Gibraltar received a partial reprieve as the UK’s self-isolation carousel for returning travellers entered a new conflicting stage.
Visitors from England will still be able to return home from Gibraltar without having to go into a 14-day quarantine, but Wales has decided to reintroduce restrictions. Surprisingly for many observers, England and Wales came to different decisions based on the same data from the Joint Biosecurity Centre.
The Welsh Government removed Gibraltar from its list of countries and territories exempt from quarantine requirements, with effect from 4am on Friday (4 September). This means even travellers returning to Wales via English airports will have to self-isolate on arrival.
According to Welsh minister for health and social services Vaughn Gething, the decision followed the “clear advice” of the UK’s Join Biosecurity Centre. “This action is being taken as a result of a large number of cases of coronavirus having been imported into Wales from tourists returning from the Greek islands, in particular. In the last week, there have been more than 20 cases confirmed in passengers on one flight from Zante to Cardiff.”
Other countries and territories also removed from the Welsh list included Portugal and six Greek islands: Antiparos, Crete, Lesbos, Mykonos, Paros and Zante (also known as Zakynthos).
Nevertheless, Gibraltar remained on England’s exemption list, with transport secretary Grant Shapps tweeting, “We continue to keep the Travel Corridor list under constant review & won’t hesitate to remove countries if needed. However, there are no English additions or removals today. Nonetheless, holidaymakers are reminded – 14-day quarantine countries can & do change at very short notice.
“Travel Corridor factors taken into account by JBC & Ministers inc: Covid-19 prevalence; level & rate of change; extent of in-country tests, regime & test positivity; extent of contained outbreak as opposed to general transmission; govt actions & other epidemiological information.”
Speaking the previous week on the BBC’s Today program, Gibraltar chief minister Fabian Picardo had conceded that imposing quarantine restrictions was “an understandable reaction to an extrapolation of the number of infections detected”.
However, he added, “If you do a more detailed dive and you look at the fact that we are doing more testing than most places per head of population, then you’ll understand that we are now being very successful at identifying cases of the virus and then exercising controls in terms of imposing self-isolation, etc.
“We’re doing a good job in detecting the virus and dealing with it. We have larger numbers of the virus detected now, but we have no one in hospital, we have no one in ICU, we have no one having died from the virus, I’d say we’ve been very successful in our strategy.”
Picardo noted that Gibraltar had tested almost 32,000 people, representing 95 per cent of the population, and continued to test two per cent of inhabitants a day – the equivalent of the UK testing about 1.2 million people daily.
The UK government and Joint Biosecurity Centre focus on the number of new cases per 100,000 citizens in a seven-day period when deciding if a country is high or low risk. When the figure reaches 20 (as occurred with Gibraltar and Portugal) the country or territory is normally deemed to be dangerous, although UK authorities still don’t deem them to be so risky that holidaymakers and other travellers should return home immediately.