Belgium set to be added to England's coronavirus quarantine list

By Simon Murphy Political correspondent

Belgium is set to be added to England’s quarantine list after a rise in Covid-19 cases, meaning arrivals from the country will have to isolate for 14 days.

The Guardian understands that officials at the Department for Transport (DfT) are finalising the announcement of the move and that the current plan is that the measures are not due to come into effect until the weekend.

The government is expected to change Foreign Office guidance, which issues travel advice separately, for Belgium at the same time.

Belgium, which has one of the highest per capita coronavirus death rates in the world with more than 9,800 fatalities out of a population of about 11 million, announced a series of further restrictive measures last month to curb the spread of the virus. It has seen a resurgence of the virus, with the country passing 70,000 Covid-19 cases this week.

Last week Luxembourg was restored to the list of countries whose travellers are required to quarantine for 14 days when they arrive in England, six days after the same demand was reimposed on arrivals from Spain, prompting chaos for holidaymakers.

The Daily Mail reported that ministers met on Wednesday to sign off the move to impose restrictions on arrivals from Belgium, and that the measures were due to come into force at midnight or on Thursday.

The Guardian understands that the DfT initially planned to impose restrictions on arrivals from Belgium from the early hours of next Tuesday, but amid fast-moving developments behind the scenes the plans have since been moved forward, meaning they are likely to come into effect from Sunday.

It was not immediately clear why there is to be a delay in the imposition of the measures. The DfT provided no comment when asked by the Guardian about the plans.

Germany this week added Belgium’s Antwerp province, in the north of the country, to its list of Covid-19 risk zones requiring travellers arriving from the region to quarantine for 14 days unless they can produce a negative coronavirus test.

On Wednesday, 225 staff at one of Belgium’s biggest meat processing plants, Westvlees, were sent home to quarantine after the emergence of a cluster of Covid-19 cases. Reports said 18 staff at the plant in West Flanders had tested positive for the disease.

On 27 July, Belgium unveiled new restrictive measures to stem the spread of the virus and prevent a return to nationwide lockdown. The prime minister, Sophie Wilmès, announced that from 29 July a family or household would be able to meet five other people, down from 15.

Meanwhile, the numbers allowed to attend public events were halved to 100 inside and 200 outside. People would have to shop alone and work from home as much as possible, Wilmès added. “If we cannot reduce the coronavirus, it will be a collective failure,” she said.