England is facing pressure to reconsider quarantine rules for Greece after Scotland and Wales introduced new measures over concerns about rising coronavirus cases.
The Scottish Government announced on Tuesday evening that travellers from Greece would have to self-isolate for 14 days from Thursday, while Wales also began asking arrivals from the island of Zante to begin the period of quarantine.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said no change to its rules for England had been made, but Wales’ health minister Vaughan Gething said he would be pressing the UK Government for an urgent meeting to consider the potential risk in Greece.
The move came as holidaymakers scrambled to return from Portugal amid growing concerns restrictions could be reimposed to arrivals from there.
Restrictions for Greece were lifted in England in July when international exemptions were first permitted.
There were 14.0 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in Greece in the seven days to August 31, down from 14.9 a week earlier.
A seven-day rate of 20 is the threshold above which the UK Government considers triggering quarantine conditions.
Scottish Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf, announcing the restriction, said the “importations of new cases from Greece is a significant risk to public health”.
Travellers from Greece will be required to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival in Scotland from 4am Thurs morning (3 Sept). This is due to significant rise in cases of COVID-19 imported into Scotland by people who have been to Greece. Decision made in interest of public health.— Humza Yousaf (@HumzaYousaf) September 1, 2020
He said “regular discussions continue” with the other three UK governments over restrictions.
Mr Gething said six clusters amounting to more than 30 cases of Covid-19 in the last week had come from four flights, two of which landed in England.
“There are concerns from our public health teams that the current advice and control measures for returning travellers are insufficient,” he said.
He said that all passengers on a flight from Zante to Cardiff on Tuesday night would be told to quarantine and would be given two Covid-19 tests, one within 48 hours and another eight days after their return.
“In addition, I have pressed for an early meeting with the UK Government and devolved nations tomorrow (Wednesday) to consider the latest assessment of risk by the Joint Biosecurity Centre,” he said.
“There is an obvious need for us to consider the potential for changes to the regulations in Wales which would require travellers arriving in the UK from Greece and possibly elsewhere to self-isolate on their return.”
Tour operator Tui later said it would no longer be offering holidays to the resort of Laganas on Zante from Thursday.
Greece’s tourism minister, Harry Theoharis, insisted the country is doing “everything in our power to ensure that every person that comes from the UK is kept safe”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’re taking specific targeted measures where we see specific concentrations of cases. Measures that have been successful and have been working in the past few days.”
He added that Greece has “a much lower number of infections compared to most other countries in Europe”.
The Joint Biosecurity Centre was yet to change the risk rating for Greece but the data for the nation, like all others, was being kept under constant review.
Rising cases in Portugal are prompting many tourists to pay hundreds of pounds to fly home before Saturday.
In recent weeks the DfT has announced changes to its quarantine exemption list on Thursday nights, with the new rules being imposed on Saturdays at 4am.
Airlines are operating additional flights from Portugal to the UK on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in response to the high demand.
There were 22.3 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in Portugal in the seven days to August 31, up from 14.5 a week earlier, according to figures calculated by the PA news agency based on data collected by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
The travel editor at consumer group Which? criticised the quarantine response as provoking confusion and damaging the travel industry.
Rory Boland said: “Yet again haphazard announcements and rumours around quarantine have sparked chaos and confusion for holidaymakers, with many facing an unenviable choice between paying extortionate prices for last-minute flights home or the disruption caused by two weeks in isolation on their return.”