So, yeah, it’s unfortunate he’s going to miss the first week, but he’s a bright boy and he’ll catch up, I’m not worried about it.’
Cass said of starting secondary school: ‘I’ve been looking forward to it.’ It comes as:
- Holidaymakers who go to Portugal will no longer have to self-isolate when they return to Britain after it was removed from the Government’s quarantine list;
- Croatia’s Covid case total over seven days – a metric closely watched by Downing Street – has risen to 27.4 per 100,000 people;
- France, Germany and Italy all saw their biggest daily increase in cases since spring this week, adding to fears of a second wave;
- Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also said the issue of whether testing for coronavirus could be implemented in airports is ‘under active review’.
People wait for planes at Split Airport in Croatia yesterday as they try to get home quickly
Travel expert Simon Calder told Good Morning Britain that prices for flights from Croatia to Britain are now ‘going through the roof’ as people scramble to get home.
British Airways has laid on an extra flight from Zagreb to London Heathrow with seats costing £275.
This is more than six times higher than the BA equivalent flight on the Friday four weeks from now, which currently costs only £42. An equivalent flight on the Friday two weeks from now is only £45.
Mr Calder urged people looking at flights with changes to avoid going via Paris or Amsterdam because they would also then have to quarantine.
But holidaymakers who go to Portugal will no longer have to self-isolate when they return to Britain after it was removed from the Government’s quarantine list.
Croatia, Austria and Trinidad and Tobago were added to the ‘red’ list due to rising numbers of Covid cases.
Croatia’s total over seven days – a metric closely watched by Downing Street – has risen to 27.4 per 100,000 people.
Britons who arrive back in the UK after the 4am deadline will have to spend 14 days under stricter measures than many faced in lockdown, as they are not even allowed to go outside for exercise or food shopping.
Croatia’s ambassador to the UK has said it is ‘a regret’ that the UK Government did not implement regional quarantine rules rather than removing the entire country from its quarantine exemption list.
Igor Pokaz told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘What we are trying to do in our constant dialogue with the British Government on this particular measure of quarantine is to somehow see whether it would be possible, something that other countries do, to have a more nuanced approach.
‘So we regret that it was not possible for the UK Government to consider a regional approach, because in Croatia we have, as I said, witnessed these spikes in certain areas – for example in Zagreb in the capital and maybe among the young population.
‘But in Dubrovnik, its surroundings and the islands there were very, very few cases. And I deliberately mention Dubrovnik and the islands as that is where most of the British tourists go.
‘And Dubrovnik has its own international airport and is naturally secluded from the rest of the country.
‘Germany, as I said, has introduced this model, and has introduced measures for only two of the Croatian counties and we have 20 counties in Croatia.’
Air passengers are seen at Split Airport yesterday as the UK removed Croatia from the list of ‘safe countries’ to travel due to rising number of cases throughout the country
Liam and Jodie, a couple from Keighley, West Yorkshire, paid around £800 to travel home from northern Croatia via Munich in order to beat the quarantine deadline, after finding it impossible to book a direct flight in time.
‘There wasn’t an alternative. There are no flights from Pula to the UK on Fridays, only a flight from Zagreb to London runs but obviously that was fully booked,’ Liam said.
‘The only (other) flights available were with stops in Spain through Ryanair but then we would have to quarantine anyway,’ he added.
Liam, a mechanical assembly engineer, said he had started a new job recently so ‘didn’t want to miss another two weeks’ work’.
He added that the pair had tried to make the most of their trip despite ‘the distraction of not knowing what’s going to happen’, and were treating their visit to Munich as a ‘city break we got as an extra’.
Graham Lloyd-Bennett and his wife Karla said they had been tracking the local coronavirus data closely while in Croatia to visit her family, making speedy plans to exit once it appeared likely it would be added to the exemption list.
‘I came back on (August) 10 because I suspected Croatia may go into the red list and I couldn’t afford to quarantine due to work, so changed my flight earlier.’
He added that they had also rearranged his wife’s flight on Monday in order to meet the anticipated deadline of 4am on Saturday, having seen the same imposed last week on travellers from France and a number of other countries.
‘We have been monitoring (the) situation daily and decided to move her flight also earlier by a week to today to avoid quarantine also.
‘When we decided to fly out to Croatia we were aware there could be changes.
‘I can’t see why people complain as it is a personal decision to travel in these times. Of course it is annoying and stressful but it has to be done.’
Portugal has been given a clean bill of health, however, following months on the quarantine list.
Its number of cases over seven days is now 14.6 per 100,000 people. It remains above Greece, on 14.3, and the UK on 11.2.
The Government’s quarantine threshold is said to be 20.
Yesterday’s changes mean thousands of families could now enjoy a last-minute summer holiday in the Algarve, Lisbon or Porto before pupils return to school next month.
There are 719 flights between the UK and Portugal with a total seat capacity of nearly 128,000, according to aviation data analysts Cirium.
Holidaymakers queue up at Split Airport in Croatia today to check in for their flights home
Despite the easing of some restrictions, industry leaders warned of dark times ahead.
Christopher Snelling of the Airport Operators’ Association said: ‘The removal of the quarantine for Portugal is welcome, but the re-introduction of blanket quarantine measures to a further tranche of nations reinforces the significant and continuing challenge facing the aviation industry.
‘Our airports are facing pressures that were unimaginable six months ago and the Government must work urgently with the industry to introduce regional travel corridors to low-risk areas and agree financial measures that support our airports, who have already lost over £2billion since the start of the pandemic.’
The addition of more holiday hotspots to the red list will also pile pressure on ministers to back virus testing at airports to cut down on the need to self-isolate.
Heathrow this week unveiled a multimillion-pound Covid-19 detection area which is capable of testing thousands of arrivals.
However, the facility cannot be used until ministers endorse airport testing as a viable alternative to a blanket 14-day quarantine.
Heathrow chief John Holland-Kaye warned the travel sector – and wider economy – would enter ‘terminal decline’ unless the Government changes its approach.
Yesterday’s update means the Foreign Office now advises against all but essential travel to Croatia, Trinidad and Tobago and Austria.
The changes followed a meeting with the UK’s devolved administrations which saw Scotland adding Switzerland to its own quarantine list.
The country is currently on 18.1 cases per 100,000 people, meaning travellers from England and Wales may soon be ordered to self-isolate if the figure keeps rising.
France, Germany and Italy all saw their biggest daily increase in cases since spring this week, adding to fears of a second wave.
The Government has pledged to take ‘decisive action’ to contain coronavirus, including the rapid removal of countries from its list of so-called ‘air bridges’.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter yesterday: ‘Please be aware that things can change quickly. Only travel if you are content to unexpectedly 14-day quarantine if required… I speak from experience!’
Spain was added to the red list a day after Mr Shapps flew there for a family holiday last month – prompting him to fly home early to beat the quarantine cut-off.
Today, insisting that quarantine checks are being made, Mr Shapps said his wife received a phone call ‘randomly’ from Border Force after returning from their family holiday.
‘I know other people who’ve had the same calls,’ the Transport Secretary told BBC Breakfast.
Asked if anyone has been fined yet, he said ‘yes’ but was not able to provide figures.
Pressed on why he was unable to give detail on the data, he said: ‘Because in this country we allow the authorities to get on with their job and they release the information, not ministers, that’s why.’
Mr Shapps said it is important for people to realise that they can end up with a criminal record by not doing the right thing.
Mr Shapps also said the issue of whether testing for coronavirus could be implemented in airports is ‘under active review’.
Discussing whether there is no possibility of testing at airports, the Transport Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘That’s not right. I spoke to John Holland-Kaye, who’s the individual you’re talking about, the boss of Heathrow, this week.
‘That is not what I’m saying to him at all and we’re working closely with him and other airports on potential measures.’
Mr Shapps said suggestions that airport testing could halve an individual’s quarantine time are not necessarily true, adding: ‘But we do review these things constantly and every month we review the month that we’re taking to quarantining, so these things are under active review.
‘It’s just that I don’t want to sort of bottle false hope by saying it’s just as simple as test at the airport … I often hear this: ‘Why you don’t you just test at the airport, be done with it?’ The answer is because it won’t tell you what you need to know.’
He added that testing at airports would not work ‘on its own’ and that airport bosses ‘accept that as well’.
Mr Shapps also ruled out introducing regional quarantine travel rules to avoid blanket bans on entire countries, saying it ‘just isn’t practical’.