The UK’s quarantine policy is “in tatters” after Portugal and Greece  retained their places on England’s quarantine exemption list but Wales and Scotland added restrictions.

The changes widen the discrepancies in Covid-19 travel policies of Westminster and the devolved administrations.

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “The quarantine policy is in tatters and dividing the United Kingdom.

“Consumers are totally confused by the different approaches and it’s impossible to understand the government’s own criteria any more on when to add or remove a country.”

Julia Lo Bue Said, Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive, agreed in a tweet that the situation was “just so confusing for travellers”.

World Travel & Tourism Council president and chief executive Gloria Guevara said: “WTTC shares the bewilderment of British holidaymakers and those working throughout the travel and tourism sector, at the absurd spectacle of completely different quarantine rules in England, Scotland and Wales for those now returning back from Greece. A similar situation is emerging with Portugal.

“This public policy lottery is creating chaos. It shows confusion, mistrust and further seriously undermines the government’s credibility in the eyes of the public.

“We urgently need to restore the confidence to travel, not create more uncertainty. It is vital we have a properly coordinated response across the UK, which people – and the travel and tourism sector – can both understand and have confidence in.

“Blanket quarantines are disruptive, unhelpful and have a devastating economic impact. Unfortunately, there has been no plan from the government on how to abandon them and focus instead on reopening ‘air corridors’ between cities which have similar low coronavirus infection rates to revive international business and leisure travel responsibly.

“WTTC does welcome the government’s £500 million package for Covid-19 testing.

“Investing in a comprehensive testing programme for travellers will be less expensive than the economic cost brought on by blanket quarantines, with its devastating impact on jobs and the millions of livelihoods that depend on this sector.”

Mike Tibbert, vice president of Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association, said: “It feels as if the government is playing games, with all its half announcements and teasers.

“The entire travel sector and the travelling public need consistency and clear, well timed messaging, not a drip drip of what might or might not happen and which country might be added to or removed from the ‘safe list’.

“But the tooing and froing on the safe list versus quarantine is actually distracting from the main issue which is the total lack of immediate support for the travel sector and the complete absence of a strategic plan to save future travel. Once lost, our connectivity to the rest of the world – and consequently theirs to us – will disappear. And once this happens and we lose flight routes, it will be years before we can rebuild these.

“Is the government considering the impact this will have on Scottish and UK economy? It’s time that everyone realised this is not just about sunseeking holidaymakers and is everything about the devastation this will have on our ability to do business with the rest of the world and vice versa.”

Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “Days of speculation around this announcement meant many people rushed to pay extortionate prices for flights back to England [from Portugal] to avoid having to quarantine on their return – only to now find out there was no need.

Lack of clarity

“The government knows this and yet it continues to offer no clarity around how these decisions are made, all while ignoring the growing evidence suggesting this system is not working.

“If the government is serious about letting international travel resume while prioritising public health, a major reassessment of its approach is needed.”

There had been speculation that the 14-day quarantine requirement would be reimposed on Portugal due to a spike in Covid-19 cases, leading many holidaymakers having to pay extra to fly home early.

The government was also under pressure to reimpose quarantine rules on arrivals from Greece after Scotland and Wales introduced restrictions.

But transport secretary Grant Shapps announced there were no changes to the government’s list on Thursday.

And he told BBC Breakfast today that the difference in quarantine rules was similar to the way lockdown had been applied across the UK.

“It is similar unfortunately with the quarantining where we look at the data and then we do speak – but I’m afraid quite often come to slightly different outcomes which I appreciate is confusing for people,” he said.

He described Portugal as being on a “borderline”, adding that “the opinion of England and Northern Ireland is that it did not justify quarantine this week”.

The Welsh government revealed that it is removing the exemption from the 14-day self-isolation requirement for travellers returning from Portugal, Gibraltar and seven Greek islands.  The new rule came into force at 4am today (Friday).

The Scottish government later said passengers arriving from Portugal would have to quarantine from 4am on Saturday, as well as those arriving from French Polynesia.

Scotland began requiring travellers from anywhere in Greece to enter quarantine from Thursday.

There were 23.0 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people in Portugal in the seven days to Wednesday, up from 15.3 a week earlier.

A seven-day rate of 20 is the threshold above which the UK government has considered triggering quarantine conditions.

However, a tourism chief on the Algarve told Travel Weekly earlier this week that Covid testing had been stepped up .

Shapps said that the decision on Thursday not to make any changes for England included the extent of in-country tests.

FCO Portugal advice

The latest Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office travel advice says: “Portugal, including Madeira, Porto Santo and the Azores, is exempt from the FCDO advice against all non-essential international travel. This is based on the current assessment of Covid-19 risks.

“If you are travelling to Wales from mainland Portugal on or after 4am on 4 September, you will need to self-isolate for 14 days on your return.

“If you are travelling to Scotland from mainland Portugal or the autonomous regions of Madeira and the Azores on or after 4am on 5 September, you will need to self-isolate for 14 days on your return.”

Announcing no change to the travel corridors list from England on Thursday, the Department for Transport said: “Ministerial decisions around adding or removing countries from the list take into account a range of factors, including virus incidence rates, information on a country’s testing capacity, an assessment of the quality of data available, effectiveness of the measures being deployed by a country to tackle the virus, and an estimate of the proportion of the population that is currently infectious in each country.

“The government has made consistently clear it will take decisive action if necessary to contain the virus, including removing countries from the travel corridors list rapidly if the public health risk of people returning from a particular country without self-isolating becomes too high.

“This means holidaymakers may find they need to self-isolate on return to the UK and are advised to consider the implications of self-isolation on them and their families before making travel plans.

“Passengers who do not comply with the self-isolation measures can face penalties including fines of up to £1,000. The government continues to urge employers to be understanding of those returning from destinations and requiring the need to self-isolate.”

The DfT added: “Covid-19 has profoundly changed the nature of international travel. Travellers should always check the latest advice from th FCDO, given the potential for changing coronavirus infection rates to affect both the advice about travelling to other countries and rules about self-isolation on return.

“All travellers, including those from exempt destinations, will still be required to show a complete passenger locator form on arrival into the UK unless they fall into a small group of exemptions. If travellers refuse to provide their contact details, they could be fined up to £3,200.”

Meanwhile, Sean Moriarty, chief executive of Quinta do Lago in the Algarve, said: “We are of course very pleased that the English and Northern Irish governments have not reimposed quarantine restrictions on travellers returning from Portugal.

“We are really enjoying welcoming back our returning guests as well as plenty of new faces and are putting in all our energy to ensure they receive the very best possible holiday experience.

“Current guests have exclusive access to our new sports packages at The Campus and our newly renovated seafood restaurant Casa do Lago, the South Golf Course which has just received a €7 million investment also reopens next week.

“Feedback from all our guests shows they have felt completely safe during their stay – which is our main priority.”