Islands like the Canaries could be excluded from coronavirus travel quarantine restrictions even where their home country is included, the transport secretary has said.
Grant Shapps raised hopes that holidays could be made easier after he said the government was looking at ways of exempting low-infection areas of some countries from restrictions.
The inclusion of the Canaries in the measures imposed on Spain was controversial, with local authorities pointing to a lower infection rate than on the Spanish mainland and even parts of the UK.
The issue could raise its head again if Greece is added to the UK’s quarantine list, given the island nature of its geography and its popularity with sun-seeking tourists.
But Mr Shapps said the government needed accurate data before it was able to separate out different regions within countries for different measures. Other countries in Europe are already imposing regional travel quarantine requirements.
“The islands, particularly the Spanish islands, when Spain went into lockdown, we saw in one the numbers coming up and in the other set the numbers coming down – so we do need to be absolutely sure that you’re capturing the disease as it actually is and sometimes it’s not quite as straightforward as it sounds,” the transport secretary told the BBC.
“However, I think there is a case for regionalisation. I think it’s harder to do within a country – people say, with France for example, why don’t you just do this region and not the other? The answer is it’s quite easy to travel about the country so we’re not able to do it like that.”
But he added: “Where there are islands, that is something we’ve said before we will look at and we are looking at. Of course, then you get down to how good a level of detail you’ve got about individual islands which might be part of another country with a landmass somewhere else.
“Those are things that we’re looking at in the review, along with how we could test at airports, we’re also looking at how you could do regionalisation effectively. The main thing is here we just need to make sure we’re keeping people safe.”
The effectiveness of quarantine measures was however questioned on Monday morning after Mr Shapps admitted that he did not know how many people had been fined for breaking the restrictions. It comes amid reports of lax enforcement of the rules.
But with few alternate options available, the measures appear here to stay: the transport secretary said testing on arrival at airports would offer little benefit because current tests still are unable to reliably detect infected by asymptomatic people.
“The incubation test is such that a single test on entry at the airport doesn’t actually tell you what you think it does,” he warned.
Portugal was added to the list of safe countries on Thursday after it recorded a drop in infections, while Croatia was removed after a spike. Passengers from Austria and Trinidad and Tobago will also be asked to quarantine.