Travellers arriving in the UK from Belgium, Andorra and the Bahamas will be forced to quarantine for two weeks under new measures, after a surge of Covid-19 cases in the countries.
Following behind-the-scenes scrambling over the plans, the Department for Transport confirmed late on Thursday that the countries would be removed from the so-called travel corridor list, meaning people entering England from the locations will no longer be exempt from quarantine measures from 4am on Saturday.
Holyrood also withdrew the countries from its list of those exempt from 14-day quarantine in Scotland as of Saturday, with the Welsh government doing the same but with measures coming into effect on Friday. Similar restrictions will apply in Northern Ireland.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has also updated its travel advice to warn against all but essential trips to the three countries.
It came as reports emerged on Thursday evening suggesting that the government is closely monitoring the situation in France, after Norway announced it would be reimposing quarantine restrictions on arrivals from the country amid a rise in the number of Covid cases. Downing Street last week restored Luxembourg to its quarantine list, requiring arrivals to self-isolate, six days after the same demand was reimposed on arrivals from Spain, prompting chaos for holidaymakers.
Belgium has suffered a resurgence of the virus, with the country passing 70,000 Covid-19 cases this week. Figures released on Thursday show that it has a rate of 27.8 new cases per 100,000 people compared to the UK’s 8.4.
Belgium also has one of the highest per capita coronavirus death rates in the world, with more than 9,800 fatalities out of a population of about 11 million, and last month announced a series of further restrictive measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Data shows we need to remove Andorra, Belgium and The Bahamas from our list of #coronavirus Travel Corridors in order to keep infection rates DOWN. If you arrive in the UK after 0400 Saturday from these destinations, you will need to self-isolate for 14 days.
— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) August 6, 2020
The DfT said data from the joint biodiversity centre and Public Health England had indicated a “significant change in both the level and pace of confirmed cases” in all three countries. In Andorra, new cases per week have increased five-fold since mid-July and in the Bahamas the weekly case rate peaked at 78.6 last week, up from 3.1 in mid-July.
Meanwhile, all four UK nations will add Brunei and Malaysia to their travel corridor lists – meaning arrivals will be exempt from quarantine measures – following a decrease in confirmed cases of coronavirus, it was also announced. The changes will come into effect from 4am on Tuesday in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and from Friday in Wales.
The Scottish justice secretary, Humza Yousaf, said: “The governments of all four nations have agreed to these changes based on a shared understanding of the data. This is another important step in our efforts to prevent the spread of the virus and adhering to the quarantine is a vital aspect of this.
“Imposing quarantine requirements on those arriving from another country is not a decision made lightly – but suppressing the virus and protecting public health remains our priority.”
Vaughan Gething, the Welsh health minister, said late on Thursday: “Having considered the evidence for the public health risk now posed by travellers who enter the UK from these places, the Welsh government will later today remove Andorra, the Bahamas and Belgium from the list of countries and territories exempt from our health measures at the border.
“Together with other UK ministers, I have also considered the public health risk posed by a decreasing prevalence of Covid-19 in Brunei and Malaysia. As a consequence, the Welsh government will also later today add Brunei and Malaysia to the list of countries and territories exempt from our health measures at the border.”
It was earlier reported that ministers met on Wednesday to sign off the move to impose restrictions on arrivals from Belgium, and that the measures were due to come into force at midnight or on Thursday. However, the Guardian understands the DfT initially planned to impose restrictions on arrivals from the early hours of next Tuesday, but amid fast-moving developments in Whitehall, the plans were moved forward to come into effect over the weekend.
The UK government brought in quarantine measures on 8 June for international arrivals to stem the threat of imported Covid-19 cases. However, in early July as part of a so-called air bridges scheme, it released a list of 59 locations that holidaymakers could visit without having to quarantine on their return. But within weeks Spain was removed from the list of countries exempt from quarantine measures after a dramatic rise in Covid cases.
Germany this week added Belgium’s Antwerp province, in the north of the country, to its list of Covid-19 risk zones requiring travellers arriving from the region to quarantine for 14 days unless they can produce a negative coronavirus test.
On Wednesday, 225 staff at one of Belgium’s biggest meat-processing plants, Westvlees, were sent home to quarantine after the emergence of a cluster of Covid-19 cases. Reports said 18 staff at the plant in West Flanders had tested positive.
On 27 July, Belgium unveiled new restrictive measures to stem the spread of the virus and prevent the return of a nationwide lockdown. The prime minister, Sophie Wilmès, announced that from 29 July a family or household would be able to meet five other people, down from 15.
The numbers allowed to attend public events were halved to 100 inside and 200 outside. People would have to shop alone and work from home as much as possible, Wilmès added. “If we cannot reduce the coronavirus, it will be a collective failure,” she said.