The transport secretary has accused Scotland of “jumping the gun” by imposing quarantine restrictions on arrivals from Greece, and admitted the different rules around the UK create confusion for holidaymakers.
As ministers in Westminster came under further pressure over England’s travel policy, Grant Shapps said it would be “far preferable” for the UK to take a coordinated approach on such measures.
He accused the Scottish and Welsh governments of either ignoring or missing evidence from the UK’s joint biosecurity centre before they introduced isolation measures on arrivals from Greece and Portugal this week.
Both countries are imposing 14 days of isolation on arrivals from Portugal. Scotland is also including Greece on its quarantine list, while Wales added seven Greek islands. Passengers returning from those countries to England do not face any restrictions.
Shapps said England decided against new quarantine measures for Portugal because the country’s proportion of people testing positive after being tested had fallen, according to the most recent data.
He said Vaughan Gething, the Welsh health minister, appeared to have based the decision on Portugal’s infection rate of 23 cases per 100,000 people, which is above the threshold of 20, the point at which the UK government generally considers triggering quarantine conditions.
However, Shapps said Gething “had not perhaps noticed or seen – because we didn’t end up in the same meeting – a second figure within that, which is the number of cases which test positive [out of those being tested], which is really, really important because clearly what we don’t want to do is exclude countries for doing the right thing and carrying out a lot of tests”.
Earlier, Gething said he had looked at data from the joint biosecurity centre but was concerned that the number of cases in Portugal was was even before an increase in testing.
Shapps also criticised Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to introduce a 14-day quarantine on passengers arriving into Scotland from Greece.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The Scots decided, without using the joint biosecurity centre data for this particular decision, that the people from Greece would be excluded and sort of jumped the gun on that. It is their right to do it but it doesn’t make the overall message any clearer.”
The UK transport secretary also defended the government’s decision not to introduce testing at airports, amid warnings from the airline industry that quarantines are killing the travel industry. Derek Provan, the chief executive of AGS, the company that runs Southampton, Aberdeen and Glasgow airports, told the BBC that ministers were “overseeing the demise of UK aviation”.
But Shapps said airport testing was not a “silver bullet solution” to removing the quarantine period. He said testing on landing was “unlikely to find the vast majority of people who have travelled with coronavirus and are asymptomatic”.
He added: “I hear the calls from the airports and I spoke last night to John Holland-Kaye who’s the boss of Heathrow airport and many others, it’s not that we’re ignoring the great work they’re doing on trialling tests.
“But I’ve spoken to my opposite number, for example my French opposite number. They did put testing in but of course realised it isn’t actually the silver bullet solution to this. What you’ve got to be able to do is test further down the line with a period of quarantine as well.”
Paul Charles, the chief executive of travel consultancy the PC Agency, said: “The quarantine policy is in tatters and dividing the United Kingdom. Consumers are totally confused by the different approaches and it’s impossible to understand the government’s own criteria any more on when to add or remove a country.”