Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, and her Welsh counterpart Mark Drakeford said the government has made a series of last-minute changes to its list of countries deemed safe to travel to after weeks of delays and warnings from travel firms facing mounting financial woes, The Independent reported.
The list published on Friday was released without a widely-trailed “traffic light” system, despite it being promised by Grant Shapps, the Transport Decretary, hours earlier during a radio interview.
There was further confusion when Greece was included on the list of countries exempt from quarantine, despite Shapps saying earlier that it would not be.
Shapps had said Greece would not feature as it had banned flights from the UK until mid-July due to Britain’s high rate of infections – but the government appears to have backed down and unilaterally given it the green light despite restrictions on the Greek side.
The government’s chief scientific adviser also hinted the 14-day quarantine imposed on travellers arriving in England was not supported by scientific evidence.
Speaking at Friday’s Downing Street press conference, Patrick Vallance was asked if there was ever a scientific justification for the blanket quarantine imposed – save for a handful of exceptions – on June 8.
Vallance replied, “Our advice has been clear that quarantine makes most sense and can be used effectively when people are coming from countries with higher infection rates than the ones we have here", adding, “That’s where quarantine is a measure that would make a difference.”
Sturgeon has criticised the “shifting sands” of UK government policy, noting, “When so much is at stake as it is right now, we can’t allow ourselves to be dragged along in the wake of, to be quite frank about it, another government’s shambolic decision process."
“Just to illustrate the point [on] the shifting sands of the UK government’s position – the list of countries that they were yesterday demanding that the Scottish government sign up to, and suggesting we were a barrier to getting an agreement on, is not the same as the list they have shared with us today,” she stated.
Drakeford said it has been “impossible” to get a “sensible answer” from ministers about their approach.
“Day after day, we have attempted to get a sensible answer from the UK government on how they intend to make these changes, which countries they intend to extend the arrangements to, and I just have to say it’s been an impossible experience to follow,” he added.
A 14-day self-isolation policy for UK arrivals – bar a handful of exemptions – was introduced on June 8, but this is now being relaxed for countries on the list.
There are now 73 countries with exemptions, including popular short-haul destinations such as Spain, France, Italy, Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, as well as long-haul locations including Australia, Barbados, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and Vietnam.
China, Portugal, Thailand, the Maldives and the USA are among destinations notable by their absence.
Labour attacked the government’s handling of the situation as a “mess”.
Jim McMahon, the Shadow Transport Secretary, said, “Labour – like families and businesses up and down the country – are keen for the government’s quarantine measures to be lessened, but this a mess."
“First we had the quarantine that they were slow to implement, then they said they’d do air bridges. Now we see a plan to let residents of 60 or more countries into England without any reciprocal arrangements," McMahon continued.
“The fact they have been unable to negotiate air bridges is an indictment of their failure to tackle the crisis at home. They were too slow to take lockdown, too slow to order PPE and too slow to protect our country,” McMahon added.
The Liberal Democrats called on ministers to publish the scientific basis for the so-called “travel corridors”.
Lib Dem health, wellbeing and social care spokesperson Munira Wilson accused ministers of being “all over the place” on quarantine.
“People deserve better,” she stated, “To avoid yet further confusion, ministers must publish the scientific basis for their decisions.”