Britain faces quarantine backlash as European countries hit back with curbs on UK holidaymakers

Charles Hymas
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Britain faces a quarantine backlash as France, Germany, Greece and Spain say they will restrict UK residents entering their nations as they reopen after lockdown unless the UK drops its quarantine or reduces its coronavirus infection rates.

France’s tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne confirmed it would impose 14-day quarantine on British visitors coming to the UK if Britain went ahead with its plans on Monday - even though he said the country planned to open its borders to other EU nations on June 15.

Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas said he would be “strongly advising” against travel to the UK because of its quarantine - just as his country lifts its travel restrictions for 30 other European nationalities from June 15.

Greece’s tourism minister Haris Theoharis said that as long as Britain’s coronavirus rate remained comparatively high, holidaymakers or businessmen coming from most UK airports faced mandatory tests for Covid-19  and quarantine of seven days even if they were found to be clear of the disease.

Spain has ruled out any “tit-for-tat” imposition of quarantine but its foreign ministry said the right of entry would partly depend on a country’s “epidemiological situation.”

Reyes Maroto, its foreign minister, said it was awaiting a clear message from Britain about when UK tourists would be able to fly abroad and on whether they would need to self-isolate on return before any deal could be struck on Spanish holidays for British visitors this summer. “We’re in touch with British authorities and tour operators regarding two elements that need to be resolved,” she said. “One is the possible quarantine that the British government has announced. We know that there are pressures from the sector and that it could be taken off the agenda – but what’s really limiting movement right now are the restrictions from the Foreign Office.” Spain plans to fully open its borders from July 1. It is proposing to lift restrictions for travellers from Portugal and France from June 22 - but not for holidaymakers from the UK or any other country.

The moves will fuel the growing backbench and industry backlash over the Government’s quarantine which, from Monday, will require all international arrivals, including returning Britons, to self-isolate for 14 days. Anyone who fails to abide by the quarantine rules faces fines of up to £1,000.

Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, said it was “absolute nonsense” for the Government to be closing its borders just as most of the rest of Europe were lifting restrictions to help revive their economies.

He told The Daily Telegraph: "At just the moment the industry cd start moving again, we are about to shut them down and other countries are going to retaliate."

Scientists yesterday raised further questions over the effectiveness of the UK’s quarantine. Professor Robert Dingwall, a member of a sub-group of Government’s Sage advisory body, said Britain needed to significantly reduce its infection rate before quarantine started to become a useful measure.

“Even then, we would have to see something that is targeted on countries with a significantly higher level of community transmission than ourselves - and there aren't too many of those around, I'm afraid," he said.

 "If you're a holiday destination in Europe in a country that has worked really hard to get its levels of community transmission down and you're perhaps looking forward to seeing the end of the virus circulating, apart from in isolated outbreaks, then you have to wonder would they really want to welcome a load of British tourists from a country which hasn't fully got this virus under control yet?"

The Foreign Office has opened talks on potential “travel corridors” exempting passengers from low-risk countries from quarantine but ministers have refused to set any “arbitrary” dates and say they will only be introduced when it is judged safe to do so.

Mr Lemoyne, for France, said it would prefer not to have to impose quarantine on travellers, adding that he hoped the UK’s infection rate would improve so restrictions could be lifted by July 1, when the French holiday season begins.

He said: “We will keep engaging with the British government in this respect because we would obviously prefer not to have to impose quarantine to travellers from the UK considering the adverse consequences.”

Italy, which has already opened its borders, says it is keen to establish air bridges as is Portugal, which wants to see them in place by the end of June.

"We hope that at the end of June quarantine will be abolished," said an Italian Government source. "From this week we have liberalised the possibility of flying to Italy but that's not the case for Italians flying to the UK from June 8."

Portugal's foreign minister Augusto Santos Silva said: “During these coming weeks our diplomats will work together in order to guarantee that British tourists coming to Portugal would not be subjected on their return to England to any kind of quarantine.”

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