The travel industry has urged the government to rethink its 14-day quarantine policy for holidaymakers as rising coronavirus cases on the continent – including France and Greece – put more countries within the scope of the blunt approach.
Testing at airports and regional quarantine requirements are among alternatives put forward by tourism figures concerned by the impact the policy could have on an already battered sector.
France recorded its highest increase in cases since May on Friday, while countries emerging as preferred alternatives to Spain and France, such as Greece, have also experienced a steep rises in the number of cases.
There were 2,288 new cases in France in the 24 hours to Friday, leading many to presume it will be added to the government’s quarantine list, which requires anyone entering the UK from selected countries to self-isolate for 14 days. Spain, Belgium and Andorra are currently among European countries on the list.
Meanwhile, Britain’s confirmed coronavirus cases rose by 1,062 on Sunday – the first time the daily total has risen above 1,000 since late June – up from 758 cases on Saturday. Eight people were confirmed to have died with Covid-19.
Emma Batchelor, the director of Discover Ferries, which represents the passenger ferry industry in the UK, said: “We strongly advocate that any quarantine restrictions introduced by the UK government should be proportional and kept under close review in order to enable people to continue to travel to safe destinations and suggest adopting a regional rather than a country-based approach to quarantine.
“We also call on the government to be transparent on its decision-making criteria and time frames so people can make an informed decision on where they can travel for their long-awaited holidays this summer.”
It came amid signs that people were rebooking planned Spanish holidays for other countries, such as Greece. But late on Sunday Greece revealed it had recorded 203 new infections in the previous 24 hours, its highest daily tally since the start of the outbreak in the country, underlining the uncertainty across the continent. Greece has had just over 200 coronavirus deaths in total.
The Covid-19 pandemic is currently unfolding in “one big wave” with no evidence that it follows seasonal variations common to influenza and other coronaviruses, such as the common cold, the World Health Organization has warned.
Epidemics of infectious diseases behave in different ways but the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed more than 50 million people is regarded as a key example of a pandemic that occurred in multiple waves, with the latter more severe than the first. It has been replicated – albeit more mildly – in subsequent flu pandemics. Until now that had been what was expected from Covid-19.
How and why multiple-wave outbreaks occur, and how subsequent waves of infection can be prevented, has become a staple of epidemiological modelling studies and pandemic preparation, which have looked at everything from social behaviour and health policy to vaccination and the buildup of community immunity, also known as herd immunity.
Is there evidence of coronavirus coming back in a second wave?
This is being watched very carefully. Without a vaccine, and with no widespread immunity to the new disease, one alarm is being sounded by the experience of Singapore, which has seen a sudden resurgence in infections despite being lauded for its early handling of the outbreak.
Although Singapore instituted a strong contact tracing system for its general population, the disease re-emerged in cramped dormitory accommodation used by thousands of foreign workers with inadequate hygiene facilities and shared canteens.
Singapore’s experience, although very specific, has demonstrated the ability of the disease to come back strongly in places where people are in close proximity and its ability to exploit any weakness in public health regimes set up to counter it.
In June 2020, Beijing suffered from a new cluster of coronavirus cases which caused authorities to re-implement restrictions that China had previously been able to lift. In the UK, the city of Leicester was unable to come out of lockdown because of the development of a new spike of coronavirus cases. Clusters also emerged in Melbourne, requiring a re-imposition of lockdown conditions.
What are experts worried about?
Conventional wisdom among scientists suggests second waves of resistant infections occur after the capacity for treatment and isolation becomes exhausted. In this case the concern is that the social and political consensus supporting lockdowns is being overtaken by public frustration and the urgent need to reopen economies.
However Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, says “‘Second wave’ isn’t a term that we would use at the current time, as the virus hasn’t gone away, it’s in our population, it has spread to 188 countries so far, and what we are seeing now is essentially localised spikes or a localised return of a large number of cases.”
The overall threat declines when susceptibility of the population to the disease falls below a certain threshold or when widespread vaccination becomes available.
In general terms the ratio of susceptible and immune individuals in a population at the end of one wave determines the potential magnitude of a subsequent wave. The worry is that with a vaccine still many months away, and the real rate of infection only being guessed at, populations worldwide remain highly vulnerable to both resurgence and subsequent waves.
Paul Charles, a travel consultant at the PC Agency and founder of the campaign group Quash Quarantine, which has paused a planned legal action against the restrictions, said it was crucial the government learned from its mistakes with Spain and gave holidaymakers and the industry significant notice to allow consumers to rethink their plans.
He said the blanket quarantine approach was wrong, adding: “Much better to have another solution, which is a combination of temperature testing at airports, swab or saliva testing at airports and very effective test and trace, and then you have a very good alternative to quarantine, which doesn’t have the same impact on the economy.”
Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of Airlines UK, said: “Extending the furlough scheme would help enormously, as would stimulus measures such as an air passenger duty waiver, which would save many of the routes that will otherwise be lost this winter.”