Infection rates are only marginally higher among travellers returning to Britain from Mexico compared to Spain, raising questions about why it was moved to the red list.
Official Government figures also show Spain — which escaped any further sanctions — is 35 times more popular for tourists, meaning hundreds of Covid cases are actually being imported from the holiday hotspot. Only dozens of infected people are flying back from Mexico.
British holidaymakers are now scrambling to get back from Mexico before strict hotel quarantine rules come into place on Sunday.
The decision gave people just three days’ notice, with some only discovering the news while mid-air. Plane tickets allowing Britons to make it back in time are on sale for up to £7,000.
But Spain — which scientists say has a similar-shaped outbreak — stayed in the amber category, despite rumours that the holiday plans of tens of thousands of Brits were on the brink of ruin.
Experts have now called on ministers to publish the full set of data to justify last night’s decision to place Mexico onto the red list, with the rules set to kick in at 4am on August 8.
The Department for Transport released a spreadsheet of ‘key’ statistics used by ministers to inform their policies.
Raising questions on why Mexico was singled out for the red list – meaning travellers have to isolate in a hotel when they arrive in England – latest figures show 457 people per million tested positive in Spain yesterday, while just 122 tested positive in Mexico (graph, left). Meanwhile, positivity rates among travellers returning from Mexico was only marginally higher than Spain – 3.3 per cent compared to 2.9 per cent (graph, top right). But just 1,940 flew in from Mexico, while 71,418 arrived from Spain, which swayed the percentages (graph, bottom right). Some 2,065 arrivals from Spain tested positive, while the figure for Mexico was just 64
Scramble to get last plane seats out of Mexico: Cost of tickets soars to £7,000 as 6,000 Brits face hotel quarantine if they can’t return to UK before 4am Sunday
British holidaymakers scrambling to get back from Mexico before it goes on the red list on Sunday face huge ticket prices for flights to make it back in time.
From 4am on Sunday, people returning to the UK from Mexico will have to stay in isolation in a hotel for 10 days.
However, the government has been slammed for giving only three days’ notice of the change, with the only direct flight from Mexico City to London before Sunday on sale for a staggering £6,878.
Around 6,000 Britons are thought to currently be in Mexico, with travel agency boss Paul Charles tweeting: ‘Pity poor #UK travellers in #Mexico – some 5/6,000 who have to somehow get back before hotel quarantine kicks in on Sunday. Certainly not enough seat capacity.’
And holidaymakers have revealed how they found out about Mexico going red at the very last minute.
Ayo Faley, a call handler for NHS Test and Trace in London, also landed in Cancun on Thursday morning but she plans to stay for her holiday as planned and pay for quarantine.
She is returning on August 11 so will pay the lower rate of £1,750, but said she is ‘absolutely distraught’.
The 24-year-old said: ‘I only found out (travel restrictions had changed) 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 whether they knew and what their next plan of action was… you could see the look of confusion, fear and regret all in their faces.
‘I am absolutely distraught… I’ve decided to just stay and enjoy the time here… I’ll just have to face the consequences when I arrive.’
Ms Faley works from home and had planned to do so on her return from Cancun, but said she will not be able to access her equipment in quarantine.
She added: ‘How are (the Government) planning to help individuals who have found themselves in a situation like this?
‘Leaving the UK thinking their country of destination was safe to then land and find out they better return ASAP or risk being stuck in a hotel for 11 days.’
Ayo Faley (left), a call handler of NHS Test and Trace in London, arrived in Cancun, Mexico, on Thursday morning for her holiday, and plans to continue her trip as planned and pay for quarantine when she returns to the UK. Aaron (right) is relocating his family to Edinburgh in late August and will now have to pay for them all to quarantine on arrival
The Government agency says countries are assumed to be amber unless they have a ‘low public health risk’, with small outbreaks and a low prevalence of variants such as Beta.
On the other hand, countries are put on the red list if their epidemics have spooked the Joint Biosecurity Centre —a branch that decides the travel quarantine rules.
Under this methodology, the JBC assesses the prevalence of variants in each territory.
NHS Test and Trace data, which is used by civil servants to make the list decisions, shows only six samples were sequenced from travellers returning from Mexico. Three were either Delta or Alpha — the others were not marked as being ones of concern.
Almost all of the swabs analysed among Britons coming back from Spain were Alpha or Delta. No Beta-infected samples were spotted.
But exact breakdowns of other variant data were ‘suppressed’.
The DFT says: ‘The vast majority of data used to inform the risk assessment is in the public domain. However, some data cannot be published due to the privacy risks that disclosure may have on individuals or groups.
‘Similarly, privately shared data from other governments or organisations cannot be published due to the undertakings given when obtaining the data.’
The JBC also carries out a ‘deep dive’ on the prevalence of Covid in each country, looking at testing rates, infection rates and sequencing ability.
Spain’s daily Covid infections are significantly higher than Mexico’s, with 457 people per million testing positive every day at present, according to Our World in Data — one of the Covid-tracking websites civil servants use to monitor outbreaks. The rate is also dropping.
For comparison, the figure is three times lower in Mexico (122) but is rising quickly.
And Spain is conducting about nearly 15 times more tests in proportion to the size of its population than Mexico, which has a test positivity rate of almost 40 per cent and has only fully-vaccinated a fifth of all adults.
The European holiday destination — which has three times higher vaccination rates — is also sequencing around 1,000 tests a day. In contrast, Mexico has genetically analysed only 18,000 Covid samples since the pandemic began.
Under the third part of any travel quarantine decision, the JBC look at an array of data available from the World Health Organization, NHS Test and Trace and other official sources.
The most up-to-date figures from NHS Test and Trace — which only go up until July 21 — show just 3.3 per cent of arrivals from Mexico tested positive for Covid. For comparison, the figure stood at 2.9 per cent in Spain — Britain’s most visited holiday destination.
But because of the popularity of Spain, 35 times fewer cases are actually being imported from Mexico.
Just 64 of the 1,940 people who landed in England from Mexico between July 1-21 had Covid. Meanwhile, 2,065 of the 71,418 travellers who arrived from Spain tested positive.
Positivity rates among travellers from Mexico have doubled in since June, but they have more than tripled among people arriving from Spain.
And the numbers also show in addition to Spain, there are 11 other countries still on the amber list where higher number of positive cases are being imported from.
For comparison, 344 people travellers positive after arriving back from Greece, while 217 travellers from Portugal were infected.
More Covid cases were also found in people flying to England from France (205), the US (164), Italy (147) and Nigeria (132). There were also more infected people coming back from Cyprus (90), Poland (89), the Netherlands (85), Romanian (82) and Russia (65).
France trips ‘TREBLE’ in price: Eurotunnel, Eurostar and easyJet are accused of hiking fares for lockdown-weary Britons… just hours after quarantine rules changed
Britons trying to book for France have today accused Eurotunnel, Eurostar and easyJet of ‘ripping off’ customers who claimed the price of passage trebled as soon as the Government announced it would scrap quarantine for tourists returning from Sunday.
People trying to book trains from St Pancras to Paris claim that £50 was almost immediately added to the cost of a £89 one-way ticket while MailOnline research has found that the average price increase to travel this weekend is between £20 to £60 for a standard or standard premier ticket.
After Grant Shapps made the announcement last night, one Eurostar customer trying to get back to Britain tweeted: ‘So now Eurostar prices are double the price if not more. Expats are consistently fighting a losing battle’. Another wrote that the website was crashing ‘again and again’ with the ‘price relentlessly going up’, adding: ‘Took about 10 attempts and 50 quid more! Absolutely ridiculous!’.
One driver trying to book the Eurotunnel to France from Folkestone tweeted: ‘Why are you doubling your prices from this Sunday just as the new quarantine rules for UK people coming from France come into affect? Isn’t this what’s known as profiteering? Our ticket cost has doubled in 24hrs because we had to amend our booking’.
And people trying to fly to France in August are also being hit in the pocket. Several accused easyJet of cancelling flights in order to force them into buying more expensive tickets.
One wrote: ‘@easyJet has just cancelled all flights to nice in august so that prices can be hiked up! Outrageous! My friend now has to find alternative flights at a vastly inflated cost’. Another said: ‘@easyJet – our flight to France was cancelled 3 times so on the 3rd cancellation we took a voucher as we did not have a lot of time to think about it. You have now increased the price, can you offer the same deal at least?’.
The companies today denied they were taking advantage, saying any rises were down to demand.
A Eurotunnel spokesman said: ‘The cost of a ticket does not double overnight due to an amendment. Our pricing works like that of most travel operators, as a dynamic model, led by demand. With the announcement last night, we saw an immediate uplift in bookings and therefore certain departures are now in higher demand than previously. Conversely, there are plenty of keenly priced departures available too’. Eurostar and easyJet have been asked to comment.
However, these figures were originally published last Thursday, meaning ministers may have seen more recent data that gave them cause for concern about Mexico.
The final part of any travel quarantine decision made by the JBC is known as the ‘outcome’. It is used to ‘support decision making’, and allows ministers to take the risk assessments into account ‘alongside wider public health factors to inform watchlists’.
‘Travel connections with the UK and details of the in-country and territory vaccination profile are included as contextual information,’ the DFT also says.
A Department of Transport spokesperson said: ‘Our international travel policy is guided by one overwhelming priority — public health — and traffic light allocations are based on a range of factors including genomic surveillance capability, transmission risk and variants of concern.’
Asked about MailOnline’s analysis of the numbers, Dr Simon Clarke said he would ‘absolutely agree’ that there is barely any difference between outbreaks in Spain and Mexico.
But the microbiologist, from Reading University, warned civil servants making the decision would have inevitably considered other data that may have skewed the argument.
He said policymakers should release the raw data justifying the decisions, echoing calls by other prominent Covid experts.
Dr Clarke, however, said: ‘Frankly, I think the government don’t want academics and scientists kicking over the stuff and questioning their decisions.’
Professor Lawrence Young, a molecular virologist at the University of Warwick, told MailOnline: ‘The whole international travel situation remains very confusing – despite the government stating that this is a ‘simplified system’.
‘The criteria used for designating a country as amber, green or red is not clear and is still subject to change.
‘There are rising cases of infection in Mexico against a backdrop of around 20 per cent of the population being fully vaccinated.
‘What’s important is not to get complacent. The virus is still infecting people – even some who have been fully vaccinated.