Passengers from Italy into the UK will have to self-isolate for two weeks from 4am on Sunday after the latest weekly change to the government’s quarantine system.
Italy, San Marino and the Vatican City State were all removed from the so-called “travel corridor list” under which visitors do not need to isolate, following a sharp increase in weekly cases and test positivity in those areas.
Yet Crete was added to the safe list after the Joint Biosecurity Centre decided it posed a lower infection risk, the UK government announced on Thursday.
Countries are typically taken off the list when their level of cases rises above 20 per 100,000 over a two-week average. The UK itself now has an infection rate which is more than eight times higher — at nearly 164 per 100,000.
Many popular destinations have been taken off the safe list as infection rates have begun to rise again since the end of the summer, including France, Holland, Spain, Portugal and Turkey.
Compared with its neighbours, Italy had managed to maintain relatively low infection rate, but numbers have climbed steeply in recent weeks. Daily hospital occupancy has risen from 4,000 to 6,000 in the past seven days. Its 14-day average is 96 cases per 100,000.
“It’s a great shame because it is one of the last Mediterranean countries open for travel. Now most of Europe and the Med is a no-go zone,” said Paul Charles, chief executive of the travel consultancy The PC Agency.
Italy is the fourth most popular destination of UK travellers, with some 3m British holidaymakers visiting the southern European nation each year.
The quarantine, which has been imposed just before the beginning of the UK’s half-term holiday, will hit the higher end of the travel sector hardest as destinations such as Venice, Florence and the Amalfi Coast are typically seen as luxury hotspots.
Crete, a popular package holiday destination, was returned to the safe travel list following other Greek islands such as Zante and Rhodes, which were declared low risk last week.
Since then searches for holidays on Zante and Santorini have shot up by more than 900 per cent, according to data from the travel booking website TravelSupermarket, as UK tourists seek last-minute breaks.
The penalty for breaching the self-isolation rule when returning from non-exempt countries is now £1,000 for a first offence, and up to £10,000 for subsequent breaches.