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England publishes list of countries travellers can go to without being quarantined on return


Downing Street is facing accusations that its handling of the so-called air bridges scheme has been “shambolic” as it finally unveiled a long-awaited list of at least 59 locations English holidaymakers will be able visit without having to quarantine for a fortnight on their return.

After a week of delays and obfuscation, the Department for Transport (DfT) finally announced that from the 10 July passengers arriving from a host of popular tourist destinations – including France, Spain, Germany, Italy and Greece – would be among those exempt from quarantine rules that had imposed to combat Covid-19.

But in a sign of the apparent chaotic scrambling behind the scenes, the list was released on Friday afternoon without the promised “traffic light” system breakdown of countries – indicating those at low or medium risk – which had been trailed by the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, only hours earlier in interviews.

The 14 British overseas territories will also be exempt from quarantine requirements, meaning there are 73 countries or territories in total on the exemption list, with more being added to in the coming days. In addition, the DfT said Ireland was already exempt as it is part of the common travel area, as are the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

UK residents made 18.1m visits to Spain in 2019

Other locations on the list include Barbados, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and Vietnam. The US, which is grappling with a series of severe Covid-19 outbreaks, as well as Portugal, China and Thailand are not included meaning quarantine exemptions do not apply.

Shapps has pointed the finger of blame at Holyrood for delays in the announcement, which had been expected earlier this week. But on Friday, Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, issued a broadside against No 10’s approach, calling its decision-making “shambolic”. Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford used the same word to condemn Downing Street over the plans. Scotland and other devolved nations not joining the scheme and are instead due to set out their own plans.

The UK shadow transport secretary, Jim McMahon, joined in the criticism, adding: “Labour – like families and businesses up and down the country – are keen for the government’s quarantine measures to be lessened, but this a mess.

“First, we had the quarantine that they were slow to implement, then they said they’d do air bridges. Now we see a plan to let residents of 60 or more countries into England without any reciprocal arrangements. The fact they have been unable to negotiate air bridges is an indictment of their failure to tackle the crisis at home.”

A Westminster government source hit back, saying the reason the announcement arrived on Friday despite days of expectation was the sheer complexity of the policy. “You’ve got ministers with different priorities and six departments involved but there’s been no war about it. It’s just trying to coordinate it. People forget – this has not happened before, this is unprecedented,” they said.

Responding to the accusation that the government’s decision-making had been shambolic, the source added: “It’s about whether the job gets done and can people now book a holiday? Yes, they can.”

Under a “traffic light” system, Shapps indicated the list would be split into “amber” countries – including most major European countries – which have medium risk of coronavirus infections. Amber-rated countries are likely to have reciprocal arrangements in place, meaning English travellers need not quarantine on arrival or return.

There were 2.2m visits to Turkey by UK residents in 2019, making it the most popular non-EU country on the ‘air bridge’ list

English travellers arriving in “green” countries, which have low levels of infection, such as New Zealand, may still face quarantine restrictions upon arrival but not when they return home. Upon publishing the list of countries and territories included in the scheme, the DfT did not provide a breakdown for which countries are in the green or amber categories. The department could not immediately clarify when the breakdown would be provided.

Ministers are hoping to revitalise the UK’s ailing tourism and airline industries, which have been crippled by the coronavirus pandemic. On Saturday, the Foreign Office is changing its advice against all but essential overseas travel, exempting 67 countries and territories. The move coincides with the relaxation of lockdown measures across England, which will allow pubs, restaurants and hairdressers to open their doors for the first time in three months.

From 10 July, people arriving in England from 27 countries in Europe will not have to self-quarantine for 14 days …

The Foreign Office (FCO) list included most of those on DfT’s list, but Fiji, Mauritius and the Seychelles did not appear. The Foreign Office list also included some locations not on DfT’s, such as Canada, Estonia, Malaysia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Singapore and the Portuguese regions of the Azores and Madeira.

In controversial rules imposed on 8 June, travellers returning to England have been forced to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Shapps had hoped to announce the list of countries in the air bridge scheme earlier this week, but he suggested that negotiations with devolved administrations had caused delays.

Speaking at the Scottish government’s coronavirus briefing on Friday, Sturgeon said: “When so much is at stake, we can’t allow ourselves to be dragged along in the wake of, to be quite frank about it, another government’s shambolic decision process.


“We want to welcome visitors again from around the world and we also want to allow our own citizens to travel. We also want, if possible, for obvious practical reasons, to have alignment on these matters with the rest of the UK.”

Sturgeon, who indicated it was “very likely” her government would agree to lift Scotland’s quarantine for travellers arriving from low-risk countries on the air-bridge list in the coming days, added: “Just to illustrate the point on the shifting sands of the UK government’s position, the list of countries that they were yesterday demanding that the Scottish government sign up to, and suggesting we were a barrier to getting an agreement on, is not the same as the list they have shared with us today.”

Drakeford described dealing with Westminster in recent days as an “utterly shambolic experience”. “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 in the press,” he said.

“And day after day we have attempted to get a sensible answer from the UK government on how they intend to make these changes, which countries they intend to extend the arrangements to, and I have to say it’s been an impossible experience to follow.”

In forming its list of countries, the DfT has said risk assessments were carried out by the Joint Biosecurity Centre in consultation with Public Health England and the chief medical officer, taking account of the Covid-19 rates in each country. The approved destinations pose “a reduced risk to the public health of UK citizens” but the list will be kept “under constant review”, according to the DfT.

People travelling to England from outside countries on the approved list will still have to isolate for a fortnight.

Small and independent travel agents hope that the lifting of quarantine rules in some countries will prompt people in England to start making bookings again, but said they were exercising caution.



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