As the evenings draw in, the traveller’s map is shrinking fast. And, lurking in the shadows, are two worrying developments which threaten our general prospects of a winter escape and, most immediately, our last chance for a family break this year – the October half term week.
The first increasing threat to our travelling freedom is the way that the quarantine rules and other restrictions on travellers are being applied both in this country and abroad. On Thursday, Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, imposed quarantine rules on arrivals from Turkey, Poland, Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba. There are anxieties that Greece and Italy – two of the major remaining countries on the minister’s green list – will also soon be shown a red card. Both, as of October 1, have broken the threshold of a weekly average of 20 cases per 100,000 population, which the Government uses as a guide to its policy.
But, as the number of countries we can visit without self-isolating afterwards diminishes, the hope that we can protect ourselves from travellers returning from places with high rates of infection looks increasingly vain. Our own rate has now soared past 60 cases per 100,000 population, and it seems faintly ridiculous for the minister to be ruling on the danger – both to ourselves and others – of travelling in places where you stand less risk of contracting Coronavirus than you do in Britain.
Just as worrying for travellers is that the situation is now out of our hands in any case. It isn’t just the problem of self isolating on our return which we face – an increasing number of countries are starting to impose restrictions on arrivals from the UK.
A week ago, Barbados, one of our favourite winter sun destinations, added us to its list of “high-risk” nations. Tourists arriving from a British airport now have to present a negative Covid-19 test result taken within the previous 72 hours, quarantine at “approved facilities” (which thankfully include certain luxury hotels) and then take another test four to five days after that first (visitbarbados.org/covid-19-travel-guidelines). Only if this is also negative may the visitor move freely around the island.
True, if you are happy to relax in the hotel grounds for the first part of your stay, the new rules are unlikely to put you off. But the number of winter sun destinations imposing such obstacles and restrictions travellers from the UK is growing.
St Lucia already has similar entry requirements, and this week Tunisia banned tourists arriving from Britain altogether. Meanwhile, even if Italy remains on the Transport Minister’s green list, as cases in the UK keep growing, it is likely that we shall soon have to present a negative test result on arrival there – as do people visiting Italy from France and Spain.
While the quarantine rules are fast amounting to what feels like a de facto travel ban, the second threat to our holiday freedoms is in this country. Local lockdowns already outlaw non-essential travel in parts of south Wales, north west England and the Midlands, and curfews and the rule of six all add to the deterrents.
Should we all give up and hunker down for the winter? I don’t think so. In some ways an increase in testing would enable rather than impede tourism (see our Test4Travel campaign for details). And, as things stand, those hoping for a half-term holiday overseas still have some good options and they can leave booking to the last minute, confident that they will find flights and accommodation – often at attractive prices.
Finally, despite the complexity of the different rules in England, Scotland and Wales, an autumn or half-term break in this country is still attractive. Hotels and holiday cottages in all three countries are still open and keen for us to come. And life in large swathes of the most beautiful parts of Britain goes on as normally as might be expected.