Calls for traveller testing at airports have intensified in the wake of the UK government’s decision to impose quarantine measures on seven Greek islands.
The regional approach is a departure from blanket country bans imposed by the government this summer but holiday companies that serve the affected islands have questioned the rationale behind the list and say the current 14-day quarantine requirement is unsustainable. A rigorous testing policy is vital to restore consumer confidence, the companies maintain, an argument supported by a recent Skyscanner survey of 1,175 UK travellers in which 85% said they would be more likely to travel abroad if airport testing was in place.
However, chairman of Greece specialist Sunvil Noel Josephides said identifying individual islands was a step in the right direction. “For those of us who operate to these islands, it’s a hindrance – we will have to look at moving people with forward bookings to different islands – but if it means they might look at other destinations separately then the policy is the correct one. It’s what we’ve been asking for for weeks.”
But while the new approach has been given a cautious welcome, it was still far from satisfactory, he said. “We should have a good testing system [that would allow] reduced quarantine of, for instance, four days instead of 14.”
Paul Charles, of travel PR firm the PC Agency and founder of former campaign group Quash Quarantine, has proposed a two-test system based on testing people in the destination and again a few days after their return to the UK.
The islands now deemed unsafe are Lesbos, Tinos, Serifos, Mykonos, Crete, Santorini and Zakynthos, also known as Zante. It follows an announcement last week by the Welsh government to impose quarantine measures on six Greek islands. This week Wales added three more islands to its own list: Santorini, Tinos and Serifos. According to transport secretary Grant Shapps, their changed status is based on “the use of enhanced data”, but Josephides called on the government to be more transparent about the figures that inform its decisions. He questioned the logic behind the addition of Serifos to the at-risk list. “To be honest, it was a mystery to me how anyone had even heard of Serifos, it’s such a small place. What’s the population? How many cases have there been and how have they arrived at this decision?”
Josephides is not the only one questioning the inclusion of Serifos. In an open letter to Shapps, the island’s deputy mayor for finance and tourism, Livanios Stylianos, asked for an explanation for its sudden new “unsafe” status: “Serifos does not have any direct flights to/from the UK since there is no airport on the island and therefore the possibility of infection is quite remote. Also, the island traditionally relies on domestic tourism and the percentage of UK tourists on the island is less than 5%-7% of the international tourism on a yearly basis. Therefore, we are questioning the representativeness of the sample size.”
Some Twitter wags have come to their own conclusions about the motivation behind the latest announcement: Have I Got News For You tweeted “Government adds seven Greek Islands to UK Quarantine list which can be relaxed on an individual basis depending on where Stanley Johnson is staying at the time.”