Oliver Dowden has said people should continue to book holidays this summer to countries on the government’s airbridge agreement list, but warned they need to be aware of the risk “that quarantine could be imposed”.
The culture secretary also claimed there is currently no “viable” alternative to the mandatory 14-day self-isolation period for travellers entering the UK from destinations where the government advises against all but essential travel.
“As long as people are aware of the risk they should continue to book holidays,” he told the BBC. “But just bear in mind that this may happen, and sadly it has happened in Spain.”
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His comments come as Heathrow’s chief executive urged the government to stop imposing “quarantine roulette” and called for ministers to introduce passenger testing. Reports have also suggested the period of self-isolation could be reduced to 10 days.
As Britain’s busiest airport announced it lost on an average of £2.6m per day in the first six months of the year, due to abrupt halt in passenger traffic during the coronavirus lockdown, John Holland-Kaye argued testing “offers a way to safely open up travel”.
After the surprise decision to impose a blanket quarantine policy to Spain – including the Balearics and Canary Islands – at midnight on Saturday, due to a spike in infections in some regions, the cabinet minister said the government was keeping all options under review to minimise disruption.
According to The Times, the government is closely studying cases of Covid-19 in countries such as Belgium, Luxembourg and Croatia, as the prime minister warned on Tuesday: “Among some of our European friends, I’m afraid you are starting to see in some places the signs of a second wave of the pandemic.”
As it stands, all passengers entering the UK from countries not listed on the government’s safe flight list must self-isolate for a 14-day period. Authorities have the powers to undertake spot checks at travellers’ residences and impose fines of up to £1,000 for those who flout the rules.
Pressed on whether the government was considering alternatives to the two-week quarantine –previously described by Labour as a “blunt” mechanism – Mr Dowden said: “Of course we keep all options under review and we want to minimise the disruption for travellers”.
But he also warned that it was “not quite as simple as testing” passengers who arrive in the UK due to incubation period of the coronavirus.
“There’s still a risk of spread,” he said. “That’s why our advice continues to be to avoid all but essential travel to Spain and other countries we designate in that way and to ensure that people quarantine for 14 days. That’s the best way to stop the spread.”
Quizzed again, Mr Dowden said: “If we could avoid imposing quarantine in a way that it was safe to do so then of course we do so that’s why we keep it under review.
“Of course we continue to look at all alternatives but we are not at the point where there is a viable alternative to the 14-day quarantine. There is a real risk here the virus is spreading around the world, it’s rising rapidly around the world. We need to ensure the measures we’ve taken in the UK, which have been very difficult to keep this virus under control do not go to waste because we allow cases to come in from elsewhere that’s why we’ve taken this decision.”