A “CAUTIOUS” but “steady” rise in demand for holidays abroad this summer has been recorded by travel agents after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon lifted quarantine restrictions on a list of countries on Thursday.

Anyone travelling to the countries on the list will no longer be required to quarantine on their return to Scotland.

Spain – the most popular foreign destination for Scots holidaymakers – has been left off the list but may get clearance from the Scottish Government by next Monday.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she hopes to add all – or at least part – of the country to those exempt from quarantine restrictions.

Currently the prevalence of the coronavirus in Spain is ten times higher than the estimated rate in Scotland, dashing the hopes of holidaymakers here as well as the indigenous tourist industry which is boosted by around 200,000 Spanish visitors every year. The current central estimate for Scotland is that for every 100,000 people in the population, 28 people have Covid. That’s a prevalence of 0.028%, making Sturgeon’s goal of elimination of the virus within sight.

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However across the UK, it is estimated that around 180 people in every 100,000 currently have Covid, while the prevalence of the virus in Spain is around 330 people in every 100,000.

The decisions on which countries to include in the Scottish Government’s exemption list is based on the prevalence of the virus in each country, as well as an assessment of the current situation based on factors like the numbers of new cases and local outbreaks.

Further work is now being carried out by the chief medical officers of each part of the UK to improve the methodology behind the risk assessments.

Sturgeon said this would ensure that a wider range of factors could be considered in order to assess accurately whether outbreaks in different countries were being effectively contained.

“Once that work has been completed – which I hope is within days – we hope to be able to make more targeted assessments in future, taking greater account of how different countries are managing to control the virus,” she said.

Serbia is also excluded from the Scottish Government list because of a recent outbreak.

“I hope that we will be able to add Spain – and possibly Serbia – to the exemption list, either in full or perhaps in part at the next review point which is on July 20,” said Sturgeon.

“To that end, we will be liaising closely in the coming week with the relevant authorities as well as with airports and airlines, to gather more information on control of outbreaks and prevalence, and what other mitigations such as testing we could possibly put in place as an alternative.”

However she warned prospective holidaymakers that all countries were keeping the spread of the virus under review and guidance and restrictions could be subject to change – even involving a resumption of quarantine at short notice. “You should always be aware of that if you are planning to travel,” she said.

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Anyone in Scotland hoping to bend the rules on quarantine on returning from Spain by flying into an English airport should take note that it wouldn’t work, Sturgeon added.

Public Health Scotland will have access to contact details for people staying in Scotland, regardless of whether an individual arrives in Glasgow, Manchester or London and will carry out sample checks to make sure everyone is obeying the rules.

Passengers arriving in the UK have to complete a form before arrival which is shared by Border Force with Public Health Scotland.

Sturgeon advised those wishing to go on holiday to support the Scottish tourism industry by taking their break in Scotland.

“I understand how difficult that is for our aviation and tourism sectors, and indeed for those who might want to go overseas over the summer—although my advice to people in Scotland who want to go on holiday is to support the Scottish tourism industry by staying in Scotland to have a holiday, if they are able to.”

IN response to Scots Tory leader Jackson Carlaw’s objections to Spain being excluded from the list, she told the Scottish Parliament that one of the World Health Organisation’s chief criteria on control of the virus was to guard against the risk of importing the virus from other countries.

She said that while Carlaw “may want to ignore” the fact that the virus rate in Spain was ten times higher in Scotland, she could not if the route map to phase three – when schools can reopen – is to be followed safely.

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While the list of countries exempt from quarantine has been welcomed by the travel industry, disappointment has been voiced over the exclusion of Spain and also Portugal at this stage.

Jacqueline Dobson, president of Barrhead Travel said the exclusion of Spain was particularly worrying even though the list was “a small step in the right direction to help kick-start Scottish travel”.

“Spanish resorts are overwhelmingly the most popular destinations for Scottish travellers and that demand is reflected in the air routes out of Scotland,” she said.

“We have already seen routes pulled from Scottish airports this year and there is now an imminent risk that further routes could be discarded if inbound and outbound tourism cannot restart in the same capacity as it can in England.

“We understand that safety must come first however we cannot continue to be out of step with the rest of the UK. Not only does it risk fragmenting the travel industry as a whole and dampening confidence from Scottish holidaymakers but every day that goes by where we are not aligned with the rest of the UK is extremely damaging to travel businesses in our sector.

“It also sends a complicated message to the Scottish travelling public who are hearing contradictory messages from different administrations.

‘‘With updates to various lists in the coming weeks likely, it could become even more confusing for holidaymakers who are trying to decide where to visit.

“We appreciate there is different data from public health bodies and we fully respect the responsibilities that each government has to look after their country’s health however these divided decisions do more long-term harm to our industries than good. Travel is not a regional matter and these decisions should have been made collectively.”

Dobson added that the Scottish travel industry had been left with even more questions than answers following conflicting government advice, she said: “For example, the Scottish quarantine conflicts with the Foreign Office advice that holidays to Spain are safe and therefore many operators will continue travel arrangements as planned. Who will foot the bill for Scottish holidaymakers who are due to depart in the coming weeks to Spain but cannot afford to quarantine on return? The Scottish Government must urgently review and address this as a matter of priority.”

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Despite the difficulties she said there had been a “steady but cautious rise” in demand for holidays this summer to destinations which are on the approved list for travel by the Foreign Office as well as those destinations which do not require quarantine on return.

“There is a balanced demand for holidays within Europe as well as staycations for those who are not quite ready to venture abroad just yet,” said Dobson.

A spokesperson for travel firm TUI said there had been an increase in bookings in the last couple of weeks with Greece a popular destination.

“On the weekend leading up to the UK Government’s air bridge announcement, we saw a 50% increase in bookings compared to the previous week,” she said. “At the moment around 40% of our customers are accepting refund credit and moving their booking to a later date.”

For cancellations and refunds info visit www.abta.com/coronavirus