NICOSIA -- Travelers or residents on Cyprus will have to scramble to get back home before 4 a.m. on Nov. 1 to avoid being quarantined for 14 days to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, signaling another blow to international flights and tourism.
United Kingdom Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that Cyprus and Lithuania were being removed from the safe travel list although the island had a relatively good record in holding down the number of cases.
Beleaguered travel companies had wanted the UK government to implement a better airport testing system to catch cases and give a boost to international travel that's being nearly decimated by the Coronavirus and travel fears.
People who don't return from Cyprus in time will have to self-isolate for a two-week period although it wasn't said how that would be enforced or what the penalties would be otherwise.
The move was made because the seven-day infection rate had risen above 100 cases per 100,000 in Lithuania and on Cyprus, where resistance has grown to tighter measures, even seeing a demonstration turn violent.
“It’s another nail in the coffin (for travel,)” Noel Josephides, founder of tour operator Sunvil told the British newspaper The Guardian. “The government has known they had to do something about airport testing months ago; how they have left it so late absolutely defeats me,” he added.
Paul Charles of the PC Agency, a campaigner for airport testing, said he didn't understand the reasoning. “Germany’s infection rate is up 200%. Case numbers soaring and it’s going into mini lockdown, so why isn’t that as high a risk as Cyprus?” he told the paper.
Only a week earlier, the UK said that it was safe to travel to the Canary islands as well as The Maldives, Denmark and Greece's popular island of Mykonos where there had been wild parties this summer in defiance of health protocols.
“Last-minute changes like this further erode consumer confidence in overseas travel and serve as a stark reminder of the urgent need to introduce testing to cut quarantine,” the Association of British Travel Agents complained.
World Tourism Organization figures released this week show a 70% fall in international arrivals worldwide for the first eight months of 2020, a loss of some $730 billion for the industry that threatens its existence.
The World Travel & Tourism Council was expected to warn of catastrophic impact on jobs in the sector, with many millions being lost globally “if barriers to global travel remain in place.”
The UK government’s travel taskforce is expected to report on how a testing system will work in early November. “The system badly and urgently needs to be replaced by a proper testing regime,” said Charles.