A Tory minister has warned British holidaymakers to “look very carefully” before going abroad after thousands returning from Spain were forced into quarantine.
Helen Whately refused to rule out drastic last-minute restrictions on other countries like France and Germany – saying “we have to keep the situation under review.”
And she said holidaymakers must face the “reality” that coronavirus is a global pandemic, with £1,000 fines if they break quarantine on their return.
The comments – just days into the school holidays – risk paralysing the travel industry just weeks after restrictions were finally lifted on scores of nations.
Ms Whately told BBC Breakfast: “What I would say to people who are planning to go abroad is look very carefully at the situation.
“You have to weigh up the risks, look at the advice, look at your insurance.
“And just be aware that the reality is we are in a global pandemic and we have to do what is the right thing for the health of the nation.”
Asked if other countries, like France and Germany, could join the list of those in quarantine she said: “We have to keep the situation under review and I think that is what the public would expect us to do.
“If we see rates going up in a country where at the moment there is no need to quarantine, if we see the rates going up, we would have to take action because we cannot take the risk of coronavirus being spread again across the UK.”
It comes after thousands of Brits in Spain were told on Saturday they would need to quarantine for 14 days when returning from Sunday.
The decision came at just a few hours’ notice – and the government’s website warns those returning cannot claim £95.85-a-week Statutory Sick Pay.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab claimed workers would not be penalised for staying at home for a fortnight.
He told Sky News: “You cannot be penalised in this country lawfully for following the rules and the law that’s in place.
“And obviously we expect employers to respond flexibly and in an understanding way.”
Ms Whately added today: “We’re asking employers to be supportive and understanding in their situation.
“There are people who went on holiday to Spain not expecting to quarantine when they come back and now they’re having to quarantine because that is the right thing for protecting the health of the country.”
Yet the government’s own website makes clear SSP is not available to those self-isolating after a holiday.
It says: “You cannot get SSP if you’re self-isolating after entering or returning to the UK and do not need to self-isolate for any other reason.”
The Government refused to apologise for the speed of the decision – with Ms Whately insisting infections had gone up “very, very quickly” in Spain.
But she faced anger from holiday firms over the blanket quarantine on those returning from Spain.
The quarantine rule applies to people returning from the whole of Spain, yet Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice is against all but essential travel only applies to the mainland.
That means people can go to the Balearics with valid travel insurance, but then have to quarantine for 14 days when they get back.
Ms Whately said regional quarantine rules for only some parts of Spain wouldn’t have worked.
She told BBC Breakfast: “It was something that was discussed, would it make sense to look at different regions differently.
“One thing we saw was that the rate was going up across many regions of Spain.
“Also people travel between regions… It was much better for protecting the public health of the country to have a clear decision on quarantining for people coming back from mainland Spain and the islands.”