British tourist in coronavirus-hit Italian region criticises health secretary's 'ridiculous' travel advice

Will Taylor
News Reporter
Damien has said he is frustrated over Matt Hancock seemingly going against Foreign Office travel advice.

A British traveller has accused the health secretary of making “ridiculous” comments about travelling to coronavirus-hit northern Italy.

Damien Hellewell, 36, from Cleckheaton in West Yorkshire, travelled to the country with his Italian girlfriend on Saturday to visit her relatives.

The Foreign Office’s travel website tells visitors the Italian government has locked down 10 towns in the north of the country but does not recommend against travel, instead directing potential tourists to a travel advice website.

But today, when repeatedly asked on Sky News if he would be happy to travel to northern Italy, health secretary Matt Hancock said: “Certainly southern Italy is perfectly reasonable to travel to.

“I’m not planning on (going to northern Italy) - put it that way.

“We haven’t changed the official government travel advice but I’m not planning on going.”

That led Hellewell, who is in Modena in the Emilia-Romagna region, to criticise the health secretary’s remarks – which he interpreted as suggesting Hancock was unwilling to go to the north of Italy because of coronavirus fears.

Emilia-Romagna has been affected by coronavirus but Modena is not under lockdown.

Matt Hancock told Sky he was not planning to visit northern Italy, though he added that the south was "perfectly reasonable" to go to (PA)

“I think it’s ridiculous that a member of the cabinet can say he wouldn’t go to the north of Italy when the official advice is it’s fine,” he told Yahoo News UK.

“Surely they have to be speaking with one voice on this, either it’s fine or it’s not.

“If he’s the health secretary he should be the one most knowledgeable of what’s happening, he should be dictating what that advice is.

“The advice is it’s fine to go to Italy, if you go back you don’t have to be in quarantine unless you have symptoms, but he’s saying he wouldn’t go. It’s not right.”

Hancock said official advice is that if you go to affected regions in Italy and develop flu-like symptoms you should self-isolate for two weeks.

Modena is not in the quarantine zone where 50,000 people have locked down across towns, but Damien is worried that advice may change by the time he is due to fly back on Friday.

He is not worried about catching the virus but has concerns about whether his ability to travel will be hindered, with some countries shutting their borders to places that have had a coronavirus outbreak.

Austria temporarily halted a train from Italy when fears rose that some of the passengers had flu-like symptoms.

Yahoo New UK has contacted the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care for comment.