The EU has started locking out British travellers as Ireland and Finland become the first to adopt new quarantine thresholds.
The Irish Government is expected to announce on Tuesday a new system for deciding quarantine as it ditches the “green” list of countries that it introduced at the start of the pandemic.
It is expected to follow a standardised model being pushed by the European Commission under which arrivals from any country with more than 50 Covid cases per 100,000 of the population over the past 14 days and a positive test rate above three per cent could face quarantine.
Britain’s surge in cases saw Monday’s Covid rate in the UK hit 51.1 per 100,000 people over the previous 14 days. With positive tests running at six per cent, the UK’s infection rate would trigger quarantine under the EU’s proposed new “traffic light” colour-coded system.
From Saturday September 19, Finland is adopting a similar model where any traveller from a country with 25 new cases of the disease per 100,000 people will have to quarantine and take mandatory Covid tests.
The moves follow the European Commission’s publication of its standardised “traffic light” colour system, infection rate threshold and a harmonised approach to travellers from high-risk areas to the bloc.
It is understood that France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands are in favour of a standardised approach to identifying “red list” countries although the national governments want to reserve the right to decide when and how they impose quarantine.
Red list countries are defined as with more than 50 cases per 100,000 and a positivity rate above three per cent or more than 150 cases per 100,000 during a 14-day period – which would automatically hit Spain (270.7 cases), France (151.3) and the USA (159.4).
Green list countries are classed as those with Covid rates of fewer than 25 cases per 100,000 and positivity rates below three per cent, while “amber” is fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 and positivity rates at three per cent or more.
Paul Charles, chief executive of the travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “It is good news that consensus is being agreed but bad news for travellers leaving the UK because our numbers are getting worse and people are going to have to quarantine in other countries.
“It underlines the need for a more comprehensive testing regime so that people in red list countries can avoid quarantine if they are tested before or on arrival, then again after a short period in quarantine.”
Finland could become the model for Europe with its proposals unveiled this week to introduce a new testing regime for arrivals from “red list” countries from November 23.
It is similar to Iceland, which has a test on arrival then a second after five days quarantine, where travellers with negative Covid results are freed from self-isolating.
Under Finland’s model, any traveller staying for over 72 hours can shorten their 14-day quarantine if they arrive with a negative test result taken no more than 72 hours before they enter the country. If they are still clear of Covid in a second test at 72 hours, they are freed from quarantine.
Any person planning to stay for under 72 hours who arrives with a negative test result will be exempt from quarantine, in a move that will benefit business travellers and short-stay holidaymakers.
France and Germany are among 30 countries that have already introduced border tests for travellers from “red list” countries.
UK ministers, however, have yet to decide on whether to give the go-ahead to any trials of airport tests even though Heathrow has a testing facility built and ready to open. “There is a danger of Britain falling behind,” said Mr Charles.