As thousands of UK holidaymakers scramble to get back from Turkey by 4am on Saturday to avoid two weeks of self-isolation, aircraft seats are selling for many hundreds of pounds.
But any short-term gain will be vastly offset by fresh financial losses for travel businesses.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said that data on Covid-19 infections meant anyone returning from Turkey or Poland after the deadline must quarantine for 14 days.
While Turkey’s infection numbers had looked consistently low, they apparently did not include cases that were asymptomatic.
The DfT said that the health ministry in Ankara’s definition of new cases was different from those of international bodies such as the World Health Organisation and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
“The Joint Biosecurity Centre’s risk assessment for Turkey has been updated to reflect the likely impact of this on the data for incidence and test positivity rates,” the DfT said in a statement.
From Antalya to Manchester, easyJet’s last seat for an evening flight touching down at around 2am sold for £251. Jet2 has a parallel departure on the same route on sale at a current fare of £839.
British Airways sold its last available seat on the Friday evening flight from Istanbul to London Heathrow for £562, while the same trip on Saturday was going for just £44.
Britain’s biggest holiday company, Tui, cancelled imminent holidays to Turkey, saying: “All impacted customers will receive a full cash refund and we’re advising customers not to travel to the airport.
“Customers who are currently on holiday in Turkey can continue to enjoy their holidays as planned and return on their intended flights home.
“We are currently prioritising contacting customers due to travel in the next 48 hours.”
Tui passengers booked from 4 to 15 October will be contacted on Saturday.
From Poland, Ryanair’s flight from Warsaw to Manchester sold out swiftly, as did the Wizz Air departure from Krakow to Luton.
A DfT statement said: “Data from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and Public Health England has indicated a significant change in both the level and pace of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Poland.”
Friday’s data from the ECDC showed a far lower rate of infection in Poland. Adjusting for population, the UK had more than twice as many new cases.
Oyster Travel in Norwich tweeted: “This is killing our industry. A few bookings for us this week to Poland and Turkey and now once again cancellations will mean working for zero commission.
“How do the government expect the industry to carry on with no additional support? It’s devastating.”
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of Advantage Travel Partnership, said: “The unexpected removal of Turkey from the government’s safe travel list could be the final blow for an industry already on its knees.
“The quarantine process, whilst promoted from the outset as based on a case-by-case basis, appears to have actually been a blanket approach by stealth.
“Over the past months, since the air corridors were announced, we have only bad news of key destinations falling off the safe list, further eroding consumer confidence.
“Our travel agent members now have very little to sell to a population who have no stomach to travel.
“This dire situation could have been mitigated months ago with the implementation of airport testing. The government delay on testing is tantamount to industrial sabotage.”
“It’s just so scary,” tweeted travel agent Claire Hillier. “We literally have no destinations to sell to for winter at the moment. I fear for our industry, our jobs and our future.”
The DfT said: “The government has made consistently clear it will take decisive action if necessary to contain the virus, including removing countries from the travel corridors list rapidly if the public health risk of people returning from a particular country without self-isolating becomes too high.”