The Transport Secretary has acknowledged that varying advice for quarantining when arriving in different UK nations from abroad “creates confusion”, amid holidaymakers’ calls for clarity.
Grant Shapps defended the UK Government’s decision not to impose restrictions on people entering England from Greece and Portugal despite Scotland and Wales ordering periods of isolation to slow the spread of coronavirus.
He said Scotland had “jumped the gun” on Greece but accepted quarantine powers laid with the devolved administrations and added that Westminster decided not to impose the measure on the popular holiday destinations because figures suggested cases were falling.
Scotland and Wales 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.
Mr Shapps told Sky News: “I do realise it creates confusion for people not to have a single rule, but we do have this devolved approach throughout the United Kingdom and I can only be responsible for the English part of that.”
The Cabinet minister said the Government’s review concluded no changes were necessary partly because test positivity in Portugal came down while the number of cases overall in Greece had fallen.
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 and it is their right to do it but it doesn’t make the overall message any clearer.”
The Cabinet minister said testing at airports is not a “silver bullet solution” to end quarantining and the “vast majority” of asymptomatic cases would not be detected by one test alone.
There had been speculation that Westminster would reimpose the requirement on Portugal due to a spike in Covid-19 cases, leading many holidaymakers to pay hundreds of pounds to fly home this week.
In Wales, the need to isolate for 14 days when arriving from Portugal, Gibraltar and seven Greek islands came into force at 4am on Friday.
In Scotland, passengers arriving from Portugal will have to quarantine from 4am on Saturday, as well as those arriving from French Polynesia.
Scotland began requiring travellers from anywhere in Greece to enter quarantine from Thursday.
Northern Ireland chose not to change its guidance, meaning Greece and Portugal are still exempt from the restrictions.
Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething said he was “very content this is the right thing to do” after receiving the same advice from health officials and the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) as Mr Shapps.
“Seeing a rising tide of infections coming in from that list of islands, having that direct experience in Wales and very clear advice about the higher risk to UK public health from the JBC, I did not feel that there was any course of action other than taking some form of action,” he told Today.
There were 418 coronavirus cases recorded in Portugal on Thursday.
This was the country’s largest daily amount since July 10 and brings its seven-day rate of cases per 100,000 people up to 23.1.
A rate of 20 is the threshold above which the UK Government has considered triggering quarantine conditions.
Industry leaders and holidaymakers criticised the Government, saying travellers are “totally confused” by the different approaches in Westminster and the devolved administrations.
Kelly Jones and her family changed their flights home from the Algarve from Saturday to Friday at a cost of £900 to avoid a potential quarantine, because she did not want her children to miss two weeks of school.
The 45-year-old from Birmingham said the situation was “absolutely disgusting”, telling the PA news agency: “The Government just change the goalposts left, right and centre at the moment. It’s embarrassing.”
Paul Charles, 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.”
Meanwhile, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said evidence suggests the rate of new infections in private households in England “remains unchanged”.
An average of 2,000 people per day were estimated to be newly infected with Covid-19 between August 19 and 25, which is similar to previous weeks.
An estimated 27,100 people in private households in England had Covid-19 between August 19 and 25, according to the new ONS figures.
This was the equivalent of around 0.05% of the population, or one in 2,000 individuals.
The estimate is broadly unchanged from the previous figures for August 14 to 20, which were 0.05% of the population and one in 1,900 people.
The figures do not include people in hospitals, care homes or other institutional settings.
The ONS said there was some evidence of regional differences in the percentage of people testing positive for antibodies to Covid-19.
In London, an estimated 11.0% of people have tested positive for antibodies – the highest for any region in England.
The lowest regional estimate was 3.5% for south-west England.
The estimates, which the ONS has published for the first time, refer to people in private households and are subject to revision.