Explained: is it safe to book a holiday in Europe when quarantine rules could change?
Government accused of creating ‘sense of panic’ with sudden change in travel advice
Spain’s government has insisted that the country is safe for tourists and locals, following Britain’s sudden reimposition of a two-week quarantine on returning travellers.
Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya told reporters that “most new cases are asymptomatic”, adding that the ministry is in talks to exclude UK travellers returning from the Balearic islands and the Canary islands from the quarantine measures.
However, the sudden reintroduction of quarantine restrictions left many tourists “confused and distressed”, with some rushing to book flights out of the country at short notice, The Independent says.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said that the government could not “guarantee” that other countries would not be removed from the list in the future, adding that Brits heading abroad will face continued “uncertainty” around their summer holidays.
So is it safe to book a trip outside of the UK - or is it best to wait out the coming months?
How dangerous is a trip to Europe?
European Union diplomats spent five days debating which countries the bloc would deem “safe” for travel, with BBC Europe reporter Gavin Lee saying there was “intense lobbying by representatives of the US, Russia and Turkey to get included on the list”.
Those lobbying efforts were unsuccessful, with the EU agreeing to allow travellers from Algeria, Australia, Canada, China, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.
The list of countries was based on three factors: ensuring that the Covid-19 infection rate in the country was low enough (fewer than 16 in every 100,000 infected), a downward trend of cases and social distancing measures set at “a sufficient level”.
To apply the EU’s own logic to European countries, this would mean that many counties on the continent should be safe for holidaymakers.
Case numbers have been stable in popular destinations such as Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece and Italy since the beginning of July, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
However, things can change quickly, as seen in the government’s decision to stop quarantine-free travel to Spain. The country recorded 280 new cases of Covid-19 in 24 hours on Friday, “three times more than two weeks ago”, according to EuroNews.
And concerns are rising that France and Germany could also be removed from the UK’s safe travel list.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex “raised the possibility of a second lockdown” and German politician Michael Kretschmer, premier of Saxony, said rising infection rates suggest a “second coronavirus wave is already sweeping through Germany”, The Telegraph reports.
Average daily cases in the UK are also rising, with government data estimating that 2,800 people per day are catching the virus with infection rates rising in 63 areas of the country, the Daily Mail says.
The government has said that it will now review its quarantine-free travel rules on a weekly basis, rather than once a month, raising the possibility of a country’s status changing during a trip abroad.
What happens to my booking if the rules change?
With the government green-lighting quarantine-free travel to Spain just three weeks ago, many holidaymakers are now wondering what happens to their booking if they cannot travel under the changed restrictions.
“Airlines, including easyJet, Ryanair and British Airways have said they will continue to fly to Spain. Hotels remain open,” Which? says. Meaning that “if you have booked flights and accommodation separately... it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get a refund.”
Some airlines and hotels are offering travellers the option to rebook, however, this is dependent on the particular terms and conditions of the individual companies.
Some package holiday companies, for example Tui and easyJet, have said that they are cancelling future bookings until August.
Holiday packages will be cancelled on a rolling basis, depending on the government’s guidance, but “it’s crucial you wait for the holiday company to cancel to claim a refund”.
“Don’t cancel the holiday yourself,” Which? says, because “you’ll be entitled to choose between rebooking or a cash refund” if the holiday is pulled by the operator.
Will I get insurance?
If the country you are travelling to is marked as “red”, according to the government’s ranking system, you will be unlikely to get insurance. If you do find a company offering “high-risk” insurance packages, they are likely to be pricey.
However, if the country is listed as “amber” - meaning quarantine-free travel is in place - “there’s now a growing list of travel insurers boasting coronavirus cover of some kind”, Which? says.
They break down into those that cover Covid-19-related medical expenses, but nothing else, and those that cover Covid-19 medical expenses and cancellation.
Some holidaymakers will decide to travel to Europe without insurance, just relying on the coverage provided by the European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) scheme which does not expire for people carrying British passports until December.
The Independent’s travel correspondent Simon Calder says that “you might, after careful thought, rationally decide not to insure if you are travelling within Europe”.
“Until the end of 2020, British travellers are covered by the Ehic scheme, offering treatment in public hospitals on the same basis as local citizens,” he explains.