Travellers entering England from seven Greek islands will be forced to self-isolate for 14 days as the government unveiled a regional approach to its coronavirus quarantine system.
Grant Shapps, transport secretary, announced on Monday that the government was overhauling the system under which, until now, entire countries had been taken off or added to the list every week.
Visitors will have to self-isolate from Wednesday morning if coming in from Lesvos, Tinos, Serifos, Mykonos, Crete, Santorini and Zakynthos — but not from anywhere else in Greece.
The move follows the decision by the Welsh government last week to impose quarantine on people arriving from six Greek islands.
Britain’s quarantine system, which was introduced in early June, has been criticised by airlines and travel companies which want the government to shift towards a testing system. Countries taken off the safe list this summer include France, Croatia, Jamaica and Switzerland.
Downing Street is reluctant to drop the system — which is popular with the general public — but Mr Shapps is floating the idea of a two-test programme at airports which would cut quarantine from 14 days to seven. Similar systems are being used in about 30 other countries.
On Monday the transport secretary told MPs he had charged officials with drawing up a testing system that would cut the quarantine period without compromising public health or reducing the availability of tests in the NHS.
A spokesman for Heathrow airport welcomed his Commons statement, saying: “We welcome the transport secretary’s announcement that testing to shorten quarantine is now under active consideration by the government and that air bridges to islands will now be instated where appropriate.”
ABTA, the tourism industry association, welcomed the new approach but called for a more co-ordinated approach from different governments within the UK “to prevent avoidable confusion”.
Mr Shapps said the new system, made possible through the use of enhanced data, would be able to “pinpoint” risk in some of the most popular tourist islands — helping the travel industry while protecting the public.
But he said the new approach would only apply to islands rather than regions within one particular nation state.
“There is too much movement between high risk and lower risk regions within single countries and regional health information is not sufficiently reliable,” he said. “However, when a region has natural boundaries — like an island — the risks reduce.”
That means that those pushing for travel corridors between cities, such as London and New York, have been left disappointed.
The British government has been under pressure to change tack after the Welsh administration imposed restrictions last week. The Scottish government had earlier put the whole of Greece on its quarantine list.
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Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, welcomed the new approach.
“Regional corridors are vital to keep travel and tourism alive and well, and I hope it removes the confusion of different UK governments pursuing different approaches to individual countries,” he said.
“It’s sad news for the Greek islands who can’t yet open up but I hope this policy provides impetus for them to get their cases under control.”