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Friday, 3 July 2020

Summer Holidays Are Thrown Into Chaos As UK Government Finally Unveils List Of More Than 60 Quarantine-Free Countries

Grant Shapps will FINALLY unveil 'safe' countries for holidays TODAY
Summer holidays have been thrown into chaos yet again after the government unveiled a list of more than 60 quarantine-exempt countries which included Greece but not Portugal.

Sun-hungry Britons can travel to 73 destinations with no mandatory quarantine from July 10 - including France, Italy, Spain, Germany, New Zealand, Malta and Barbados.

Confusingly Greece made the list, despite Transport Secretary Grant Shapps suggesting only this morning that it would be missed off as it has declared arrivals from the UK will be ordered to self-isolate. 

But Portugal has been left out - as have the US, China, Thailand and the Maldives.


While some summer holidaymakers have been forced to cancel their upcoming trips - many say they will visit Portugal anyway as the country's foreign minister slams its exemption as 'nothing more than an absurdity'. 

Foreign minister Agusto Santos Silva told Portuguese media: 'It it is absurd for a country like the United Kingdom which has seven times more cases than Portugal and 28 times more Covid-19 related deaths than we do to impose quarantine on the return of passengers from Portugal.


'It would be nothing more than an absurdity if it didn't have real consequences.'
Insisting Portugal was safe for British holidaymakers and expats, he added: 'This is a shock because of the long-standing relationship between the UK and Portugal. This is not how allies should behave.'
Britons also took to social media to slam the decision, with many defiant holidaymakers saying they will go on holiday anyway.
Hilary Butler said: 'Absolutely gutted. Why not Portugal? There are lots of countries on that list have a higher infection rate than them.
'And Greece? They won’t even have us until July 15th, unless you're the PM’s father. Disgusted! And I won't be voting for you again.'
J Walker wrote: 'How do you justify banning Portugal when you have 28 times more deaths, Leicester is on lockdown and 36 other cities are at high risk yet you allow travel to Greece when they don't want you? Shambolic and more dithering.'
Greece previously said it will not be reciprocating quarantine-free travel until July 15, when it will review its rules.
The Prime Minister's father Stanley Johnson this week broke pandemic travel warnings currently in place by flying to Greece via Bulgaria.
MPs said the incident 'stinks of one rule for them and another rule for the rest of us' and claimed it echoed No 10 aide Dominic Cummings' infamous lockdown trip to Barnard Castle.  
The travel overhaul will only apply to England for the time being, as Nicola Sturgeon has refused to sign up to the arrangements branding them 'shambolic'.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) published a separate list of 67 countries and territories which will be exempt from its advisory against all non-essential travel from Saturday, making it easier for UK tourists to be covered by travel insurance while visiting.
Although the FCO included most of the places on the Department for Transport's list of 73 countries, among those missing are Fiji, Mauritius and the Seychelles.
There are also some destinations which the FCO listed but the DfT did not, such as Canada, Estonia, Malaysia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Singapore and the Portuguese regions of the Azores and Madeira.
Some of the countries on either or both lists continue to place restrictions on UK holidaymakers, including Canada and New Zealand.
Meanwhile, Mr Shapps is facing Tory anxiety over the idea of introducing mass screening systems at airports from later this month.
MPs warned there is a danger the move, which Mr Shapps has said is being 'actively' considered, could make matters worse if it causes delays, given that 80million passengers a year usually go through Heathrow alone. 
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is reworking its advice against 'non-essential' travel, with the new guidance in force from July 4.
However the measures exempting travellers from quarantine will not be in place until July 10. The details published by the government this afternoon said: 'This list may be added to over the coming days following further discussions between the UK and international partners.'
The majority of passengers will still have to provide contact details when they arrive in England. 
The countries are expected to be split into a 'traffic light' system, with unconditional 'green' ratings for those with very low coronavirus rates, such as New Zealand. 
Other such as France have been classed as 'amber', with reciprocal agreements for travel. 
The US has been classed as 'red' due to soaring cases, meaning travellers will still face quarantine.
Those who have been through countries still on the quarantine list in the past 14 days will still have to self-isolate for two weeks.
Mr Shapps said much of the list was 'common sense' - but confirmed there will not be pacts in place for the 'green' rated countries, meaning there is no guarantee Britons will not face restrictions. 
Blaming the splits for repeated delays in publishing the material, Mr Shapps said he 'suspected' Scotland would fall into line soon, but for now the proposals only applied to England.  
He said: 'There will be a list of 50-plus countries. If you add in the overseas territories (there will be) 60-something-or-other that will be announced later today.
'France, Germany, Italy and Spain will be on that list. It is really important that we have done this in a very careful and cautious way. The most important thing is to maintain the gains that we have had.'
Explaining the system, Mr Shapps said: 'We have countries in the green category where there are very low occurrences (of coronavirus), and then countries in the amber group. 
'They would include France, Germany, Spain and quite a number of others.' 
Mr Shapps said: 'The countries on the (overall) list mean that when you arrive there you won't have restrictions. Unless they are on the green list, those are the countries with very low incidence. 
'We thought it was right to include them. 
'I take New Zealand as a good example, they do have restrictions when you arrive, but we thought it was right to include them because people may want to come here from New Zealand and that's no particular threat to our hard-won gains. 
'But on the middle countries, those ones are places where we have reciprocal arrangements in place that if you go there or if you come here, the arrangements are the same both ways round. 
'In other words. You do not have to quarantine.' 
People who are already in quarantine following their return to England will no longer need to self-isolate from July 10, Mr Shapps said. 
'It's very important to stress the quarantine does exist until July 10,' Mr Shapps said. 
The list of countries that will be exempt from quarantine measures includes overseas territories such as the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar. 
Passengers arriving in the UK will still need to fill out a 'locator form', Mr Shapps said. 
'That asks where you've been and where you're coming back to,' he said. 'It is a criminal offence not to complete that form accurately and there are quite substantial fines.' 
However, Mr Shapps confirmed that quarantine rules will not be lifted next week for travellers arriving from the US or Greece. 
'The US, from a very early stage, banned flights from the UK and from Europe so there isn't a reciprocal arrangement in place in any case there,' he said. 
'They have got very high numbers of infections, which is why they are not on the list today. 
'Greece won't be on the list in the first place because Greece have said that on July 15 that's their next review of their own systems. 
'Reciprocity can't come before July 15 for Greece and that is a matter for Greece themselves.' 
Ms Sturgeon today attacked the UK Government's 'shambolic' plans to exempt a swathe of countries from quarantine travel restrictions as she insisted Scotland will not be 'dragged' into making changes.
She said the UK Government had failed to adequately consult the devolved administrations on the plans as she claimed the list of proposed safe countries had constantly changed.
Ms Sturgeon said she will 'take time to properly and rationally consider' any changes as she warned there could well be differences between Scotland's and England's quarantine exemptions lists.
That would mean that anyone who flies into an English airport from a country not on Scotland's safe list would still be required to self-isolate if they then travelled north of the border.
She told her daily coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh: 'We have often had limited or no notice of the UK's proposals and that matters because some of the judgements involved here are difficult and complex.
'Just to illustrate the point about the shifting sands of the UK Government's position, the list of countries that they were yesterday demanding that the Scottish Government signed up to and suggesting that we were a barrier to getting agreement on is not the same as the list that they have shared with us today.
'So we need as the Scottish Government to analyse these proposals properly and rationally.
'We need to do that obviously from a public health perspective but we also need to do that from a legal perspective.'
She added: 'When so much is at stake as it is right now, we can't allow ourselves to be dragged along in the wake of another government's, to be quite frank about, shambolic decision making process.
'We will take time to properly and rationally consider this before hopefully very soon setting out our own decision.'
Ms Sturgeon said it is 'very likely' that the Scottish Government will agree to lifting quarantine on low risk countries but that medium risk countries would need to be carefully considered.
The Scottish First Minister said she will aim to 'maximise alignment' between Scotland and England's quarantine exemptions lists but that if there are differences people will still be expected to self-isolate north of the border.
She said: 'If there ends up being a different list of countries that are able to come into England without quarantine from the list that the Scottish Government agrees, it will not be the case that somebody can fly into England, to an airport in England, and come to Scotland without quarantine. 
'The quarantine regulations in Scotland will mean that if you come from an international country and come back to Scotland even if you are coming through England, you will still have that requirement to quarantine in Scotland.'
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford also voiced frustration. 'Dealing with the UK government over the last few days has been an utterly shambolic experience,' he told his daily briefing. 
'If ever there was an example of making an announcement first and then trying to work out what you meant by it, that is what we have seen since this announcement was first trailed.
'Day after day we have attempted to get a sensible answer from the UK government of how they intend to make these changes, which countries they intend to extend the new arrangements to and I just have to say it's been an impossible experience to follow.'
Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he was working with airports to develop 'systems that could be used to test in various different ways'. 
Airport services providers Swissport and Collinson Group have announced trials of coronavirus swab tests in the UK.
Temperature screening is also being tried out at Heathrow.
Mr Shapps told the Commons yesterday there would be more announcements by the middle of the month.
'I am in touch with Swissport and following those trials and proposals very closely indeed,' he said.
'We do believe it is important to provide international standards and that may well include specific types of testing.'
But veteran Tory MP Sir Roger Gale said there was a danger mass screening at airports could make things worse by causing delays. 
'There is no point supporting something that is not going to work. If it can be made to work it is highly desirable, both outgoing and incoming,' he told MailOnline.
'But is it practical? What we don't want is to create massive log jams, people bunching up together. 
'We might not be offering a cure, we might be creating a problem.'
He added: 'What we don't want is for people to be to be delayed by half an hour three quarters of an hour because there is a queue for testing. All that will happen is people will bunch up and you will spread disease.' 
Commons Transport Committee chair Huw Merriman welcomed the 'risk-based' approach to border controls and said the quarantine loosening would help 'restore confidence'.
'The aviation sector, tourism industry and UK economy will be relieved by this news and we welcome it,' he said.
'To minimise the risk to both passengers and workers from Covid-19, the UK Government now needs to champion the development and implementation of global health standards. 
'The UK has led the world in the creation of aviation safety and we should do likewise in the creation of a universal health standard to keep us all safe.'
The decision to press ahead without the rest of the UK raises the prospect that Ms Sturgeon could follow through on her threat to impose quarantines on people arriving from England.
It has emerged that just three people have been fined since the controversial quarantine policy - blamed for crippling hopes of a tourism revival - was brought in last month.
Ministers agreed a new 'traffic light' system last week that would pave the way for the creation of so-called 'international travel corridors' designed to allow travellers to visit certain countries this summer without the need to quarantine at either end.
Ministers had originally planned to negotiate bilateral 'air bridges' with a limited number of countries. 
Under pressure from the travel industry and fears of legal action, this was then widened significantly.
Amid a bitter blame game between London and Edinburgh, Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg accused Ms Sturgeon yesterday of acting like Donald Trump wanting to 'build a wall' after she refused to rule out 14-day quarantines on arrivals from England.
Ministers have spent days trying to agree a UK-wide approach. Privately they accuse Miss Sturgeon of playing politics with the issue in order to fuel nationalist sentiment north of the border.

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