Covid-19 quarantine list could be added to within days, says Hancock

Health secretary says officials are monitoring cases following concerns over Belgium, Luxembourg and Croatia

New countries may be added to the quarantine list for returning British holidaymakers within days, Matt Hancock has said, insisting he had “absolutely no regrets” about the snap decision on Spain.

The health secretary said officials were looking “all of the time” at coronavirus cases in other countries following concerns about the infection rates in Belgium, Luxembourg and Croatia.

“I’d love people to be able to go abroad and I love travelling but in the middle of a global pandemic we just have to be realistic about the fact that these things change because the pandemic changes in other countries,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday.

“That’s why we had to act so fast on Spain and I have absolutely no regrets in acting as fast as we did. It was incredibly important that we made that move so fast.”

Hancock confirmed that the UK’s chief medical officers would be setting out details later on Thursday about extending the amount of time people with Covid-19 symptoms must self-isolate, from a week to 10 days.

The government is under pressure from at least 30 Conservative MPs and the beleaguered travel industry to reconsider its approach to the 14-day quarantine for travellers from at-risk countries, with backbenchers urging Boris Johnson to cut the two-week timeframe by introducing mass testing.

Hancock confirmed on Thursday that officials were looking at reducing the length of the 14-day quarantine by testing international arrivals multiple times after they had returned to Britain.

Echoing the words of the prime minister, the health secretary said a second wave of the pandemic was “rolling across Europe” and denied strongly that he was overstating the rise in cases in some countries.

He told the Today programme’s Nick Robinson: “I’m the health secretary in the middle of a global pandemic and so you’ll excuse me for being concerned about the health of the British people. That is absolutely at the front of my mind.

“You can see the increases in cases. You can see the sharp increase we saw in Spain and hence we took the rapid action that we did. You can see increases in some other countries and we’ll take the rapid action that we need to should we do that.”

Hancock said the government had been “extremely measured” in its approach but had needed to move fast when it imposed a sudden 14-day quarantine on people arriving from Spain from midnight last Saturday, barely two hours after it was announced, causing dismay and confusion among holidaymakers and stunning the British travel industry.

“The individual case rates in Spain have gone up very significantly in the last few weeks. I’m very sad about that; I love Spain and I know that lots and lots of British people do. But unfortunately we have had to remove that exemption in order to keep people here safe,” he said.

He said there was a danger of an increase in cases in Britain in the coming weeks but that the government was staying vigilant.

Asked by Robinson whether ministers were so afraid of repeating mistakes made early in the pandemic that they were overreacting on the so-called second wave in Europe, Hancock said: “No, I don’t think so. I do think we have learned a lot from having gone through this peak once and we are absolutely determined to keep people safe.

“We’ve learned from the data, science and frankly from the experience of going through it and taking the extraordinary decisions that you have to take. We are absolutely determined to protect this country. It saddens me that we’re seeing these rises elsewhere but I will be vigilant and we will move fast if we need to because that is what the virus required. The virus moves fast and so must we.”

Contributor

Josh Halliday

The GuardianTramp

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