AS MANY as 60,000 Brits are facing a mad scramble home from the Greek islands after the UK government enforced last-minute quarantine restrictions.
From 4am tomorrow, all arrivals from the islands of Zante, Crete, Mykonos, Santorini, Lesvos, Tinos and Serifos will have to quarantine for two weeks.
⚠️ Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest news & updates
Yesterday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told MPs in the House of Commons that he had agreed to look into regional ‘air bridges’ to European islands as new data meant the government can accurately track outbreaks abroad.
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office has also updated its travel advice for Greece to advise against all but essential travel to the islands, but the rest of Greece remains exempt,
Brits on the islands who are unable to quarantine back in the UK face a desperate rush back to the country.
Accountant Julie Frew and her partner David Wort’s flight from Crete is set to land in Birmingham just three hours before the 4am cut-off.
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.”
Following the announcement, flights have jumped in price – according to Google Flights, a one way ticket from Zante to the UK costs £108 today – and drops to just £44 tomorrow, after the quarantine is enforced.
The data shows flights remaining under £100 for the past 50 days, with the average cost between £30 and £90, only to be soaring above £100 from today.
Author Fiona Perrin, currently on holiday in Crete told Mail Online that flights had trebled in cost if they wanted to fly home earlier.
She added: “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.”
The Transport Secretary explained: “Our top priority has always been to keep domestic infection rates down, and today we’re taking the next step in our approach.
“Through the use of enhanced data we will now be able to pinpoint risk in some of the most popular islands, providing increased flexibility to add or remove them – distinct from the mainland – as infection rates change.
“This development will help boost the UK’s travel industry while continuing to maintain maximum protection to public health, keeping the travelling public safe.”
Last week the Welsh government put Greek islands Mykonos, Zante, Lesvos, Paros, Antiparos and Crete on its quarantine list.
All of Greece is on the quarantine list for Scotland.
TUI has already cancelled holidays to Crete, Zante, Mykonos and Santorini until September 22, with other tour operators and airlines expected to follow suit.
The travel industry is calling for mass testing at airports to end the quarantine measures, but ministers have so far resisted the calls adding testing isn’t a “silver bullet solution”.
More than 30 countries, including France and Germany, have introduced mass testing at airports, with people only required to quarantine if their test comes back positive.
And Health Secretary Matt Hancock also warned single tests at the border “don’t work.”
He told LBC’s Nick Ferrari: “Sadly, unfortunately, just doing one test at the border doesn’t work, and the reason it doesn’t work is because this virus can incubate for a period inside your body without a test being able to pick it up.”
While the new policy gives some hope that other islands in Europe will be added to the safe list in the future, Mr Shapps warned that the Balearics and Canary Islands would not be added – Spain remains on the UK quarantine list.
He said: “It is worth noting that the policy will not necessarily open up additional islands immediately.
“For example, when we removed Spain from the travel corridor list, there were 24 cases but 100,000.
“Today, there are 127 cases and remains too high in the Balearic and Canary Islands, as well.”