Imposing quarantine restrictions on British travellers to France with little over 24 hours notice is “seriously worrying” but removing Malta from the ‘safe list’ of destinations will have more impact on agents.

The message came from Advantage Travel Partnership in reaction to last night’s announcement from the government that holidaymakers will be given until 4am on Saturday to return to the UK before having to self-isolate for 14 days as the countries are removed from the travel exemptions list.

Around 400,000 British holidaymakers in France now face a scramble to get home by the deadline to avoid having to go into quarantine for two weeks.

The new measures also affect Holland, Monaco, Turks and Caicos Islands and Aruba.

At the same time, the Foreign Office also updated its travel advice to advise against all but essential travel to the six countries.

France responded by applying reciprocal quarantine rules.

The government cited data from France showing a 66% increase in newly reported cases in the past week and a 52% increase in weekly incidence rate per 100,000 population, indicating a sharp rise in Covid-19.

Malta has seen a 105% increase in newly reported cases over the past seven days.

Announcing the advice change at 10pm last night, the Foreign Office said: “The FCO is not advising those already travelling in Malta to leave at this time.

“You should follow the advice of the local authorities on how best to protect yourself and others, including any measures that they bring in to control the virus. Contact your tour operator or airline if you have any questions about your return journey.

“If you are returning to the UK from Malta on or after 15 August, you may need to self-isolate on your return.”

The removal of Malta from the exempt list will be another burden on the trade as agents tend to book the majority of travel to the island as opposed to mainly independent travel to France, albeit overall traveller numbers are far fewer with around 500,000 British tourists visiting the Mediterranean island.

Advantage chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said said: “To have France be removed from the government’s safe list of travel corridors is seriously worrying for the travel industry and the economy in general given that there are so many British visitors there right now.

“However, for the travel agent community the removal of Malta is even more worrying. It’s a destination more likely to be booked by an agent as a package holiday.

“We are working hard with our partners, suppliers and fellow industry leaders to encourage consumers to have the confidence to book a holiday but this latest news will further damage consumer confidence.”

Former Abta chairman and Advantage chief executve John McEwan tweeted: “With Spain, France, Portugal, as well as other countries subject to quarantine, the travel industry can largely write off the summer season.

“With no specific government support, many travel companies will go out of business in the next 3 months.”

An Airlines UK spokesperson said: “It’s another devastating blow to the travel industry already reeling from the worst crisis in its history.

“Having the political will to move to a sub-national approach to quarantine, in addition to a testing regime for arriving passengers so tjat those testing nagative can avoid having to self-isolate – which other countries like Germany have already implemented – is urgently needed to provide carriers and customers with additional certainty around the ability to travel this autumn and winter, avoiding broad-brush, weekly ‘stop and go’ changes to travel corridors, which have proven so disruptive to airlines and passengers alike.”

Paul Charles, founder of travel consultancy PC Agency, said: “Imposing quarantine on people arriving from France will have huge implications because of the number who drive en route to other destinations. As soon as they stop in France for fuel or the toilet they will have to self-isolate on return.”

And he tweeted: “The 14-day system of quarantine has to be changed – it creates confusion and anxiety among consumers; it’s hurting  the travel sector with lower demand; and it says Britain is closed to the world, just ahead of Brexit. Why aren’t we investing more in testing?”

Aito chief executive Martyn Summers said: “People with school-age children who are booked to go to France will face a dilemma – go and miss the first week of term or cancel.”

Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “It’s understandable that the government wants to restrict travel to these countries at this time, but the burden of this decision disproportionally falls on holidaymakers – thousands of whom are likely to be left significantly out of pocket because their airline will refuse to refund them.

“Unlike tour operators, airlines now routinely ignore FCO travel warnings and refuse refunds because, they argue, the flight is still operating. Some major airlines, like Ryanair, won’t even allow customers to rebook without charging a hefty fee.

“The government wants us to act responsibly and not travel to countries with an FCO warning, but it needs to make it clear to airlines that they too need to act responsibly and not ignore government travel advice in an effort to pocket customer cash.”

Gloria Guevara, president and chief executive of the World Travel & Tourism Council, said: “While we agree public health should remain the top priority, this move will crush what little confidence there is left in the fragile travel and tourism sector.

“The UK clearly lags behind other countries, which have shunned quarantines in favour of comprehensive programmes of testing for everyone departing and arriving back into their respective countries. International coordination and programme of testing for anyone who wants to go on holiday to help stop Covid-19 in its tracks are crucial in order to rescue three million jobs in the UK alone.”

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