LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government imposed a 14-day quarantine for travellers arriving from seven Greek islands in a shift to its coronavirus strategy, as domestic cases of the disease continued to rise.
It's the first time London has taken a regional approach to quarantine rules and will be a blow to the islands, which are popular destinations for British holidaymakers.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced the measure amid mounting concern in Johnson's administration after 2,948 further virus cases were reported Monday (Sept 7), on top of 2,988 on Sunday, in highs not seen since May.
"Our top priority has always been to keep domestic infection rates down," Shapps said in an e-mailed statement. "Through the use of enhanced data we will now be able to pinpoint risk in some of the most popular islands, providing increased flexibility to add or remove them - distinct from the mainland - as infection rates change."
Shapps said Britain's testing regime is being stretched as he rejected calls for travellers to be tested at airports in order to avoid the need for quarantine.
Johnson's government, which has been criticised over the availability of coronavirus tests throughout the pandemic, is under pressure to minimise disruption for holiday-makers and help Britain's beleaguered travel sector recover.
"Pressure on testing is very real," Shapps told the House of Commons, saying the return of students to schools and universities is increasing demand. "I'm not sure we should be prioritizing holiday-makers returning to the testing system over, for example, children going back to school. The simple solution is of course to create more testing."
Shapps did, though, say the government is looking at ways to shorten the quarantine period, suggesting that testing travellers about a week after they arrive could be an option - though he reiterated it would hinge on boosting testing capacity and further developing the government's track-and-trace programme.
Crete, Santorini, Lesvos, Tinos, Serifos, Mykonos and Zakynthos will be removed from the quarantine exemption list as of 4am on Wednesday, the Department for Transport said.
While restrictions will be enforced for the islands, a so-called travel corridor with mainland Greece and other Greek islands will allow restriction-free travel, it said.
The measure announced Monday applies to travellers arriving in England, with devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland making their own decisions.
The Greek islands join countries including Spain, France, Switzerland, Jamaica and the Czech Republic on the quarantine list.
Britain's rising cases have largely been attributed to infections of younger people and on Monday Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned of the dangers of flouting social-distancing rules.
The worry for Johnson is that a spike in cases among the young could spread to the wider population, as has been seen elsewhere in Europe. It also risks undermining the government's push to encourage people back to their workplaces after schools reopened across England last week.
Jonathan Van Tam, England's deputy chief medical officer, warned that people need to refocus on efforts to stop the spread of the virus.
"People have relaxed too much, now is the time for us to re-engage, and to realise that this a continuing threat to us," he told the BBC on Monday evening. "The fact that 17 to 21-year-olds are not becoming ill means they are lucky, but they also forget because the disease is not severe for them that they are potent spreaders."