Portugal is set to be added to the UK’s travel corridor list, meaning arrivals from the country will no longer have to quarantine, but Croatia and Trinidad and Tobago are being removed, the Guardian has learned.
It is understood that the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, was among UK government ministers who agreed on Wednesday to the changes, due to come into force from Saturday at 4am, with an official announcement expected later on Thursday after final discussions and sign-off with the devolved administrations.
The move to exempt arrivals from Portugal from 14-day Covid-19 quarantine measures is a major boost for the country’s tourism industry after the blow of being left off the travel corridor list earlier this summer.
Ministers in London are understood to have agreed during discussions on Wednesday to take Croatia off the list after a surge in infections, with Trinidad and Tobago set to join it in being removed. This would mean thousands of holidaymakers have until Saturday 4am to return to escape quarantine measures.
Austria, Switzerland and Greece are under a close watch amid concern over rising Covid infections. Individual decisions on whether or not to remove destinations from the travel corridor are taken by devolved administrations, but last week’s removal of France from the list was taken in unison by the four UK nations.
All four governments, which each have legal and political responsibilities for enforcing these travel regulations in their own jurisdictions, are due to hold joint talks on any fresh quarantine measures on Thursday afternoon before an announcement is finalised. Ministers in all four governments are understood to want unanimity after earlier rows and differences over quarantine measures.
A senior source in one of the UK’s devolved governments confirmed there was a high level of certainty that Croatia would be removed from the travel corridor while Portugal would join those countries on it.
It comes after the Guardian revealed that officials at the Joint Biosecurity Centre had highlighted specific coronavirus cases imported to the UK from Croatia. It is not known how many cases have been identified or where in the country, but it is understood that the number of imported cases is at a similar level to that shown by Spain when it was removed from the travel corridor last month with just a few hours’ notice, prompting chaos for holidaymakers.
On Tuesday, Croatia reported 199 new Covid cases. As of Thursday, according to the European Centre for Disease Control, the 14-day cumulative number of Covid-19 cases in Croatia was 41.7 per 100,000 people, compared with the UK’s 20.9 and Portugal’s 27.8.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Thursday that the Balkans region, of which Croatia is part, was a “hotspot” for coronavirus. Dr Catherine Smallwood told a WHO press conference: “The situation in the Balkans has been a concern of ours since early June when we started to see cases increase and it’s been very much a sub-regional hotspot over the summer period.”
From Wednesday this week until the end of September there were 767 flights run by large airlines scheduled to fly from the UK to Croatia, with a total seat capacity of nearly 130,000, according to the aviation data analysts Cirium. The travel consultancy PC Agency, which has been monitoring travel corridor developments, has estimated that there are 20,000 British holidaymakers in Croatia this week.
Darija Reic, the director of the Croatian national tourist office in London, said: “We are confident that Croatia is still a safe place for tourists, with the majority of the coast having low numbers of infections. Croatian authorities are continuously monitoring and adjusting Covid-related safety measures to ensure we are controlling the virus at all times.”
Trinidad and Tobago’s removal comes after moves in recent weeks to take off nearby Bahamas, the British overseas territory the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the island of Aruba, a Dutch constituent country in the Caribbean.
The Department for Transport declined to comment.