Thousands more holidaymakers are facing chaos today after Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh ministers slapped coronavirus quarantine rules on Greece – heaping pressure on Boris Johnson to follow suit.
Scotland dramatically declared that arrivals from the popular destination after 4am on Thursday must self-isolate, while Wales is placing restrictions on incomers from the island of Zante after a rash of cases.
But the moves sparked fury as the infection rate in Greece as a whole is still well below the threshold used by the UK government to trigger inclusion on the quarantine list, of 20 cases per 100,000 population in a seven-day period.
It raises questions about how holidaymakers can judge whether to travel to destinations, with complaints that the goalposts keep being shifted.
UK ministers are today holding an emergency meeting with Welsh and Scottish officials about the rules on Greece, while Portugal is on the brink after cases rose above the mark set by the government.
Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething said he would be pressing the UK Government to consider the potential risk in Greece following six clusters amounting to more than 30 cases of Covid-19 in the last week.
The cases had come from four flights, two of which landed in England.
Tour operator Tui has said it will no longer offer holidays to the resort of Laganas on Zante.
Around 190 passengers on a Tui Airways flight landing at Cardiff were asked to self-isolate for 14 days and – in the first example of state-sanctioned testing – they will be swabbed within 48 hours and again after eight days (stock photo of a Tui jet)
Mr Johnson now faces increasing pressure to put Greece on the UK’s quarantine list after Scotland and Wales imposed restrictions on Britons returning from the holiday hotspot.
But Greece’s tourism minister Harry Theoharis insisted the country has ‘a much lower number of infections compared to most other countries in Europe’. The rate per 100,000 of population over the past seven days is just 14 – well short of the government’s alert level.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We’re actually in the right direction. We’re going down in terms of the average numbers.
‘We’re taking specific targeted measures where we see specific concentrations of cases. Measures that have been successful and have been working in the past few days.
‘So I think we’re doing everything in our power to ensure that every person that comes from the UK is kept safe in Greece.
‘Of course everybody should also have some restraint, understand that this is a different summer. You mentioned it before, it’s not exactly the same like the past few years.
‘We should all keep control of the situation, use our masks where it’s required, follow the rules etc in order to ensure that everybody is kept safe.’
Nicola Sturgeon’s government is mandating two weeks of self-isolation for anyone arriving from 4am on Thursday, while her Welsh counterpart Mark Drakeford has singled out the party island of Zante.
Around 190 passengers on a Tui Airways flight from Zante to Cardiff last night were asked to self-isolate for 14 days and – in the first example of state-sanctioned testing – they will be swabbed within 48 hours and again after eight days.
‘There are concerns from our public health teams that the current advice and control measures for returning travellers are insufficient,’ Mr Gething said.
He added that all passengers on a flight from Zante to Cardiff on Tuesday night would be told to quarantine and would be given two Covid-19 tests, one within 48 hours and another eight days after their return.
‘In addition, I have pressed for an early meeting with the UK Government and devolved nations [today] to consider the latest assessment of risk by the Joint Biosecurity Centre,’ he said.
‘There is an obvious need for us to consider the potential for changes to the regulations in Wales which would require travellers arriving in the UK from Greece and possibly elsewhere to self-isolate on their return.’
Andrew Flintham, managing director of Tui UK and Ireland, said: ‘Laganas is a popular resort with young people who traditionally holiday in large groups of friends.
‘The health and safety of our colleagues and customers is our primary concern and recent cases shows that some customers are not following social distancing and Covid safety measures.
‘It is therefore the right thing to do to protect and reduce a now identified potential risk to others by no longer offering holidays to this specific resort.
Countries on UK Government’s quarantine list
‘The recent cases in Wales have highlighted a demographic of customers that have recently returned from Zante and subsequently tested positive. As the only airline that flies between Cardiff and Zante it has allowed us to understand trends that may also be seen in other areas of the UK.’
Trips to all other resorts in Zante will continue as normal.
Scotland’s chief medical officer Gregor Smith said: ‘There is a compelling public health risk around importation of the virus, especially given the number of imported cases linked to the Greek islands.
‘The flow of travel between Scotland and Greece, and the behaviour we have seen from some of those travellers, means that on public health grounds there is a strong case – supported by public health directors – to remove Greece from the exemption list.’
The move came as holidaymakers scrambled to return from Portugal amid growing concerns restrictions could be reimposed to arrivals from there.
With thousands of Britons having travelled to Portugal since the country was exempted from quarantine measures on August 22, rising cases there were prompting airlines to increase capacity as holidaymakers hurried to return in case restrictions are reimposed.
There were 22.3 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in Portugal in the seven days to August 31, up from 14.5 a week earlier, according to figures calculated by the PA news agency based on data collected by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Despite the changes in Wales and Scotland, the Department for Transport in London said there were no plans to amend travel arrangements with Greece.
Greece’s current infection rate is 13.7 per 100,000 people, while the UK Government’s threshold for its quarantine list is 20 cases per 100,000.
But there are grave fears that these relatively low numbers belie how rife the contagion is on Greek party islands popular with young Britons.
Rory Boland, travel editor at Which?, criticised the Government’s approach to quarantining countries, claiming it was damaging the travel industry and leaving holidaymakers confused.
He said: ‘Yet again haphazard announcements and rumours around quarantine have sparked chaos and confusion for holidaymakers, with many facing an unenviable choice between paying extortionate prices for last-minute flights home or the disruption caused by two weeks in isolation on their return.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams, pictured, said the Welsh Government is ‘deeply concerned’ by reports from passengers on the flight
‘When the dust settles on what has been a disappointing summer for so many people, it’s clear that a reassessment of the Government’s approach to managing the threat posed by coronavirus to holiday travel will be needed.
‘The travel industry will also need greater Government support to make it through the tough months ahead while major reforms will be needed to restore confidence among holidaymakers who have often been left out of pocket and with nowhere to turn for support when the pandemic has left their travel plans in tatters.’
Authorities impose new restrictions on the island of Zante as fears grow holiday destinations could become new covid hotspot
- Local restrictions have been put in place on the islands of Zante/Zakynthos amid fears of a rise in coronavirus cases. These include:
- Suspension of any kind of live events and celebrations such as parties, trade fairs, religious ceremonies, open markets etc.
- Prohibition of operation of all food/catering sector-related shops, services and facilities from midnight – 7am the next day.
- A ban on gatherings of more than 9 people, either indoors or outdoors;
- A limit of 4 people per table in any restaurant, except for cases where the party consists of family members, where the limit is 6 people;
- Mandatory use of face masks in indoor and outdoor public spaces.
Seven of those on Tui’s August 25 flight to Cardiff were infectious at the time of flying and all 193 passengers have been told to self-isolate, the Welsh Government said.
One traveller claimed that the flight was full of ‘selfish covidiots’, with passengers not wearing their masks properly and disregarding the rules.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams told the Welsh Government’s weekly press conference that a statement about other flights coming into Wales would be made on Tuesday.
‘The Welsh Government is deeply concerned by the reports from people who were on that flight about the lack of appropriate measures to keep everybody on that flight safe,’ she said.
‘My colleague Vaughan Gething, the health minister, is in discussion with all relevant parties and will be making a statement later today about other flights that may be operating out of Greece and into Cardiff Airport.’
On Tuesday, Public Health Wales said one further person with coronavirus had died in Wales, bringing the total number of deaths there to 1,596.
There were a further 51 positive cases of Covid-19 reported, bringing the number of cases to 18,063.
Dr Christopher Williams, incident director for the Covid-19 outbreak response at Public Health Wales, said: ‘All passengers are being followed up by their local Test Trace Protect teams.
‘They should all self-isolate at home, as they may become infectious, even if they have no symptoms. Anyone with symptoms should book a test without delay.’
Stephanie Whitfield, who was on the flight in question, claimed the ‘inept crew couldn’t care less’ after passengers took off their masks and mixed freely with friends and families on board.
The flight left all 193 people on board facing two weeks self-isolation and comes amid fears that Zante could be a new coronavirus hotspot.
Mrs Whitfield, from Cardiff, who was on the flight with her husband, told the BBC: ‘This flight was a debacle. The chap next to me had his mask around his neck.
‘Not only did the airline not pull him up on it, they gave him a free drink when he said he knew a member of the crew.
‘Loads of people were taking their masks off and wandering up and down the aisles to talk to others.
‘As soon as the flight landed, a load of people took their masks off immediately. The flight was full of selfish ‘covidiots’ and an inept crew who couldn’t care less.’
According to Dr Gwen Lowe, consultant in communicable disease control for Public Health Wales, there have been about 30 cases in the last week linked to Zante, and confirmed in people who were on different flights and staying in different locations.
She also admitted: ‘These are confirmed positive cases and we’re expecting that number to rise.’
The Foreign Commonwealth Office updated its advice for Britons travelling to Zante, or Zakynthos, after an increase in local restrictions to combat the virus.
TUI has defended itself over the claims and insisted that all passengers wore masks and complied with Covid protocols ‘for the duration of their flight’.
A statement said: ‘The health and safety of passengers is always our priority and we are concerned to hear of Mrs Whitfield’s claims.
‘Our crew are trained to the highest standards and in line with European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) guidelines.
Passengers on board a TUI flight from Zante to Cardiff all have to self-isolate after seven tested positive for coronavirus
Public Health Wales investigations have raised concerns that people in their 20s travelling abroad to destinations such as Zante, above, are showing a ‘lack of social distancing’
‘Passengers are informed prior to travel and via PA announcements on the flight that they have to wear masks throughout and are not allowed to move around the cabin. Masks can only be removed when consuming food and drink.
‘A full investigation is now underway as these concerns weren’t reported during the flight or before today.’
Tourists now face several restrictions on what they can do on the island, including the suspension of live events and celebrations such as parties, trade fairs, religious ceremonies and open markets, as well as the prohibition of all food and catering sector-related shops, services and facilities from midnight to 7am the next day.
Several Britons who visited Greece in recent weeks have reported cases of the virus.
Last week, 11 teenagers from Plymouth tested positive for the coronavirus, with up to 30 infected in total after returning from Zante.
Plymouth’s director for public health Ruth Harrell said that some of the teenagers went gone on a ‘night out in Plymouth’s bars and restaurants’ before they were aware of the risk.
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