Fuming Britons blast surprise quarantine on seven Greek islands


British holidaymakers have shared their fury as they make the mad dash to return home to the UK from seven Greek islands that will be added to the quarantine list from 4am tomorrow. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps revealed on Monday that Lesvos, Tinos, Serifos, Mykonos, Crete, Santorini and Zakynthos are being stripped of quarantine exempt status as of 4am on Wednesday amid fears over a spike in coronavirus cases.

Since the announcement, tourists have had to scramble to make alternative plans, with many frantically booking last-minute flights so they don’t have to self-isolate for two weeks once back in Britain.

Flight operators TUI and Jet2 have cancelled holidays to the Greek islands of Crete, Santorini, Zakynthos and Mykonos due to the new quarantine rules. Meanwhile, EasyJet has announced it is cutting flights following the government’s decision. 

Amid the travel chaos, the rush to return home is now underway, though unimpressed travellers have blasted the government. 

Nikki Funnell, from Chester, is in Santorini with her husband Simon. She told MailOnline: ‘It’s far safer in Santorini than the UK. Social distancing is in place here and I think it’s a massive shame for the Greek tourism industry. 

‘I think the UK government are trying to deflect the blame onto other countries for the increase in cases in the UK, which is clearly not true. 

‘I would much rather be here than at home, it’s definitely so much safer. Luckily myself and Simon work from home, however I will have to cancel any plans I have when I return as now have to stay in. Our friend James will have to take 2 weeks off work.’

Matt Walker, 34, from West Yorkshire, also hit out at the government and revealed his daughter will now have to miss nursery because of the quarantine. 

He said: ‘I just think the situation is stupid, with so few cases here in Crete and Tui aren’t helping anyone here to get home early. 

‘My daughter won’t be able to go to nursery and as such we will have to take time off work to look after her. We will also have to quarantine for her birthday so her party will have to be cancelled. 

Nikki Funnell, from Chester, is in Santorini with her husband Simon and says she feels safer in Greece than in the UK

The Transport Secretary revealed that Lesvos, Tinos, Serifos, Mykonos, Crete (pictured), Santorini and Zakynthos are being added to the 'red' list as of 4am on Wednesday

The Transport Secretary revealed that Lesvos, Tinos, Serifos, Mykonos, Crete (pictured), Santorini and Zakynthos are being added to the ‘red’ list as of 4am on Wednesday

Greece as a whole is still well below the threshold for the UK considering quarantine measures - but some of the Greek islands have higher case numbers

‘I think they are playing politics. Once Scotland went for quarantine I think pressure to follow was too much for the government. I just hope they know how much disruption they are causing. We tried to book a flight home, but the prices were doubling in front of our eyes’ 

On traveller said they had swapped the Canary Islands for Greece after their holiday was cancelled when Spain was suddenly added to the quarantine list. 

‘Having monitored the quarantine announcements as they were on Thursday effective Saturday we opted to travel on a Friday for a week only, cutting our holiday short, to ensure we had no risk of quarantine.

Lucky couple who narrowly escaped forced quarantine brand system ‘completely ridiculous’ 

A lucky couple who narrowly escaped the prospect of a forced quarantine have branded the system ‘completely ridiculous’.

Lewis Ross, a 30-year-old operations manager for eBay from Richmond, and girlfriend Lauren Phillips, 23, a PA from Twickenham, flew back on a 10am British Airways flight from Athens to London Heathrow today – with 20 hours to spare before the forced quarantine.

They had spent 10 days in Mykonos and in Athens.

He said: ‘We were thankfully always going to come back today.

‘Our flight was full because it was full of people trying to cancel their flights and trying to come back today.’

Lauren said: ‘It was completely ridiculous. There were so many people in Mykonos trying to figure out a way to get home, trying to rearrange their flights.

Lewis added: ‘When the rumours started that the Greek islands were going to go on the travel quarantine list, we were nervous.

‘But as soon as it got to 48 hours, I didn’t think it would be a problem as they had to let us know. I didn’t think it’d be a problem as soon as we got past 48 hours.’

Lauren continued: ‘We were completely prepared that if we were going to go away on holiday then we might have to isolate when we got home.

‘It wouldn’t have been a problem for either of us.’

And Lewis said: ‘I was supposed to go to Spain 13 days before we went out to Greece, but because of the risk there that got cancelled straightaway. We got really lucky.’

 

‘We are two hard working public sector employees who haven’t had a days leave since March and we will now have two weeks in quarantine for a one week holiday.’

One person wrote on Twitter: ‘Currently in a half full hotel in Zante. @grantshapps reckless decision to impose a travel ban and lack of advice to @TUIUK has left us not knowing what’s happening. Bolton has over 5 times the infection rate of Greece, but people don’t have to quarantine when they leave?’

Another said: ‘3,000 cases in the last 24 hours in the UK and 156 in Greece but I have to quarantine when home, well done Boris.’

A third added: ‘We will miss the deadline and there are no seats on flights out of either of the airports, it’s very frustrating as #crete has such a low rate and take COVID precautions very seriously.’  

TUI has scrapped holidays to Crete, Santorini, Zakynthos and Mykonos while Jet2 has axed holidays to Crete up to and including September 20.

A TUI spokesperson said: ‘We welcome the announcement on regional corridors to Islands and believe it’s a positive step forward for the travel industry and for our customers, who we know still wish to travel. 

‘This is exactly the nuanced and pragmatic approach that we’ve been calling for.

‘However, with little notice we have had to cancel holidays to Crete, Santorini, Zakynthos and Mykonos just hours before customers are due to travel due to the change in travel advice.

‘Any customers due to travel to these four islands before Tuesday 22 September will be able to amend for free to another holiday on sale, or request a full cash refund.

‘We now urgently need to hear more about how the Government will implement a robust regime of airport testing to reduce down the need to quarantine for 14 days, as this remains a barrier for some to travel.’

A spokesperson for Jet2 said: ‘Due to the latest government travel advice, we have taken the decision to suspend holidays to Crete up to and including 20th September. We will be in touch with affected customers to discuss options to rebook or receive a credit note/ cash refund.’

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said: ‘Following the imposition of additional quarantine restrictions to seven Greek islands and the continued uncertainty this brings for customers, demand is now likely to be further impacted and therefore lower than previously anticipated.

‘We know our customers are as frustrated as we are with the unpredictable travel and quarantine restrictions.

‘We called on the Government to opt for a targeted, regionalised and more predictable and structured system of quarantine many weeks ago so customers could make travel plans with confidence.’

Greece’s current infection rate is at around 19 cases per 100,000 – well below the threshold of 20. 

Holidaymakers are reporting huge price hikes for their journeys back, with some having to pay out three times more than they planned. 

Accountant Julie Frew has a tight window of just three hours between her scheduled arrival back in Birmingham and the cut-off point.

The 46-year-old has been in Crete for nearly two weeks with partner David Wort, 48, and is anxious that any slight delay on the journey home could mean both have to quarantine, as well as daughter, Lauren, 23, and her two small children who are due back at nursery over the coming days.

She told MailOnline: ‘It’s definitely going to be a case of biting our fingernails over the next 24 hours.

‘I don’t understand it because if anything it seems safer here than in the UK.

‘It’s been very quiet, there’s barely anyone on the beaches, all the staff wear masks and there are hand-sanitisers on every table.

‘It’s not like it’s a party island, everything shuts down by midnight, and I think they’ve only had one or two cases reported a day for the last few weeks compared to our thousands – we had no concerns coming here.

‘The government just don’t seem to know what they’re doing, they’re quoting different numbers and it’s like they’re playing Russian Roulette.

‘Both of us are very angry and frustrated about it because we’ve followed the rules throughout lockdown and it feels like we might be punished.

‘We’ve been looking forward to this holiday for months and it’s been a well-deserved break away from a very hard year.

Get in touch 

Are you trying to get back from Greece before 4am tomorrow? Let us know: danny.hussain@mailonline.co.uk 

‘Thankfully neither of us are in a position where we’d lose jobs or pay as a result of quarantine but I’m sure plenty of others face that threat.’

Beth Maybury, 24, from Leeds, echoed Ms Frew’s view that life in Crete was more comfortable than in the UK.

She said: ‘We’ve felt 100% safer here than back in Leeds as all employees are wearing masks and areas are a lot less crowded. 

‘Bars etc just seem a lot quieter, the hotel seems not even at half capacity so there’s plenty of room round the pool/beach. There just seems to be a lot more awareness in terms of masks too.

‘We live near the White Rose (shopping centre) in Leeds which has been consistently heaving throughout with people ignoring social distancing measures while out shopping and going out to eat.

‘I’ve been nervous going out for food or drinks in the UK because it’s too busy with no one following rules which is (the) polar opposite to how I feel here.

Julie Frew and David Wort arrive back in the UK just three hours before the quarantine deadline and fear the consequences of a delay to their flight

Julie Frew and David Wort arrive back in the UK just three hours before the quarantine deadline and fear the consequences of a delay to their flight

‘I’ve worked all throughout lockdown as I’m a key worker and I’ve been so nervous to do anything outside of work. I’ve had to fly four hours to feel comfortable doing anything.’

Meanwhile, author Fiona Perrin, who has been celebrating her tenth anniversary with husband Alan O’Reilly on the island, booked an earlier flight to come home but had to shall out more than treble the initial cost. 

She said: ‘We were planning to come back on the Wednesday and thought we’d be fine because the quarantine list is normally announced later in the week.

‘It was just the shock of seeing the price surge before our eyes, literally as I went to get my credit card, I looked up and it had risen again, it was extraordinary. 

Matt Hancock says government wants to test arrivals in the UK for Covid ‘as soon as it’s practical’ to halve two-week quarantine 

Matt Hancock today insisted coronavirus testing for arrivals in the UK will be introduced ‘as soon as it is practical’.

The Health Secretary said the government recognised how much strain the requirement for 14-day quarantine was putting on the travel industry.

He warned that doing just one test at the airport ‘doesn’t work’ as too many asymptomatic cases would be missed. 

But he confirmed that the government is working on a plan for screening incomers after around eight days, which could potentially halve the quarantine period. 

‘It is one of the things that we are looking to being in as soon as it is practical to do so,’ Mr Hancock told an LBC radio phone-in. 

Ministers have been rattled by mounting Tory anger over the disastrous quarantine policy, with claims that 110,000 jobs linked to the aviation industry are at stake.

The arrangements have been cast into further doubt as the UK’s number of cases are now nearing the threshold at which it imposes isolation rules on other countries. 

The government is considering two options to open up the skies and help rescue the Covid-ravaged economy.

Under the first, passengers would be given an airport test on arrival followed by a second test a few days later. The second option is for a single test after five to eight days of self-isolation.

But aviation chiefs are furious at the slow pace of progress and want a firm commitment to border tests by the end of the week.  

‘We need to get back for work and because we’re renovating a house, which is six months behind schedule as a result of Covid and we didn’t want to shut our building site down again.

‘Luckily in our case it’s not too catastrophic but I think there will be a lot of people who will have to take two weeks without pay.’ 

In his announcement in the Commons, Mr Shapps said that he was stopping short of following Scotland’s example by slapping restrictions on arrivals from Greece as a whole.

The grim news came as the Cabinet minister revealed that the quarantine system for England is being overhauled to take account of the widely different risk profile presented by some islands. 

The Joint Biosecurity Centre will now consider islands separately from their mainland where possible.

‘For the first time we have the data and the capacity to add and remove specific islands from quarantine while still providing maximum protection for the public,’ he told MPs. 

However, despite the move by the Transport Secretary to add more destinations to the ‘red’ list, England’s approach to imposing quarantine remains less severe than both Scotland and Wales. Scotland has imposed travel quarantine on the whole of Greece while Wales has banned travel to a larger number of Greek islands.   

The Foreign Office has updated its guidance to advise against all but essential travel to the seven islands, but not Greece more widely. 

The announcement was broadly welcomed by the holiday industry as a step in the right direction.

Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: ‘It’s to be warmly welcomed that the Government is amending its quarantine policy – opening up some islands to British tourists again without them having to quarantine.

‘Regional corridors are vital to keep travel and tourism alive and well, and I hope it removes the confusion of different UK governments pursuing different approaches to individual countries.

‘It’s sad news for the Greek islands who can’t yet open up but I hope this policy provides impetus for them to get their cases under control.’

But there were complaints that the government is acting too slowly. 

A spokesman for British Airways’ owner IAG said: ‘It was evident back in July that islands should be treated separately. The Government is being too slow in making obvious decisions.

‘For most families summer is now over and the damage to the industry and the economy is done. On testing, we need to get on with it. We are way behind other countries on what has to be a more nuanced approach.’

Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon criticised the Government’s handling of the pandemic, describing its response as ‘chaotic’.

He said: ‘The Government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis has been nothing short of chaotic. At almost every turn, it lacked a clear strategy and this failure has been acutely felt in aviation.

‘For months, even when the virus was at its peak, millions of passengers were coming from all over the world without any restrictions placed upon them at all. By the time restrictions were introduced, we were one of only a handful of countries in the world who up to that point had failed to take action in bringing restrictions in place.’ 

Grant Shapps told the Commons that he was stopping short of following Scotland's example by slapping restrictions on arrivals from Greece as a whole

Grant Shapps told the Commons that he was stopping short of following Scotland’s example by slapping restrictions on arrivals from Greece as a whole

The quarantine arrangements have been cast into further doubt as the UK's number of cases are now nearing the threshold at which it imposes isolation rules on other countries

The quarantine arrangements have been cast into further doubt as the UK’s number of cases are now nearing the threshold at which it imposes isolation rules on other countries

It came after Matt Hancock insisted coronavirus testing for arrivals in the UK will be introduced ‘as soon as it is practical’ to ease the quarantine measures.

The Health Secretary said the government recognised how much strain the requirement for 14-day isolation was putting on the travel industry.

He warned that doing just one test at the airport ‘doesn’t work’ as too many asymptomatic cases would be missed. 

But he confirmed that the government is working on a plan for screening incomers after around eight days, which could potentially halve the quarantine period. 

‘It is one of the things that we are looking to being in as soon as it is practical to do so,’ Mr Hancock told an LBC radio phone-in. 

Ministers have been rattled by mounting Tory anger over the disastrous quarantine policy, with claims that 110,000 jobs linked to the aviation industry are at stake.

The arrangements have been cast into further doubt as the UK’s number of cases are now nearing the threshold at which it imposes isolation rules on other countries. 

The government is considering two options to open up the skies and help rescue the Covid-ravaged economy.

Under the first, passengers would be given an airport test on arrival followed by a second test a few days later. The second option is for a single test after five to eight days of self-isolation.

But aviation chiefs are furious at the slow pace of progress and want a firm commitment to border tests by the end of the week.  

Leaders from the likes of Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham and Luton have set the Prime Minister a seven-day deadline to replace mandatory self-isolation with Covid-19 testing at airports.

In the letter seen by the Daily Telegraph – also addressed to Chancellor Rishi Sunak – 20 airport chief executives claimed testing, alongside other measures, could save 110,000 jobs industry-wide.

Having already lost over £4billion due to reduced traffic during the pandemic, they wrote: ‘We cannot currently envisage an end to this struggle, and without robust Government support there is real possibility of irreparable damage being done to our once world-beating aviation sector.’

Led by Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, conservative chair of the Airport Operators’ Association, the signatories stressed that testing, along with regional travel corridors, were critical to opening up travel.

It is also believed scores of Tory MPs will today urge the government to back testing in airports to remove a ‘barrier to travel’. 

TUI managing director Andrew Flintham also criticised the lack of testing at airports last night, writing in the Daily Telegraph: ‘This Government wants to get people back to work – but what happens when there’s no work for people to come back to.’ 

In a boost for the Mail’s campaign, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab yesterday said a testing regime was under review but would be ‘no silver bullet’ to end quarantine.

*** Are you trying to get back from Greece before 4am tomorrow? Let us know: danny.hussain@mailonline.co.uk *** 

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