Ministers today insisted the requirement for travellers returning to the UK from non-safe coronavirus countries to quarantine for 14 days remains in place despite claims the self-isolation period could soon be slashed.
Reports overnight suggested the Government is considering reducing quarantine from 14 to 10 days in order to make family holidays abroad slightly more feasible.
The proposals would see returning travellers tested eight days after they land and if the check comes back negative they would be given the green light to leave their homes two days later.
It is thought that shaving four days off the fortnight quarantine period could be enough to persuade some holidaymakers to go ahead with their trips despite mounting uncertainty over foreign travel.
The Government fears its sudden decision to reimpose quarantine rules on Britons returning from Spain will prompt mass cancellations and kill the summer holiday season.
But local government minister Simon Clarke said this morning that ‘the situation remains that the Government’s advice is that you must quarantine for 14 days’.
He told Sky News: ‘I wouldn’t want to blur that message. That is the current position. Obviously, with all of this guidance, we continue to take advice on the science and on the best practice that is sensible.
‘But we wouldn’t want to get any mixed messages today at all to the public: It is a 14 day quarantine.’
However, a source told MailOnline that trimming the quarantine period from 14 days to 10 is a ‘live discussion’ within the Government.
Tourists returning from Spain are worried the fortnight self-isolating could cost them paid work, particularly for those whose cannot work from home.
The speculation over quarantine comes after the Government extended travel restrictions to the Spanish islands and warned that other holiday destinations could follow.
The Foreign Office is now warning against ‘all but essential’ travel to the Balearics and Canaries, having already done so for the mainland.
Travel firm Jet2 responded to yesterday’s diktat by cancelling flights to all Spanish destinations and told passengers not to go to the airport.
Downing Street warned: ‘Unfortunately no travel is risk-free during this pandemic.’ Sources said there were ‘no immediate plans’ to change travel and quarantine advice to other countries.
But Croatia and Belgium are thought to be of concern, and ministers are also monitoring France and Germany.
Last night Grant Shapps cut short his own holiday in Spain to deal with the crisis.
The Transport Secretary, whose wife and children will continue their holiday without him, will have to quarantine at home for two weeks.
He told the Mail he ‘didn’t feel right’ continuing his holiday when others were having their plans wrecked.
The Spanish prime minister appeared to last night let slip that Mr Shapps has been holidaying in Ibiza.
In an interview, the journalist put it to PM Pedro Sanchez that: ‘Two UK ministers are in Spain at the moment, one in Ibiza and the other in Lanzarote, something which is quite telling when it comes to the security situation in this country.’
It is known that Tory MP and business minister Paul Scully is in Lanzarote, and Mr Sanchez made no efforts to correct the interviewer over the whereabouts of Mr Shapps.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove also cancelled a trip to the Balearics on Saturday.
Ministers were last night facing a backlash from travel experts and the airline industry over the ‘chaotic’ handling of the air bridges policy, which has been in place for only three weeks.
The Spanish government, international airline bosses, holidaymakers and travel firms said Britain had got it wrong on safety, science and economic impact.
Former Tory Cabinet minister Michael Portillo said it ‘looked like a deliberate attempt to wreck the recovery’.
But a government source said: ‘This was always a safety first policy. If we think there is a risk we will end up importing cases from overseas then we will act decisively to prevent it.’
The change in advice came as:
The Government shocked the nation and travel industry at the weekend with new advice against all but essential travel to mainland Spain.
The Department of Health last night refused to be drawn on reports of an imminent reduction to 10 days, stating the government does not comment on leaks.
It insisted that anyone returning from Spain should go into a 14-day home quarantine. Breaking quarantine risks a £1,000 fine.
The decision was taken amid fears of a second wave of Covid in Spain after case numbers rose by 75 per cent in just 48 hours last week.
The rate of infection in Spain is 35.1 cases per 100,000 people, while the UK is at 14, according to the latest figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
The Balearic and Canary islands were included in the quarantine restrictions but excluded from Foreign Office warning against ‘all but essential travel.’
The omission had led to hopes yesterday that the islands, where coronavirus cases are said to be lower, might be lifted out of the restrictions altogether, following intense lobbying from Spain.
Those hopes were dashed last night by the latest Foreign Office advice.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: ‘We have considered the overall situation for British nationals travelling to and from the Balearic and Canary Islands, including the impact of the requirement to self-isolate on return to the UK, and concluded that we should advise British nationals against all non-essential travel to the whole of Spain.’
It was claimed last night that the Chief Medical Officer had warned that ten Britons who had tested positive for coronavirus since July 1 had reported visiting Spain in the 14 days before their test.
The government’s handling of the quarantine imposition will be under the microscope, after MPs accused the Foreign Office of failing to provide sufficient support to Britons stranded abroad early in the pandemic.
Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Commons Foreign Affairs committee, criticised the department for giving ‘misleading and outdated’ advice, which at times was ‘entirely absent’.
The committee’s report published on Tuesday offered a critical assessment of the Foreign Office’s response to some 1.3million nationals becoming stranded as the crisis set in.
The Government’s repatriation operation was criticised as ‘too slow’ and for having ‘placed too much reliance’ on commercial travel providers, unlike other nations who acted more swiftly with charter flights.
‘Many UK citizens stuck abroad reported that they were unable to access the information that they needed, whilst others were not treated with the empathy and compassion that they should expect,’ the report said.
British holidaymakers are cancelling trips across Europe amid fears that snap travel bans and quarantine rules will be imposed.
Warnings from ministers that they could extend new controls on travelling to Spain to other nations has sent a shiver through the travel industry.
Both Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Health Minister Helen Whately have flagged the possibility that travel bans could be widened. It has been suggested that France, Belgium and Germany might join Portugal on the list of countries with restrictions.
Downing Street last night warned tourists ‘no travel is risk-free’ as the prospect of the Canary Islands and the Balearics being exempted from the quarantine ruling on Spain dwindled.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman added: ‘Anyone travelling abroad should be aware that our travel advice is under constant review.’
It came as tour operator Jet2 said it was calling off flights to Spanish destinations, along with Faro airport in the Algarve.
It demanded ‘clarity’ from the Government during this ‘fast-moving situation’.
Industry expert Paul Charles, of public relations firm the PC Agency and a member of the Quash Quarantine pressure group, said the decision to re-impose restrictions on visits to Spain has ‘almost cancelled the summer season’.
He said: ‘A lot of people are fearful the Government will put quarantine in place for other countries. Companies won’t be able to survive the winter.
‘People are cancelling not just Spain but other short-haul bookings. We’ve heard of lots of cancellations for holidays to France, Italy and Greece.
‘Not getting bookings throughout late summer means that there will be many more job losses in the travel industry and more businesses will go under.’
Former Tory cabinet minister Michael Portillo warned that leaks suggesting France or Germany might be next are causing ‘chaos and a lack of confidence’.
Tim Hawkins, of Manchester Airports Group, said the impact on some holiday firms could be ‘the final nail in the coffin’.
Mrs Whately said: ‘We have to keep the situation under review and I think that is what the public would expect us to do.’
When asked about France and Germany being included, she said: ‘If we see rates going up in a country where at the moment there is no need to quarantine … we would have to take action.’
Health Minister Lord Bethell added: ‘Within individual countries there is no way for us to control intra-country transport, it is therefore very difficult to have a regional exemption list, and that is why we’ve not been able to give exemptions to the Balearics.’
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, who may have to cancel a trip to Ibiza, said: ‘It’s an inconvenience for me but it’s as nothing compared to the importance of putting public health first.’
It is feared Belgium could be the next country to fall off the travel corridor list after drastic social distancing orders were imposed.