UK Prime Minister: No travel is risk-free during this pandemic

The government has been criticised for announcing mandatory quarantine rules, without warning, on Saturday evening – just hours before they were due to come into effect.

Labour criticised the “chaotic nature of the decision making” but Number 10 has defended the last-minute move, saying border measures and travel advice can be “changed rapidly” in order to protect the UK from coronavirus.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Unfortunately no travel is risk-free during this pandemic and disruption is possible and so anyone travelling abroad should be aware that our travel advice and exemption list is under constant review as we monitor the international situation.”

Spain had been experiencing a rise in coronavirus cases for several days, but the government said it received the most recent data on Friday and the Joint Biosecurity Centre conducted an “urgent review” before advising to mitigate travel from midnight Saturday.

Health Minister Helen Whately said Spain had seen a “very rapid increase in rates” of coronavirus and warned the list of safe countries is being kept “under review”.

She said if other countries see rates “going up significantly and rapidly, we’ll need to take action”.

There are now fears more European holidays could be thrown into disarray, with fears other countries could be struck off the ‘air-bridges’ list at potentially short notice.

It comes after the World Health Organization warned the pandemic “continues to accelerate” around the world, with nearly 16 million cases confirmed and more than 640,000 dead.

Both France and Germany are experiencing a spike in cases, prompting many to worry they could be next.

Close to 1.8 million holidays are likely to have been thrown into chaos by the move to remove Spain from the list, according to travel company The PC Agency.

The precarious situation in Europe

The government is urging employers to be “flexible” in allowing staff to work from home while self-isolating and it expects the majority of people were expected to comply with quarantine rules.

Three fines have been issued at the border since the measures were first introduced in early June.

While the government wants employers to support staff caught up in the rule change, it has not extended any new support of its own.

The Trades Union Congress had been calling for Statutory Sick Pay to be extended to anyone forced to quarantine who cannot work from home.

Downing Street said holidaymakers who miss out on work because of the quarantine period may be eligible for Universal Credit or employment support allowance but not statutory sick pay.

Pressed on whether ministers would review statutory sick pay eligibility, he said: “We always keep our response to the pandemic under review and we regularly assess the support available but there is support available for those in need.”

Under the rules employers are able to ask staff to cancel holidays if it means they will be out of work longer than planned, but the government says any worker who loses their job can appeal to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas).

One person caught up in the rule change who will be isolating upon their return is Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, whose department announced the quarantines just hours after he jetted to Spain.

Number 10 said the rules apply to “ministers as they do anyone else”.