A woman has described her “shock and devastation” after she arrived with her daughters in Mexico for a long-awaited trip to visit family only to find out that Britain’s travel rules had changed while they were in transit.
Claudia Rattray was among a number of British holidaymakers who spoke of their dismay after Mexico was abruptly put on the government’s red list of travel destinations. She now plans to stay in Mexico until the rules change to avoid paying more than £5,000 for hotel quarantine for her family on their return to the UK.
The changes, which were announced on Wednesday night and will come into force at 4am on Sunday, mean holidaymakers coming from Mexico and other red list countries and territories – including Georgia and the French departments of Réunion and Mayotte – will either have to cut their holidays short to beat the restrictions or pay thousands of pounds to stay in a quarantine hotel when they return to England.
Rattray, 44, a trust officer, and her daughters Ivanna, 15, and Summer, 14, had travelled from Jersey, where they live, to Mexico City via Heathrow to visit family in León. But only three hours after arriving at their hotel in Mexico City she got a text message from her husband informing her of the rule changes.
“I was shocked, I was devastated. I have always been responsible and always making the right decision. For the government to do this at the very last minute is just outrageous. I’m lucky that I’ve got my family here … My husband spoke to British Airways to see if we were able to get flights for tonight or tomorrow, just to get on time in the UK before the red list goes into play, and there’s no seats available, nothing.”
She had been postponing the trip for more than two years, but with Mexico on the amber list and both Rattray and her family in Mexico fully vaccinated, she thought it would be safe. If they return while Mexico is on the red list, it will cost them more than £5,000 for hotel quarantine for the three of them.
The cost of a 10-day hotel quarantine stay will rise by £535 to £2,285 for a single traveller from 12 August. The cost per additional adult will be £1,430 and £325 for five- to 12-year-olds.
“It’s money that we just can’t afford to pay that money for 10 days in a hotel when I’m double-jabbed,” she said.
The family have decided to wait for three weeks to see if the rules change. “I’m going to stay here until the government decides to change Mexico to amber or green or just scrap the list once and for all.” But, she said, her “expectations are not very high”.
Among those forced to cut their holiday short was Joe Coward, 29, who criticised the government’s handling of travel rules sharply after finding out about the changes shortly after landing in Mexico on Thursday morning for a two-week honeymoon near Cancún.
The student from London told PA Media: “Basically we touched down to find that our two-week honeymoon, which had already been rearranged several times, was going to be a two-day visit. We’ve arranged a flight for tomorrow and will be spending today getting ready to turn right around and go home.
“We feel extremely angry at the government’s incompetent handling of international travel rules during this crisis, and incredibly sad and frustrated that the time that should’ve been spent enjoying being newlyweds has been ruined.”
Seeing out the rest of their holiday and quarantining when they return was not an option because of the cost of government quarantine hotels, he said. Coward said that if British Airways did not refund them, they would lose several thousand pounds as a result of the rule change.
Ayo Faley, an NHS test and trace call handler from London, also arrived in Cancún on Thursday morning but has decided to see out her holiday and “face the consequences” of paying for quarantine when she returns on 11 August.
Faley, 24, said: “I only found out the minute I was able to connect to wifi at the airport … I went into a state of panic.”
She said she had tried to find other British people to share information and find out what they were planning to do, but they too had “confusion, fear and regret all in their faces”. “I am absolutely distraught … I’ve decided to just stay and enjoy the time here.”
Faley works from home but does not know how she will access the equipment she needs to work from quarantine.
She said: “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.”
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said on Thursday that the traffic-light system meant holidaymakers could travel abroad without “looking over their shoulders” for changing rules.
But the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, said the shifting rules were sowing confusion.
“Most people don’t say that they object necessarily to the tests, it’s just the constant changing. One day they’ve got to do something, next day they’ve got to do something else,” he said.
“They don’t know, when they are booking their holiday and when they are trying to get back, what they’ve got to comply with. All they’ve asked for, what we’ve asked for, is a simple, understandable system that puts in place sensible controls for those that are going on holiday.”