What changed yesterday?
Yesterday’s announcements about travel corridors left most people confused as Portugal did not come off the English travel corridor list despite being well over the limit.
Yet Wales decided to make its citizens quarantine from Portugal as well as those arriving from the Greek Islands of:
- Zante (Zakynthos)
- Gibraltar and French Polynesia will also be required to self-isolate.
- The Portuguese islands of the Azores and Madeira were not included in the quarantine requirement for Wales
Portugal will also be added to the Scottish quarantine list from Saturday, but advice for travellers in England and in Northern Ireland remains unchanged.
Why did Portugal not come off the English list?
Portugal was only removed from the quarantine rules less than two weeks ago. The Portuguese islands of the Azores and Madeira were not included in Thursday’s announcement.
I have been strongly critical of the government’s travel policy which is extremely harmful for the travel industry and not even a particularly safe option given the virtual non-existence of enforcement of the quarantine. However, yesterday’s decisions are actually positive in some ways apart from the fact with all the devolved governments doing different things is makes a mockery of whether things are safe or not.
Why I think this is positive is for two reasons. Firstly the Welsh government used regional quarantine foe the Greek islands. This is something we have been pushing for to stop the ridiculous situations where islands miles away from the mainland that are very safe are being excluded from the travel corridors. Grant Shapps made noises about looking at regional corridors for islands but as usual, nothing has happened weeks later. He cited that getting reliable data was too difficult for individual regions. However, Wales seemed to have managed it which rules out that argument.
Secondly, the government made a decision for Portugal that was sensible and based on all the data. Not just an arbitrary figure of 20 cases per 100,000. Cases in Portugal are very low in the main Algrave region where the majority of visitors go. In deciding travel corridors they look at things like whether there are localised outbreaks that are being managed and the general trend. In Portugal, most cases are around the capital Lisbon and still in the grand scheme of things the numbers are not huge between 200-390 per day. The cases have been very up and down rather than a large sustained rise. The sensible decision when the majority of British tourists are in a safe part of Portugal is to wait for more data rather than a knee jerk reaction after only a few days of rises. Grant Shapps also mentioned that the testing in Portugal has been increased recently which was contributing to the rise in cases. The proportion of tests coming back positive is actually falling. All this reassures me that the government are at least looking at the whole picture when they make decisions.
Grant Shapps discussed the decisions at length and the good news is that they are still considering testing as an alternative to quarantine (or at least a reduced quarantine).
He told Sky News
“I know that airport testing is one of those things that sounds so logical. You come in, you get a test, perhaps one of these very quick test and you are free not to quarantine,’ he said.
‘The problem we have, and this is what I am working with airports on at the moment, and the industry, is that a day zero test as you get home is unlikely to find the vast majority of people who have travelled with coronavirus but are asymptomatic…
‘There are arguments about this, but PHE say that would perhaps pick up just seven per cent of people who are in fact positive, and allow those people to sort of go off.
‘So you probably have to have some kind of quarantine period in here, perhaps seven or eight days, maybe a test then.
‘But these are the things that we are working through at the moment.”
He also spoke about the possibility of looking at islands at least on a regional basis ”
“I think there is an argument for regionalising it… but having said that… actually the islands (in Spain) now wouldn’t be fine. But it is fluid and I do accept there is space to look at those types of things.”
I welcome taking a pragmatic approach, although he has just contradicted himself as he previously said it was difficult to get detailed enough data for regions but apparently he has enough to say that the Spanish Islands would not be OK….
My opinion on the situation
I will end with one final comment. Travel shaming appears to be on the rise still and there have been a couple of comments about people travelling recently on our social media. I respect everyone’s right to do what they decide is the safest thing for them. But we need to start actually thinking rather than reacting. The virus could be here for years. We need to adapt to living with it safely.
Yes, most people don’t “need” to travel abroad. But neither do we need to go out to eat, have a UK break, collect a takeaway, or buy anything other than essential food items. All these things have a risk in terms of coronavirus to ourselves and the workers that deliver and prepare our food and shopping. But no one is shaming people for that because they justify that as supporting our businesses.
Travel abroad done sensibly is no riskier than travel in the UK. Many parts of the UK have far, far higher rates of COVID than places like Italy and Greece. Yet we don’t question that, because we view it as supporting the economy. International travel also supports the UK economy with 10% of UK GDP coming from travel and tourism. 3 million people in the UK work in jobs related to travel and tourism. Think about the taxi drivers, the bars, restaurants, museums etc that all normally thrive on tourism. The quarantine period hurts inbound tourism as well as our travel abroad. The UK government needs to either support these businesses or come up with the best compromise to allow as much tourism as possible without exposing the UK to an unacceptable risk of COVID. I do not believe we are anywhere near close to that point at the moment.