British holidaymakers arriving in Cancun were furious to discover the UK had put Mexico on the Covid Red List while their flight was in mid air.
Families who had spent thousands on long-awaited holidays faced a stark choice: Go home within three days or spend thousands more on 11 nights’ in a quarantine hotel when you do return.
Mirror photographer Ian Vogler and I, on an overseas assignment, were aboard the packed plane as it touched down.
Phones began to go off… and then the awful realisation became etched on so many faces.
Claire, 30, from South London, said: “I had access to the wifi so I found out in mid air. I wanted to grab the Tannoy and tell everyone there and then.
“I could see all these families looking forward to their holiday and it was obvious they didn’t know. It’s crazy the lack of notice. I had no inkling Mexico was about to go on the Red List.”
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Daily Mirror/Ian Vogler)
John Soones, 62, from South West London, travelling with his wife and their 18-year-old daughter, said: “It’s just incredible. It’s terrible to get no notice that this is likely to happen and no time to change plans.
“If it had been on an Amber Watch List we would not have chosen it as our destination. What are the criteria?”
The British Airways flight had left Gatwick at 11.25 on Wednesday, hours before Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced Mexico was going on the Red List together with Georgia and the French Indian Ocean territories of Reunion and Mayotte.
Mirrorman Vogler and I had to abort our assignment and return home. We joined the angry faces in the long queues to go through security.
At the baggage carousel I asked James Dean, 38, about his reaction to the sudden change of status for Mexico.
His face immediately told me that this was the first he had heard about it.
The office manager from Bournemouth said: “I’m gutted. I’m going to have to pay for us all to go in to quarantine as well. I’m still digesting it. I’m just gobsmacked.”
I felt terrible as his wife and four children huddled in, desperately asking what this meant for them.
I hadn’t the heart to tell him about Shapps’ other surprise announcement while our flight was in the air. The cost for solo travellers staying at a Government-approved quarantine hotel for 10 days will go up from next Thursday from £1,750 to £2,285. The charge for an additional adult sharing a room will increase from £650 to £1,430.
Daily Mirror/Ian Vogler)
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The Government says this is to “better reflect the increased costs involved”.
James Dean told us he had spent £8,000 for a fortnight’s holiday with wife Rebecca and their four children Lilly, 16, Jack, 13, Isabella, nine, and Fred, six.
He added: “The kids have all been looking forward to it and there’s no way I’m going straight back but this just messes everything up.
“Don’t get me wrong, you know there’s a risk, but Mexico was never mentioned. They could have given us a week’s notice.”
Oliver James, from East Sussex, said: “It’s crazy. I don’t know how it helps the country by not giving people just a bit more notice.
“I feel like they should give five or seven days before it comes in.
“We all have to rearrange our journeys. I’m lucky because my wife is American so I can go on to the US but the lack of notice is absurd. It’s just the stress of it all.”
Ayo Faley, a call handler for Test and Trace in London, said she planned to stay for her holiday but was “absolutely distraught”.
The 24-year-old added: “I only found out the minute I was able to connect to wifi at the airport. I went into a state of panic.
“I tried to locate other Brits and see what their plans were. You could see the confusion and fear in their faces.
“I’ve decided to stay and enjoy the time here. I’ll just have to face the consequences when I get home.”
She added: “How are the Government planning to help individuals who have found themselves in a situation like this?” These are the innocent Britons falling foul of the UK system which can slap countries on the Red List with virtually no notice.
It is the reason the tourism industry is on its knees.
Unlike in other countries, holidaymakers are not being told the criteria upon which such decisions are made so they cannot make informed decisions. The Government has also faced criticism for refusing to publish an Amber Watch List of countries at risk of being moved on to the Red List.
The holidaymakers facing the heartbreak dilemma in Cancun were not even able to book short flights to US sunshine destinations such as Florida. The US is not accepting tourists from the UK in most circumstances, leaving many with no option but to go home.
Transport secretary Shapps’ decision came a day earlier than scheduled. He said Mexico, Georgia and the two French overseas territories “present a high public health risk to the UK from known variants of concern, known high-risk variants under investigation or as a result of very high in-country or territory prevalence of Covid”.